Video of the day

Bizarrely captivating.  Via Kottke.

North Carolina students– not smart enough for Common Core?

Yes, according to some.  I don’t doubt that some Common Core standards might be a little too optimistic, especially in lower grades, but I really am concerned by the sound of these complaints (via WUNC):

A state commission in charge of reworking the Common Core academic standards has begun reviewing them…

The 11 members were politically appointed to review and possibly make changes to the academic standards after lawmakers heard complaints from parents and teachers that they do not progress in a natural or developmentally appropriate way.

“Our kids are not common,” said Jeannie Metcalf, co-chair of the commission and long-time Forsyth County school board member. “They are different and they may not be able to achieve some of these higher level expectations.”

Wtf?  That sure sounds a hell of a lot like our kids are just not smart enough.  Wow, is that really the direction we want to go with state-wide standards.  Will you be shocked to learn that Metcalf is from the Tea Party brigade.  Oh, and how is this for classic Orwellian doublespeak:

Metcalf and others explained that some of the standards may need to be rearranged without lowering the bar for students.

“I don’t think any of us want to lower the bar,” said Jeffrey Isenhour, a principal from Catawba County. “There needs to be some alignment, things have to make sense in terms of how students learn.”

Ummm, right.  Standards need to be “aligned” but not “lowered.”  Yeah, and ignorance is strength.  Again, in all fairness some of the standards may need adjusting, but I really don’t trust the people who think the solution is to entirely ditch the higher, better, standards of the Common Core because North Carolina is somehow “unique” or “different.”  At this rate we will be, though– uniquely behind in public education (of course, not really uniquely, we’ll always have Alabama and Mississippi to make us feel good).

Photo of the day

From a Telegraph photos of the week gallery:

Butterfly death throes. Many celestial objects are beautiful – swirling spiral galaxies or glittering clusters of stars are notable examples. But some of the most striking scenes are created during the death throes of intermediate-mass stars, when great clouds of superheated gas are expelled into space. These dying breaths form planetary nebulas like NGC 6302, captured here.<br />
Known perhaps more appropriately as the Bug or Butterfly Nebula, this complex nebula lies roughly 3800 light-years away from us within the Milky Way. It was formed when a star around five times the mass of our Sun became a red giant, ejected its outer layers, and became intensely hot. Its distinctive shape classifies it as a bipolar nebula, where fast-moving gas can escape more easily from the poles of the dying star than from around its equator. This creates a lobed structure reminiscent of an hourglass or, as in this case, a giant cosmic butterfly.” /></p>
<p><em>Butterfly death throes. Many celestial objects are beautiful – swirling spiral galaxies or glittering clusters of stars are notable examples. But some of the most striking scenes are created during the death throes of intermediate-mass stars, when great clouds of superheated gas are expelled into space. These dying breaths form planetary nebulas like NGC 6302, captured here. Known perhaps more appropriately as the Bug or Butterfly Nebula, this complex nebula lies roughly 3800 light-years away from us within the Milky Way. It was formed when a star around five times the mass of our Sun became a red giant, ejected its outer layers, and became intensely hot. Its distinctive shape classifies it as a bipolar nebula, where fast-moving gas can escape more easily from the poles of the dying star than from around its equator. This creates a lobed structure reminiscent of an hourglass or, as in this case, a giant cosmic butterfly.<span class=Picture: NASA/ESA/Hubble

Today in Ebola

This is big news that 43 people in Texas were recently declared free of Ebola.  This includes the dead man’s fiance, her family, and many caregivers!  Ebola is scary is hell, but this just further shows that it is not actually easy to catch.  The man’s fiance didn’t get it, damnit!  And yet you’ve got people afraid to leave their house or worried that they are on the same cruise ship as somebody completely asymptomatic who carefully handled a blood sample in a lab.  Get a grip already.

Love, love, love the response of this Cleveland man:

AKRON, Ohio — Peter Pattakos spent 20 minutes Saturday in an Akron bridal shop, getting fitted for a tux for his friend’s wedding. Thursday, his friend sent a text message, telling him that Ebola patient Amber Joy Vinson had been in the store around the same time…

Pattakos, 36, a Cleveland attorney who lives in Bath Township, called the health department, which told him to call back if he exhibits any Ebola symptoms. He called a doctor, who told him not to worry.

“I didn’t exchange any bodily fluids with anyone, so I’m not worried about it,” he said. “I’m much more likely to be mistakenly killed by a police officer in this country than to be killed by Ebola, even if you were in the same bridal shop.” [emphasis mine]

A post from Seth Masket on the potential electoral fallout .  It’s just so pathetic to hear Republicans with an incoherent chorus of “Isis, Ebola, and Terrorists, of my,” though I fear it may work:

It’s possible that the current Ebola scare is undermining American’s sense of security and well-being, even while not directly threatening their lives. It’s also possible that this sense of insecurity has become politicized in Americans’ minds, such that they—consciously or unconsciously—blame Obama for the climate of fear and will punish Democrats for it in the election. But what beyond that? Will they credit or punish Democrats for Obama’s handling of the situation? Will they turn to Republicans to protect them during times of crisis?

I honestly don’t expect a particularly large political impact, but to the degree there is one, I think people are scared and unhappy and that is pretty much always the president’s “fault.”  I was pretty happy with my quote in this ABCNews.com article:

But is Ebola a legitimate campaign issue or are campaigns engaging in fear mongering? Steven Greene, a professor of political science at NC State University, says it’s a little bit of both.

“I think there are very important issues of public policies related to Ebola that we should have a mature discussion about, but the truth is we don’t have mature discussion about anything in the campaign season so whatever political discussion about this is most likely going to be fear mongering,” Greene said.

Though, I actually don’t think we can have a mature policy discussion outside of election season either.

And lastly, have you wondered why you are not hearing at all from the Surgeon General during all this?  It’s because we don’t have one.  Why don’t we have one?  Because the nominee is under the impression that not only do people kill people, guns kill people.  Obviously he is unqualified for the job and Republicans are right to block him:

On Sunday, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) about the NRA’s role in blocking Murthy’s confirmation, but the Republican senator dismissed the question outright.

Blunt blamed the vacancy on President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has yet to put Murthy’s nomination to a full vote, and dismissed questions about the National Rifle Association’s efforts to block the nominee.

“The NRA said they were going to score the vote and suddenly everybody froze him,” said Chuck Todd. “That seems a little petty in hindsight, does it not?”

“Well, the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly then we should confirm them, there’s no question about that,” replied Blunt.

Earlier this year, the NRA launched a campaign to derail Murthy’s nomination because he voiced support for expanding background checks for gun purchases. His comments that gun violence was a public health concern raised the ire of the gun lobby and conservative lawmakers despite the fact that every major medical association — and several former Surgeons General under Republican presidents — shared the same view.

Once again it’s the NRA’s America and we’re just living in it.  Public health be damned (though, that’s already pretty obvious when looks at attitudes towards needless gun deaths).

You don’t actually have a right to vote

Nope, you don’t.  You cannot be denied a right to vote because of your gender, race, or age, but that is not the same thing as an affirmative right to vote.  And that is a damn important difference and definitely a failing in our democracy.  In the current context of voter suppression via Voter ID laws it would also be awfully consequential.  I think we should be very judicious in trying to amend the Constitution, but I can think of fewer more worthy ideas than a Constitutional right to vote.  Not to mention, sure strikes me as a political winner– who’s going to want to openly oppose that (other than Republicans, of course).  Yglesias:

When the constitution was enacted it did not include a right to vote for the simple reason that the Founders didn’t think most people should vote. Voting laws, at the time, mostly favored white, male property-holders, and the rules varied sharply from state to state. But over the first half of the nineteenth century, the idea of popular democracy took root across the land. Property qualifications were universally abolished, and the franchise became the key marker of white male political equality. Subsequent activists sought to further expand the franchise, by barring discrimination on the basis of race (the 15th Amendment) and gender (the 19th) — establishing the norm that all citizens should have the right to vote.

But this norm is just a norm. There is no actual constitutional provision stating that all citizens have the right to vote, only that voting rights cannot be dispensed on the basis of race or gender discrimination. A law requiring you to cut your hair short before voting, or dye it blue, or say “pretty please let me vote,” all might pass muster. And so might a voter ID requirement.

The legality of these kinds of laws hinge on whether they violate the Constitution’s protections against race and gender discrimination, not on whether they prevent citizens from voting. As Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier has written, this “leaves one of the fundamental elements of democratic citizenship tethered to the whims of local officials.”…

The solution, both to America’s voting access problem and to alleviating public concerns about fraud, is to establish an affirmative right to vote.

America prohibits racial and gender discrimination in voting rights because of a clear belief in the importance of voting to equal citizenship. The best way to vindicate this right would be through something like the language of a proposed constitutional amendment introduced last year by Reps. Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison, which states that “every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.”

A constitutional right to vote would instantly flip the script on anti-fraud efforts. States would retain a strong interest in developing rules and procedures that make it hard for ineligible voters to vote, but those efforts would be bounded by an ironclad constitutional guarantee that legitimate citizens’ votes must be counted. A state that wanted to require possession of a certain ID card to vote, for example, would have to take affirmative steps to ensure that everyone has that ID card, or that there’s a process for an ID-less citizen to cast a ballot and have it counted later upon verification of citizenship…

And while it’s easy for politicians to talk about their desire to secure the ballot, a Voting Rights Amendment would be difficult to oppose.

But beyond the politics, it’s a good idea on the merits. It would enshrine in our constitution a principle that we already believe: that the right to vote is an inherent attribute of citizenship and a cornerstone of civic equality.

Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems like a real winner for the Democrats to take up this issue.  Of course, for it to actually pass, which would be the ideal outcome, it would need to be truly bipartisan.  Either way, sign me up.

Photo of the day

From Telegraph’s animal photos of the week:

A red squirrel adopts a superman-like pose, leaping over three metre gaps between branches in pursuit of nuts.

A red squirrel adopts a superman-like pose, leaping over three metre gaps between branches in pursuit of nuts. They are a common species in the woodland areas between Stavanger and Bergen in Norway. Rolf Selvik lives on the forest edge and has been following the red squirrels for years, taking the opportunity to photograph them in flight.Picture: Rolf Selvik /Solent News

The decline of Southern Evangelicals

Wow– I had no idea about this.  I knew that Americans were getting gradually more secular, but I was quite surprised to learn just how much white Christian Evangelicals had declined in many Southern states in recent years.  Of course, this matters politically because they are such a key GOP constituency.  Now, to be clear, they are still very influential in these states and will continue to be for many years, but this is yet another demographic trendline the Republican Party is now on the losing end of.  Here’s the key chart from Robert Jones‘ Atlantic article:

And a little 2014 election context:

So what does this mean for the 2014 elections? Certainly, events on the ground are still paramount; the campaign machines and peculiarities of candidates matter. And in low-turnout elections such as the midterms, the real weight of these demographic and religious shifts will not yet be fully felt at the ballot box. White evangelical Protestants have a strong turnout record, while non-black ethnic minorities and particularly the religiously unaffiliated are much less likely to vote. PRRI’s pre-election American Values Survey found that while two-thirds (65 percent) of white evangelical Protestants report that they were absolutely certain to vote in the November elections, less than half (45 percent) of the religiously unaffiliated report this kind of certainty. But the underlying trends indicate that at least one reason why there are a number of close elections across the South is the declining dominance of white evangelical Protestants, the most stalwart of GOP supporters.

Also, I was intrigued by the American Values Survey.  Check it out– it’s awesome.  For example, here’s the religious breakdown of the three states where I have lived most of the years of my life:

map

And you can do that for any state you want.  Any demographic data, etc.  I could spend hours with this.  But, there’s blog posts to write and TV to watch.

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