Politics Archive

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Teach the Controversy! (except when I don't agree with it) - CSCOPE and the Second Amendment

CSCOPEYou know those types of people who doubt evolution and are always trying to get alternative viewpoints put into schools? They'll say to Teach the controversy, or to examine "all sides of scientific evidence". Well, in my recent research into the manufactured CSCOPE controversy, I came across this page:

RedHotConservative.com - 2nd AMENDMENT a COLLECTIVE RIGHT?

The writer highlighted a couple sections from a CSCOPE lesson plan.

DOES THE RIGHT BELONG TO THE INDIVIDUAL OR TO THE PEOPLE AS A GROUP (A COLLECTIVE RIGHT)?

and another:

The collective right's advocates believed that the Second Amendment did not apply to individuals; rather it recognized the right of a state to arm its militia. It recognized limited individual rights only when it was excercised by members of a functioning, organized militia while actively participating in the militia's activities.

The CSCOPE plan went on to explain the point of view of the proponents of individual's rights, and pointed out that the most recent Supreme Court decisions on the issue have favored the individual's rights interpretation. In fact, this is a pretty well balanced lesson. The debate of individual vs. collective interpretation of the Second Amendment is an old one. Just go read the Wikipedia article. It discusses older cases brought before the Supreme Court, such as United States v. Cruikshank, Presser v. Illinois, and Miller v. Texas, which interpreted the Second Amendment more as a collective right, and allowed state governments to restrict gun ownership. It wasn't until relatively recently, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that the Supreme Court finally and explicitly interpreted the Second Amendment as an individual right.

But apparently, even discussing this ongoing national debate is crossing the line.

In a High School lesson the kids are instructed to discuss whether the 2nd Amendment should be a collective or individual right. In TEXAS you may ask???? (UNFORTUNATELY YES) I call this INDOCTRINATION!

I know it's not terribly surprising, but just keep this in mind the next time you hear someone calling for debating all sides of the evolution debate. And also keep it in mind when you hear someone deriding CSCOPE for being some conspiracy to indoctrinate our children.


Previous CSCOPE Entries:

Monday, April 29, 2013

More on CSCOPE - Promoting Communist China?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the brewing CSCOPE controversy in an entry, CSCOPE Conspiracy?. For a bit of background, CSCOPE describes itself as "a customizable, online curriculum management system aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)." It basically consists of material to help teachers cover the required curriculum. But since everything seems to be politicized these days, CSCOPE is now getting pulled into the culture wars. Right wing critics of CSCOPE are leveling all sorts of charges against the system, such as claiming that it criticizes Christianity and that it promotes communism.

Since my post a few weeks ago, I've begun noticing these signs popping up all over Wichita Falls.

CSCOPE Protest Sign
Image Source: RedHotConservative.com*

So, I decided to take another look at this story. In my last entry, I examined one claim against CSCOPE - that it was denigrating Christianity by calling it a cult and claiming that early Christians participated in cannibalism and incest. Needless to say, reality didn't match up with the right wing claim.

Today, I typed CSCOPE into my google search box and followed a link to see another claimed criticism of the system. This time, the link was this one.
The Blaze - Want to See What CSCOPE and Common Core (Even Homeschooling) Lessons Look Like? These Parents Opened Up to TheBlaze

The writer of this article seemed mostly concerned with how CSCOPE discussed China, and supposedly promoted communism over capitalism. Here's a claim from that article.

"They make kids watch a video that makes capitalism look bad and Communist China look good. It's absolutely unbelievable."

Below are several screenshots of the program, "China Rises," along with a video that Card was able to record and save for his own records.

So, what does the screenshot say in support of Communism?

In 25 years, China has achieved the most rapid economic advance in such a short time of any nation in history. How? By scrapping its devotion to collectivism and embracing private enterprise with the zeal of 19th-century robber barons. But is China's success riding on the backs of the poor?

That's a pretty strange endorsement of communism. Here's an excerpt from another screenshot on that page.

Yet economic reform continued in China and continues today. The communist concept of sharing the work and the wealth - collectivism - has fallen by the wayside, and private enterprise has taken the helm of China's economy.

The actual screenshots from CSCOPE in the article are contradicting the text within the article. The CSCOPE lesson is claiming that China's switch to free market capitalism is what's fueling its economic growth.

The next complaint in the article was about 'cruelties' under capitalism.

Card notes that the video preview made available under the "Getting Rich" sub-section of the site talks about capitalism's "cruelties" as it shows a man whose [sic] lost his hand in a machine.

I haven't yet watched the video, but this doesn't sound like an indictment of capitalism. Given the mention of 'robber barons' in the one excerpt, it sounds like a look at how China is transitioning to capitalism, going through some of the same birth pangs as the rest of the world during the Industrial Revolution, when lack of regulations led to bad working environments and actual armed uprisings like the Ludlow Massacre.

So, that's another criticism of CSCOPE examined and found wanting. If I have the time and motivation, I may try looking into more of these criticisms in follow-up entries.

More Info:


*Note that the article on that RedHotConservative.com site is a verbatim copy of the article on Times Record News without even citing it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Response to Anti-Liberal E-mail - Linus Gets It

Libtards First PanelI need to quit taking the bait so easily. Somebody sent me another political e-mail that I couldn't resist responding to. This one wasn't nearly as high brow as the typical right wing rant. It consisted of 3 strips of the comic, Libtards (the name in and of itself lets you know the level of discourse to expect). This comic rips off the Peanuts, and in the strips I saw, at least, consisted of political conversations between Linus and Lucy, with Lucy representing the liberal and Linus representing the conservative. I'm not going to repost the comics here, but I will provide links if you want to read them for yourself.

Libtards Strip 1
The first strip started with Lucy saying, "I voted for Obama because he's black," followed by Linus listing all the supposed problems caused by Obama.

Voted for Obama because he's black Only a small minority of people voted for Obama strictly because he's black - probably about the same number of people who voted for McCain/Romney strictly because they're white.
Deficit Obama took office during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Deficit spending is exactly what the government's supposed to do in that situation to stimulate the economy and get things back on track. So, you can't have it both ways. Either the economy is recovered and we can stop deficit spending, or the economy is still hurting and requires deficit spending from the government.
NY Times - Judging Stimulus by Job Data Reveals Success

Let's also not forget that government spending as a percentage of GDP has been steadily decreasing since Obama's first year in office.

Federal Spending
(Source: JaredBernsteinBlog.com)

(In my opinion, this is a fault with the Obama administration - stimulus spending has been too small, explaining the slower than hoped recovery. The current sequestration is going to hurt the recovery even more.)
Unemployment Unemployment has been improving since the worst of the Recession.

U.S. Unemployment Rate
(Source: TradingEconomics.com)
Benghazi I agree that this is a problem, but also one that's been blown out of proportion.
Think Progress - What Everyone Should Know About The Benghazi Attack
Gas prices Gas prices showed a fairly steady rise from 2003 to 2008 under Bush. Then there was a sudden drop, after which prices relatively quickly rebounded to what they'd been previously, but have held fairly steady for the past two years without further increase. So, even assuming any president had much control over gas prices, I don't see where Obama's done a bad job.

Gas Price History
(Source: GasBuddy.com)
Immigration crisis Illegal immigration peaked in 2007 and has been decreasing since then.
CBS News - Illegal immigration to U.S. drops after rising for decade
Solyndra What about it? There were nearly 40 projects in that loan guarantee program. Most of the projects were successful. Solyndra wasn't. I wouldn't expect every project in such a program to be successful.
Think Progress - Five Things You Should Know About Solyndra During The 2012 Campaign
National credit rating Maybe you could blame Obama for not showing enough leadership here, but the downgrade was clearly due to the GOP in congress, and the way they played chicken with our country's economy and reputation.
Think Progress - The Downgrade Trifecta: S&P Slams Third GOP Debt Stance For Jeopardizing U.S. Credit


Libtards Strip 2
The second strip started with Lucy saying, "I am pro-choice!", followed by Linus listing all the things our tyrannical government prohibits.

Can I choose to smoke? Yes.  Cigarettes are still legal.
Can I choose a large soda? Other than one local government (NYC), everyone has always been able to buy large sodas.
Can I choose to own a gun? Yes.  Even the recently failed gun control laws were only trying to institute universal background checks, limit clip capacity, and limit one particular type of firearm (assault rifles).  A few years ago, Obama even signed into law a bill that allows people to take firearms into national parks.
NBC News - New law allows loaded guns in national parks
Can I choose an incandescent bulb? First of all, it depends.  Some states are phasing out incandescent bulbs.  Federal laws are only mandating new efficiency standards (albeit, ones that will be hard for current incandescent bulbs to meet).
Wikipedia - Phase-out of incandescent light bulbs: United States

But more importantly, Lucy was right in this comic.  Our energy use is too high.  Global warming is a real threat that we must face, and switching to more efficient light bulbs seems like a small price to pay to help reduce our carbon output.
RealClimate.org/
Can I choose low-cost coal? Again, Lucy is right.  According to Wikipedia, "Although coal power only accounted for 49% of the U.S. electricity production in 2006, it was responsible for 83% of CO2 emissions caused by electricity generation that year..."  How selfish do you have to be to want to continue using so much coal simply because it gives you a little cheaper electricity, when you're passing off all the problems of global warming to future generations?  Our nation should be transitioning to cleaner power sources.
Wikipedia - Coal power in the United States
Can I choose to honor God? Yes.  You just can't use tax-payer money to do so.  Granted, there are mostly local cases where someone doesn't understand the law, but no widespread attempt at suppressing religion.  In fact, the problem's mostly the opposite - people abusing their positions to use taxpayer money to push sectarian beliefs and not respecting the Establishment Clause.  (When's the last time you heard a politician end a speech without saying "and God bless America"?)
ACLU - ACLU Defense of Religious Practice and Expression
Americans United

Oh, just for the hell of it, let's turn this around and ask a few hypothetical questions to Republicans.

Can I burn an inanimate object like a flag? Not if we had our way.  Even though it causes no actual harm to anybody, it seems disrespectful.
Fox News - Houses Passes Ban on U.S. Flag-Burning
Can I marry whoever I want? No.  Even though marriage has been an ever changing institution, from polygamy (even in the Bible) to arranged marriages to no inter-racial marriages just a few decades ago, we're going to pretend that 'traditional marriage' is something real and outlaw the marriages we don't agree with.  And we'll even try to get an amendment passed to the Constitution that takes away freedom.
Star Tribune - Marriage Amendment
What about in my heterosexual marriage?  Can we do things a little 'wild and crazy' in the bedroom? Nope.  Missionary style only - at least in 13 states.
Huffington Post - Why Do Virginia, 13 Other States Want To Keep Their Anti-Sodomy Laws A Decade After SCOTUS Ban?
Can I hook up with a girl from a bar?  Shack up with my long term girlfriend? Not in Virginia.
Sodomy.org - Virginia's Sodomy Law
Can I smoke a little pot? No.  Drugs are immoral (even if marijuana and several other illicit drugs are less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol).
Wikipedia - Substance abuse
Can I buy a bottle of fine scotch whiskey on a Sunday afternoon? No.  And you can't go car-shopping, either.
Wikipedia - Blue law
Can I vote? Going against 200 years of tradition - not unless you have a driver's license, even though voter fraud is a non-existent problem.
Mother Jones - UFO Sightings Are More Common Than Voter Fraud

And if we think you're going to vote against us, we'll do what we can to make it harder for you to vote.
Think Progress - Florida Republicans Admit Voter Suppression Was The Goal Of New Election Laws
CommonDreams.org - Land of the Free? Home of the Brave? Only When It's Convenient


Libtards Strip 3
Here's the third and final strip from the e-mail. This one began with Lucy claiming, "Republicans are racist, sexist, homophobic, gun-toting religious fanatics," with Linus pointing out that liberals support Muslims who share all those same traits.

Okay, he has a bit of a point, there. Too many liberals, going too far in trying to be tolerant and multicultural, accept the negative aspects of some cultures.
SamHarris.org - Dear Fellow Liberal: An Exchange with Glenn Greenwald

But it's important to remember that there's a lot of diversity among Muslims just like Christians. Just like you shouldn't try to tar all of Christianity because of the KKK, Hutaree, the Army of God, modern day witch hunts, or the like, you shouldn't try to tar all of Islam because of Muslim extremists. In fact, this is a large part of the reason why many liberals are so quick to defend Muslims - because there is real discrimination against them.
Wikipedia - Christian terrorism
Wikipedia - Army of God (United States)
Guardian - Children are targets of Nigerian witch hunt
Think Progress - Fox News Reignites Islamophobic Campaign Against The 'Ground Zero Mosque'


So, this was just more of the same that I've come to expect from right-wing e-mail forwards - straw men and distortions of the truth, though in a much cruder format than I'm used to seeing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are Evidence and Expertise Bad for Politics?

MicroscopeIf you've followed this blog at all, you'll know that my blog fodder typically comes from e-mails I receive directly, or sometimes from other sources when it's a topic I'm particularly interested in. My point is, I don't go out looking for cranks to rebut, because the Internet is so full of those that there's no way to respond to all of them. I usually stick to stories that have some type of personal connection. However, I just came across an article that I couldn't resist replying to.

A few days ago, there was a debate between Brendan O'Neill and Robin Ince. O'Neill posted a version of his speech on his blog in an entry titled Is science becoming a new religion?. Ince wrote his response to the debate on his blog in an entry titled The Fascism of Knowing Stuff.

O'Neill's article was exasperating. It wasn't so much about science becoming a new religion (an attitude I wouldn't agree with, anyway), but about the intersection of science and politics, and why politics is the worse off for it. His main point was that that democracy should be for the common person (which is largely true), but that expertise and evidence should NOT be that important in making policy decision. I'm not exaggerating. Here is one excerpt from his speech.

When politics and science mix in this way, both of them suffer, I think. We end up with evidence-driven policy and policy-driven science, neither of which is a very good thing.

Let that sink in. He literally said that evidence-driven policy is not a good thing.

Here's what he had to say in the very next paragraph.

Politics suffers because it becomes more rigid. It is hard to have a serious democratic debate about a course of action when that course of action is described as the correct, scientific thing to do. Anyone who challenges it is written off as anti-science, a heretic, a denier. Moral debate dies, or at least suffers badly, when authority becomes increasingly scientific and expert-led.

I'm sorry if reality is too stifling for you, but that is the world we live in. And now matter how much some people might like for this to be true, public debate will not change the nature of reality. For example, no matter how much denialists would like to ignore global climate change, it really is happening and we and future generations are going to have to live with the consequences. There are things we can do now to mitigate those consequences, and this is where the political debate should be, not doubting the science. And of course, science should be used to inform the debate on what to do about climate change, since that is how we can best determine the effects of our actions.

Here's another excerpt criticizing the involvement of experts in politics.

The more politics becomes an experts' pursuit, the less room there is for the public's ideological or passionate or angry or prejudicial views - they are unscientific and to listen to them is to play to populist sentiment, as David Nutt and others say.

And here's one final excerpt. This was one of the first in the article that really caught my eye, but if I'd made it the first in this post, it might have seemed that I was criticizing O'Neall out of context. But with the other quotes I've included above as a reference, there should be no problem believing that O'Neall wrote this as a complaint (although, unfortunately, not true enough).

What we have today is a situation where evidence and expertise are the main drivers of policy.

To be fair, O'Neill did make a few fair points about science becoming corrupted by politics, and politicians cherry-picking data to support their positions, but his overall message could almost have come from an Onion article. I just don't understand this type of anti-intellectualism, nor wanting to free public policy from that pesky evidence.

h/t: Pharyngula

Thursday, April 11, 2013

CSCOPE Conspiracy?

CSCOPEI subscribe to the Texas Freedom Network's e-mail list. I just got one warning of an upcoming fight in the making.

A witch hunt organized by far-right activists and pressure groups has created a new venue for the State Board of Education (SBOE) to politicize what Texas students learn in their classrooms. This spring a committee of SBOE members and educators will initiate a review of CSCOPE, a curriculum management system used in hundreds of Texas public and parochial schools.

For a good background of this case, go read the article, TFN's Kathy Miller: Politics Trump Common Sense in the Far Right's Manufactured CSCOPE 'Controversy'. The article lists some of the good and bad things about CSCOPE, and explained how CSCOPE officials had already agreed to institute many reforms after a hearing before the state Senate Education Committee.

The article also mentioned some of the more outrageous charges that have been leveled against the system. However, it didn't provide extensive quotes or list sources, so I thought I'd look into it a bit myself. I did a google search for CSCOPE, and followed one of the first results to a site called Texas CSCOPE Review. I skimmed through their home page a bit to find an example of what they considered to be a bad lesson from CSCOPE, and the first link I clicked on was to CSCOPE: Anti-Christian Authors. The writer of the article was unhappy that one of the CSCOPE lessons directed students to read an article on the BBC website, Christianity and the Roman Empire. Here's an excerpt from the Texas CSCOPE Review article.

Throughout the article, Christians are referred to as a cult. Following is an exert from the article:
"Contemporary pagan and Christian sources preserve other accusations leveled against the Christians. These included charges of incest and cannibalism, probably resulting from garbled accounts of the rites which Christians celebrated in necessary secrecy, being the agape (the 'love-feast') and the Eucharist (partaking of the body and blood of Christ). "

And then from later in the article:

I have not seen a TEKS that describes Christianity as a cult or Christians as cannibals, must [sic] less incestuous.

Why are our state education agencies presenting Christianity as a cult and worse?

My goodness. Is the writer for Texas CSCOPE Review that ignorant? If you go read that BBC article (it's pretty good), you'll see that it uses cult in the traditional sense, as Merriam-Webster would put it, of "a system of religious beliefs and ritual". The article referred to several cults from the ancient Roman world, with Christianity just being one of those. It's also surprising that the Texas CSCOPE Review could so misinterpret what was being said about the charges against Christians. The BBC article specifically said that they probably resulted "from garbled accounts of the rites which Christians celebrated in necessary secrecy". The BBC wasn't confirming the charges, but rather showing the type of outlandish charges that were used to justify persecution of Christians.

I know that fact checking one claim isn't very rigorous, but when it was the very first claim of an organization that I encountered, it doesn't bode well for that organization's reputation. And given most of the sources I've heard of denouncing CSCOPE are troubled by its 'liberal bias', and that its critics include the likes of Glen Beck, its probably pretty safe to bet that those particular criticisms don't have much merit.

Of course, this isn't to say that the program's perfect and couldn't use improvement, but let's give them a chance to institute the reforms that came out of the state Senate Education Committee hearing before starting a witch hunt.

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