Friday, January 30, 2004

"Biological changes over time"?

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Georgia may shun 'evolution' in schools
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.

Outraged teachers already have told the state it is undercutting the science education of young Georgians.

"Just like any major issue people need to deal with, you need to know the facts," said David Bechler, head of the biology department at Valdosta State University. A member of the committee that worked on the biology standards, Bechler said he was stunned to learn that evolution was not in the final proposal.

"Whether you believe in creationism or not, evolution should be known and understood by the public," he argued.

Cox declined requests for an interview on the issue. A spokesman issued a statement Wednesday that said: "The discussion of evolution is an age-old debate and it is clear that there are those in Georgia who are passionate on both sides of the issue -- we want to hear from all of them."
Oh, please. Not the "It's only a theory" argument again.
The state curriculum does not preclude an individual public school system from taking a deeper approach to evolution, or any other topic.
Not in so many words, no... But in practice only the best teachers will do anything that the job does not require, just because bureaucrats so thoroughly define/regulate what they have to do that there aren't enough hours in the day to go much bejond. And, in my experience, very rarely will any non-teaching administrator ever do anything they are not legally required to do. You've never seen a blank expression like the one you get when you've asked them to.
And the proposed change would not require school systems to buy new textbooks that omit the word.
Heaven (so to speak) forbid.
Access North Georgia (AP) | School cuts devastating, local officials tell lawmakers
Local school officials painted an alarming picture for state legislators Wednesday of children being taken to school in worn-out buses and using tattered textbooks for their studies if Gov. Sonny Perdues education cuts are approved.

Some also warned they will be forced to look to layoffs and to raise local taxes to absorb the hit.
"Oh, please, nothing special on our account, we can get by for a few more years with these tattered, outdated textbooks. Why, look at this one, it says 'One day man will walk on the moon.' That's true again, isn't it?"

Back to the AJC:
But Georgia's curriculum exam, the CRCT, will be rewritten to align with the new curriculum. And the state exam is the basis for federal evaluation, which encourages schools and teachers to focus on teaching the material that will be tested.
There's more to it than that, of course. Due to the importance of the CRCT, teachers "teach the test", although most non-teaching administrators and some teachers will deny this. The superintendent's guidelines will define the wording used on the test, which will in turn define how the subjects are taught.

Or not taught.
New York Times (registration) | Georgia Takes on 'Evolution'
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.
What? What?
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."
And where would they have learned that kind of nonsense, if not in Georgia's public schools? Isn't that the kind of ignorance that we hire teachers to address? Are you conceding defeat? Are the people of Georgia inherently uneducatable?
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.

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.
Oh, God (you should excuse the expression)...
Georgia Department of Education | Superintendent Cox Addresses Concerns About Proposed Science Curriculum
At a new conference that took place at 3:00 PM on Thursday, January 29th, Georgia’s State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox addressed the misconceptions about the draft of our state’s new Georgia Performance Standards Biology Curriculum.
A "new conference"?
Those who read the draft of the science curriculum will find that the concepts of Darwinism, adaptation, natural selection, mutation, and speciation are actually interwoven throughout the standards at each grade level. Students will learn of the succession through history of scientific models of change, such as those of Lamarck, Malthus, Wallace, Buffone, and Darwin.

They will become scientifically literate by learning the process of scientific inquiry and seeing the way science changes as a result of new discoveries and theories.

They will become familiar with the development of living organisms and their changes over time, including inherited characteristics that lead to survival of organisms and their successive generations.

And they will be prepared for college by having been exposed in detail to the models that the scientific community currently embraces.

Why, then, is the word itself not used in the draft of the curriculum, when the concepts are there? The unfortunate truth is that "evolution" has become a controversial buzzword that could prevent some from reading the proposed biology curriculum comprehensive document with multiple scientific models woven throughout. We don't want the public or our students to get stuck on a word when the curriculum actually includes the most widely accepted theories for biology. Ironically, people have become upset about the exclusion of the word again, without having read the document.
I don't want educators to "get stuck on a word" to the point that they refuse to use the scientifically-accepted term for an all-but-proven phenomenon that explains the biological world of which they are a part. If people don't like the word "evolution", it's because they don't understand the concept it identifies. Explaining that is called "education", and it's what I pay you for.

The "unfortunate truth" is that you're trying to convince one set of observers that you are teaching evolution while convincing the other set that you aren't. The "unfortunate truth" is that you're saying, and teaching, that evolution and creation are no more than conflicting theories, and one is no more credible than the other.

The "unfortunate truth" is that no world-class biologists are going to emerge from Georgia schools anytime soon.

Pixar dumps Disney

Huh?
Money/CNN | Pixar dumps Disney
Pixar Animation Studios Inc. said Thursday it ended talks with Walt Disney Co. to extend a five-picture deal for Disney to distribute Pixar films.

Pixar, the computer animation pioneer founded by Apple Computer Inc.'s Steve Jobs, said it would begin talks with other companies to distribute its films starting in 2006.

"After ten months of trying to strike a deal with Disney, we're moving on," Pixar CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement. "We've had a great run together -- one of the most successful in Hollywood history -- and it's a shame that Disney won't be participating in Pixar's future successes."
At least Pixar seems to have a plan, which is more than the Disney Feature Animation unit can say. First Katzenberg left, then Roy Disney, then they shut down their Florida studio, then they showed John Musker and Ron Clements the door after the disappointing box office of "Treasure Planet" (the directing team were also responsible for "Little Mermaid", "Aladdin" and "Hercules")...

Yeah, it looks like time for Pixar to get while the getting is good.

As Jim Hill quoted: "You wanna start a really great animation studio? Just go stand out on the sidewalk in Burbank and hire everyone that Disney lets go."

(Speaking of Pixar, you can see their short films for free on the web.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

More about the Captain

CBS sound man Robert Mott, in his deceptively titled book Radio Sound Effects, tells stories about working with some early television broadcasters, among them Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keehan. I'm reluctant to attempt to recount these stories, since my copy of the book is out on loan, but if I don't say something the moment will have passed, as they so often do.

Who's eating those carrots? Bunny Rabbit, as you know, was a non-speaking puppet who jealously guarded his carrots--and thoughtfully ate them off-camera. Mott squeezed a handful of popsicle sticks to get the munching sound. This was fine, until the time that Mott wasn't watching what was happening on the Treasure House set. When he looked up while "munching" the carrots, he saw the Captain, Mister Moose...and Bunny Rabbit...all in plain sight. Watching something behind the counter, off-camera, and listening to it eat Bunny's carrots. Keeshan, apparently in a playful mood that day, offered no explanation to his viewers, but continued to look behind the counter, allowing Mott to sweat it out.

And Mott did sweat for several long seconds before he found his answer. He remembered the annoying fly that had gotten onto the set and had disrupted the day's taping. The crunching abruptly stopped, followed by the sound of a fly taking off and making his escape.

The Captain strolls outdoors. Keeshan liked to do this from time to time, and the Treasure House had a "back yard" for activities not meant to be performed indoors. (Of course, the back yard was also an indoor set: Even then I realized that.) Mott hated these segments. Keeshan would never script them: He would just describe whatever he was "seeing" in the area, and Mott had to scramble to generate the sound it made.

The Captain tests his new ship's whistle. AKA "Don't screw the sound man." One of many set redesigns for the show had been that of a boat (the one the Captain was, er, Captain of, I suppose). Keeshan loved props that made noise, even if the noise had to be produced offstage by the sound man. One of the new additions to the set was a steam whistle. I've mentioned that Keeshan got "playful" from time to time. Another thing I should mention is that Keeshan never paid much attention to how the various sound effects were produced. Based on past experience, he probably imagined that the whistle would be achieved by having Mott physically blow a whistle. Mott, foreseeing trouble, had a ship's whistle connected to compressed air instead, so that he could blow it with the press of a button. The button on the set, the one the Captain pressed, didn't activate the whistle: Mott did.

When the Captain began talking about a tour of the new boat, and explained to the viewers that all these switches and buttons actually worked, Mott became suspicious. It wasn't like Bob to fib to the kids that directly: He didn't usually discuss how the Treasure House worked. When the Captain glanced at Mott while he was admiring the controls of his lovely new ship's whistle, Mott's suspicions were confirmed: Keeshan was trying to catch him unprepared. The Captain pressed the button, and got a startling, set-filling whistle. He continued to lean on the button, expecting Mott's lungs to give out shortly. Seconds passed. The whistle continued. More seconds passed. The whistle showed no sign of running out of, er, steam.

At this point Keeshan apparently decided that the joke, such as it was, hadn't worked as he had expected it would, and removed his hand from the button. Mott's hand didn't budge: The whistle continued. Keeshan hit the button again, and again. The whistle continued. The Captain banged on the wall and called down to the "engine room": Lumpy "Mr Greenjeans" Brannum, behind the wall on a smoke break, had no more control over the whistle than Keeshan did, but dutifully called back, "We're working on it, Captain." The whistle continued.

Finally Mott released the whistle. The Captain closed the show with a remark about "getting the whistle fixed", with an uncharacteristic onscreen glare toward the offscreen, unruffled Mott.

It's not a cheap book, and Amazon is out of stock (it may be out of print), but you might find it in your local library. Mott does have a newer book out, Radio Live! Television Live!.

I won!

I'm this week's winner at Ipse Dixit's Caption of the Day contest!

(Although I actually thought the "Doody family reunion" thing was funnier, if a bit obscure. I actually made myself laugh our loud. And the longer I looked at the picture with that caption in mind, the harder I laughed. God, I kill me.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Censorship at AOL

WSJ Best of the Web | The Politics of Dancing
If you're an America Online user and didn't get our Friday column, here's why: AOL blocks e-mails containing a link to the Dancing Hillary Web page, which we cited in an item on Howard Dean scream remixes. Try sending the Dancing Hillay URL to an AOL account, and your e-mail will bounce with the following message: "The URL contained in your email to AOL members has generated a high volume of complaints."

But never fear, there is a way around this. We've set up a shortcut URL that AOL's filters shouldn't recognize: http://tinyurl.com/252rk.
Considering all the junk AOL put in my mailbox, I find it astounding that this should be the thing they choose to ban. (AOL scans e-mail for content when it crosses its servers?)

The same site hosts Dancing Bush, which apparently satisfies AOL's sensibilities. I sent two separate e-mails to myself, to my AOL address, one containing Dancing Bush, one containing Dancing Hilary. The Bush e-mail got through: The Hilary message bounced.

So it's not the Miniclip domain itself, it's Dancing Hilary specifically that's being targeted.

In fact, Dancing Hilary is just Cheri 'Disco' Blair (wife of Tony Blair) with a different head on the same body. Of all things to be offended by...? Why not this dancing Hilary, which offends me?

Monday, January 26, 2004

Only his employees have to call him Sir William

Reuters | Bill Gates to Be Knighted by Queen Elizabeth
Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates will be awarded an honorary knighthood by Britain's Queen Elizabeth for an outstanding contribution to enterprise, officials said on Monday.

Gates, the world's wealthiest man, will receive the award from the queen at Buckingham Palace, but no date has been set.

"(Gates) is one of the most important business leaders of his age," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in a statement.

"Microsoft technology has transformed business practices and his company has had a profound impact on the British economy," said Straw.

Gates will be made a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an honor that dates back to 1917.

But only British and Commonwealth citizens winning the honor are entitled to add Sir in front of their names.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Where is he?

Gary LaPierre, news anchor for WBZ Radio in Boston, has been known to do his show from sunny St. Augustine, Florida.

Do you care? Some of his listeners do. Me, I'm just so pleased that he still does his show live, working exclusively for the station he says he works for (as opposed to being time-shared across a couple of dozen markets), that I find it hard to get upset.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Space

LA Times | Let's Boldly Go Where Man Has Been Before
By Harrison H. Schmitt
President Bush's plan to propose a permanent return to the moon cannot help but stir memories in an Apollo moonwalker — and raise new hopes for potential exploration. As the last of 12 men to step on the moon, and the only scientist to do so, my recollections are as clear today as 31 years ago.

It was December 1972. President Nixon had just been reelected; the war in Vietnam was in its final years. We landed in a spectacular valley known as Taurus-Littrow, on the southeastern edge of the Sea of Serenity. Apollo 17 was to be the last of the manned American moon missions for at least three decades, but we didn't know it then.

Taurus-Littrow as a name was not chosen with poetry in mind (Taurus was the mountain range above the valley, and Littrow was the crater nearby). The mind's poetry, however, is created not by names but by events — events surrounding not only three days in the lives of three astronauts but the close of an unparalleled decade in human history.
(Registration required, but it's free and worth the trouble.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Of course, of course

What I want to know is, why did Wilbur spend so much time in the barn with Ed when he had a wife (with the patience of a saint, it must be noted) like Carol?

I suppose if anyone were to remake "Mister Ed", this issue would have to be addressed. It might even become a running joke on the show, with a scantily-clad Carol growing ever more impatient while an increasingly-desperate Wilbur struggles to contain the hilarity emanating from the barn. It'd be more like "Married With Livestock."

I guess some things shouldn't be remade.

(If any proof be needed that TV Land's webmaster has a sense of humor, check the show description and episode guide for Bars and Tones.)

LATER:
Boston.com | 'Mister Ed' star is still riding show's popularity
"You know, I once asked our director, Arthur Lubin, why they chose me to play Wilbur. He said, `Well, Alan, you look like the kind of a guy a horse would talk to.' "

Friday, January 09, 2004

Is the plan reasonable?

Arizona Republic | Bush: 'Allow willing workers'
President Bush on Wednesday appealed to Congress to create an ambitious program that would open U.S. jobs to scores of foreign workers, including the 8 million to 10 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

But the president's proposal stops short of offering permanent legal status, a sore point for Hispanic groups and some members of Congress.
Well, there's a reason this is being announced the way it is, as an "appeal to create a program" rather than as a fully-formed proposal. Nonetheless, I have no problems with the idea as it stands.

What's the issue here? The borders leak, badly. Our immigration policies aren't being followed, aren't working and aren't being enforced. Some parts of the country are seeing massive numbers of foreign nationals of uncertain legal status, and it's having an effect on our economy.

What are our options?

Deport the illegals and beef up the borders. And create an international tragedy that will dwarf the Trail of Tears and Japanese-American internment camps. As every pundit has said in the course of this debate, We Are A Nation of Immigrants. "Give me you're tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" still resonates strongly here.

Amnesty and Citizenship. Like hell. If we are a Nation of Immigrants, we are also a Nation of Laws. What's free here is Opportunity. That we give away by the bucketload. Past that you earn your keep and pay your way.

Let it go and pretend nothing's wrong. Thus (further) undermining respect for all American law by encouraging employers to break them at will.

Create a new category of non-citizen resident that rewards them for contributing their work to the American economy. This sounds like what Bush is asking for. I don't see the problem. No, all the issues haven't been addressed yet. But they can be, and they should be.

Is it a political gesture? Almost certainly. What isn't? That doesn't mean it's a bad idea.

Why now? Why not now? It's very rare that there's a wrong time to do the right thing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

So how did it get there?

MoveOn.org | Ads Attacked by RNC Chairman Are Not Moveon.Org Voter Fund Ads
The Republican National Committee and its chairman have falsely accused MoveOn.org of sponsoring ads on its website which compare President Bush to Adolf Hitler. The claim is deliberately and maliciously misleading.

During December the MoveOn.org Voter Fund invited members of the public to submit ads that purported to tell the truth about the President and his policies. More than 1,500 submissions from ordinary Americans came in and were posted on a web site, bushin30seconds.org, for the public to review.

None of these was our ad, nor did their appearance constitute endorsement or sponsorship by MoveOn.org Voter Fund. They will not appear on TV. We do not support the sentiment expressed in the two Hitler submissions. They were voted down by our members and the public, who reviewed the ads and submitted nearly 3 million critiques in the process of choosing the 15 finalist entries.

We agree that the two ads in question were in poor taste and deeply regret that they slipped through our screening process.
"Slipped through"?

What does this remind me of...? Oh, yes. Remember that CNN commercial about Paula Zahn? The one that talked about how sexy she was? The one that featured a sound effect intended as a "needle scraping across record grooves" that sounded more like a zipper being unzipped? Yeah, that one (scroll down to fourth item).

Remember the full and complete explanation CNN offered of how such a spot had come to be aired? Whose idea it was, who approved it, who produced it? No? Not surprising, since CNN offered no such explanation. No one has yet taken credit for that promotion. Apparently it "just happened".

Over at CNN, things just appear on the air spontaneously. That explains a lot.

And here it is again, the same phenomenon (albeit with a web server instead of an internationally cablecast television channel). MoveOn.org is sponsoring a "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest, in which they solicited short videos "telling the truth" about President Bush, the winner for eventual use as a broadcast advertisement for MoveOn.org.

(You'll draw your own conclusions as to why I put "telling the truth" in quotes, I'm sure. I don't think it would be extremist of me to say that accepting the phrase at face value would require an Orwellian definition of "truth". They've made no secret of the fact that any report of the president having done something, anything, right would not be considered "truth" for their purposes.)

(Speaking of Orwellian definitions: The name "MoveOn" refers to the founding issue of the organization, the Clinton Impeachment, which they felt was Wrong and from which they advocated that the people at large and Republicans in general should "move on". Now that their mission statement has changed and their central issue is the perceived illegitimacy of the Bush presidency, "move on" is the last thing they want to do.)

As I write, MoveOn.org has weeded the submissions down to 15 finalists, available for viewing at their website.

Yet they're contending that the fact that submissions are viewable at their website was an accident, that certain spots comparing Bush to Hitler "just happened": Nobody created them, nobody decided to post them on the web, nobody put them on MoveOn's servers... it Just Happened. Could happen to anybody. Oops.

I'll say (again) that in a free country, you can say whatever you like. You aren't even obligated to put your name on it. But it's rather disingenuous to suggest that MoveOn had nothing to do with it. And it's an awfully fine distinction to draw that it isn't actually their ad when it was created at their request and posted on their website.

So what exactly is "false" about the statement from the Republican National Committee? Are they ads? They're ad submissions, proposed ads, given public exposure (and therefore credibility) by the agency that solicited them. I suppose if you want to be anal about it, in an absolute sense they aren't really ads yet. But this is hair-splitting that only an attorney could love. Are they sponsored by MoveOn? They're being served intentionally with MoveOn's bandwidth: I'm not sure what definition of "sponsored" that doesn't fulfill. Do they compare Bush to Hitler? Most assuredly they do.

I keep thinking this: If they didn't want people to see it, they shouldn't have posted it. If they're going to post it, they should take responsibility for it. If no individual will do this, then there is no choice but to hold the entire organization responsible. If you're going to make mistakes, you have to expect people to notice--given that the entire purpose of your organization is to create publicity.

Be careful what you wish for.

(It's a curious interpretation of the "No Express Advocacy" limitation of a section 527 political organization that they feel they can say that Bush is Hitler, but they can't say you shouldn't vote for him.)

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Perspective

Let's re-examine "censorship" as practiced in the United States in light of this:
Reuters | Writer Deported for Insulting President
Zambia said Monday it had given a controversial British writer 24 hours to leave the country for insulting President Levy Mwanawasa and calling two of his ministers "baboons."

Home Affairs permanent secretary Peter Mumba said Roy Clarke, a satirical writer for the privately owned daily Post newspaper, was told Monday to leave Zambia Tuesday.

Clarke was not available for comment.

Clarke, who writes a column known as the "The Spectator," referred last Thursday to Mwanawasa as a "foolish elephant" and two of his ministers as "baboons" when Mwanawasa visited a game park for his Christmas holiday.

"Yes, he will be deported to Britain," Mumba told Reuters after being asked to confirm reports of Clarke's deportation.

"We will buy a ticket for him on British Airways because he cannot continue to live with people he thinks are baboons," Mumba said.
Well? Dixie Chicks? Barbra Streisand? Bill Maher? Alec Baldwin? Do any of you have anything to add?

Oh, settle down. I'm not saying they shouldn't say anything. I'm just suggesting that insulting the President of the United States isn't exactly the courageous, high-risk activity they make it sound like. Some days you have to take a number. Go ahead. Nothing will happen. No reprisals. No veiled comments about "Nice family you got there. Shame if anything should happen to them." Certainly no deportations.

Wonder why that is?

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Friday, January 02, 2004

"Where's my flying car?"

Well, Ron, don't hold your breath:
Los Angeles Times | Can We Ever Commute as Jetsons Did?
To accommodate millions of vehicles zipping through the sky at high speeds, the nation's air traffic control system would need to be revamped, and largely automated. The craft themselves would need to be virtually auto-piloted — enter a destination, and off you go. No pilot's license necessary.

Some, like [Bob Van der Linden, curator of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum], don't see it happening.

"It's possible, but I wouldn't hold my breath. These things have been said before," the aviation historian said. "Can you imagine the average driver on an L.A. freeway in an airplane overhead? What a frightening experience that would be."



Hm. Do we need a national Ground Traffic Control System? Probably not: We've got one. It's called "roads". And that's an interesting blithe assumption that it's possible, or desirable, to have a thousand Personal Aircraft in the sky driving themselves, yet they haven't been able to create a reliable self-guided ground vehicle.

Even discounting the fact that there are a lot more obstacles on the ground than there are a thousand feet up, would you trust Maps On Us to get you where you're going unsupervised?

Perhaps the airline industry depends on (1) relatively few entry/exit points to the system (how many airports vs how many on-ramps?) and (2) darn near nothing to hit up there once you get away from the ground.

I'm telling you?