Science, socialism, and fascism, oh my

Just soak this in…

Supporters and opponents of the Next Generation Science Standards sparred during hearings in Kentucky last week, as critics took issue with the standards’ teaching of evolution and climate change.

The new standards were developed with input from officials in 26 states –- including Kentucky –- and are part of an effort to make science curricula more uniform across the country. While supporters feel the standards will help beat back scientific ignorance, some religious groups take issue because the standards treat evolution as fact and talk about the human role in climate change.

The Kentucky Board of Education adopted the standards in June and held hearings to get public feedback on the standards last week before they were presented to the state legislature for official approval.

Matt Singleton, a Baptist minister, is one of the opponents who spoke to the board about why the standards should not be adopted, according to The Courier-Journal. “Outsiders are telling public school families that we must follow the rich man’s elitist religion of evolution, that we no longer have what the Kentucky Constitution says is the right to worship almighty God,” Singleton said. “Instead, this fascist method teaches that our children are the property of the state.”

Another opponent, Dena Stewart-Gore, suggested that the standards will make religious students feel ostracized. “The way socialism works is it takes anybody that doesn’t fit the mold and discards them,” she said, per the The Courier-Journal. “We are even talking genocide and murder here, folks.”

Photo of the day

From the National Geographic Tumblr:

Boats ferry through a canal to bypass the Peloponnesus in Corinth, Greece, December 1956.Photograph by David Boyer, National Geographic

Boats ferry through a canal to bypass the Peloponnesus in Corinth, Greece, December 1956.

Good news?

One thing I’ve really been waiting/hoping for is for the more enlightened elements of the NC business community to speak out.  Surely, plenty of these folks recognize how central public education has been to the relative success of our state.  Well, that time has finally arrived in the person of one of NC’s richest Republicans:

Ann Goodnight is not happy. In a letter-to-the-editor in the News and Observer, she goes after the state budget and the leaders who wrote and passed it:

We are knowingly under-investing in our pre-K-12, community college and university students; in our teachers; and in innovative new approaches to learning. This budget is an embarrassment in its lack of investment in the skills and competitiveness of its people. This is a grievous mistake.

Before writing this off as another partisan attack, it should be noted that Ann Goodnight – the wife of Jim Goodnight, the founder and CEO of SAS – is a connected, important, and influential supporter of Republicans.

She’s held fundraisers in her home for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (to the tune of $300,000) and is a member of the UNC Board of Governors. According to, she has given to Republicans Orrin Hatch and Mitt Romney, as well as Republican Congressional candidates in North Carolina

Her letter was posted by a number of FB friends with glowing commentary.  And sure, good for Ann Goodnight.  But where was she a few weeks ago when they were working on this budget?  And what did she think Phil Berger actually wanted to do for public education when she was holding all those fundraisers for him?    I sure hope to see a lot more of a letter out of her in the future.

That said, I do hope that this is the beginning of a flood of more enlightened/moderate business leaders in the state turning on the far right leadership that’s driving us off a cliff.  Them the elected Republicans will listen to.  Of course, I’ve got some hope for the 2014 and 2016 voters of North Carolina.  But that amazingly successful Republican gerrymander will certainly limit that impact.

[p.s.  Heading out to the mountains for a few days vacation with the in-laws.  You can probably expect a reduced rate of posting.]

Video of the day

Thanks to EG for sending this after a brief Sharknado exchange.  Great stuff:

Oh, also, it’s pretty funny, Sarah has been asking about shark tornadoes since seeing part of the movie.

Photo of the day

I thought about going to Moral Monday again yesterday, but knowing that yesterday was largely about a march, I figured a lot less people would bring their dogs out.  I didn’t want to deal with a disappointed Sarah, so I stayed home.  Apparently, there were at least some dogs there:


NC by the numbers

Obviously, the NC-focused posts will slow down with the GA now done for the year (and honestly, it was getting emotionally exhausting being perpetually enraged by their shenanigans), but here’s a nice summary post from NC Policy Watch putting numbers to a lot of what they’ve done (I went ahead and pasted the whole thing):

70,000—number of long term unemployed workers in North Carolina who lost federal emergency unemployment benefits June 30 because of the effective date of the changes the General Assembly made to state unemployment system (The Unemployment Insurance Cliff:  A Steep Fall for Families, the Economy, N.C. Budget & Tax Center, June 2013) – See more at:

100,000—number of additional long term unemployed workers who will lose federal emergency unemployment benefits before the end of the year because of the actions of the General Assembly (Ibid)

1.2 billion—amount in dollars of the estimated economic impact in North Carolina of the loss of federal emergency unemployment benefits as a result of the actions of the General Assembly (Ibid)

500,000—number of low-income adults denied health care coverage because of the decision made by McCrory and the General Assembly to refuse the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (“Updated: Wos Says Decision to Not Expand Medicaid Was Goodwin’s Call,” N.C. Health News, May 10, 2013)

907,000—number of low-wage workers in North Carolina who claimed the state Earned Income Tax Credit  in 2011 (“North Carolina’s Earned Income Tax Credit: A Modest but Vital Boost to Low-Paid Workers across the State, N.C Budget & Tax Center, February 2013)

64,000—number of military families who claimed the state Earned Income Tax Credit in 2011 (Factsheet: 64,000 North Carolina Military Families Set to Lose EITC, Experience Tax Increase, N.C Budget & Tax Center)

0—-number of low-wage workers in North Carolina including those in military families who will receive the state EITC under the tax shift plan approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Pat McCrory (Ibid)

80—percent of taxpayers who will on average will receive a tax INCREASE under the tax changes made by the General Assembly in 2013 (“Preliminary Analysis of Joint Tax Plan: Still a big tax cut at the top,” Progressive Pulse, July 16, 2013)

10,000—amount in dollars of the tax CUT that millionaires will receive under the tax changes made by the General Assembly in 2013 (Ibid)

2,500—the number of reduction of slots in NC PreK for at-risk four year olds in 2013-2104 budget approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Pat McCrory (Overview: Final budget deal falls short, puts North Carolina on a path to mediocrity, Progressive Pulse, July 22, 2013)

5,200—the number of teaching positions that will be lost as a result of the 2013-2015 budget approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Pat McCrory (Summary of Special Provisions- Senate Bill 402, N.C. Department of Public Instruction)

4,580—number of teacher assistants positions cut in the2013-2015 budget approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Pat McCrory (Ibid)

0—amount in dollars for salary increases for teachers in North Carolina in the budget for the 2013-2014 school year (Ibid)

15—number of years it takes a North Carolina public school teacher with a bachelor’s degree to earn $40,000 (Presentation on North Carolina Teacher Salaries; State Board of Education, March 2013)

50—rank of North Carolina in average teacher salary increase over the past 10 years (Ibid)

10 million—amount in dollars of the cost  in 2013-2014 of the voucher scheme included in the final budget that for the first time will allow taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for tuition at unaccountable private and religious schools (Vouchers gain ground, public education loses in final budget, N.C. Policy Watch, July 25, 2013)

15—number of the state’s 16 abortion clinics that could be forced to close under sweeping anti-choice bill approved by the General Assembly and waiting for Governor Pat McCrory’s signature or veto (“Abortion regulations heading to McCrory, WRAL-TV, July 25, 2013)

318,000—number of registered voters in North Carolina who do not have a NC driver’s license or state identity card and will be affected by the voter suppression legislation passed by the General Assembly (“County-by-County Data Reveal Dramatic Impact of Proposed Election Changes on Voters,” Democracy North Carolina, July 22, 2013)

22—percentage of currently active North Carolina voters who are African-American (“Who Doesn’t Have a Photo ID?” Democracy North Carolina)

32—percentage of active voters without a valid NC photo ID who are African-American (Ibid)

Almost too depressing to read the whole thing.

Occupy lives

I was listening to the New Yorker political scene podcast today and they were talking about how inequality was now a regular theme in President Obama’s speeches.  It got me thinking that, fortunately, it’s very much become a regular theme in American political discourse.  And whereas some on the left were talking about it a few years ago, it was still kind of a niche issue.  That’s changed and surely the lion’s share of the credit for that has to go to the Occupy movement.  No matter what else they did or accomplished (which, on its face, is little) they most definitely served to change the political conversation in this country in a very needed direction.  Though that has not borne policy fruit yet, over time it surely will.

I thought I should put a few number with this to emphasize my point, so I searched Lexis/Nexis for the use of the term “inequality” in a variety of news sources from January through July 2011 (Occupy started in September 2011) and compared it with January through July of 2013.  The results:






New York Times



Washington Post



Associated Press



Some pretty dramatic increases.  No matter what else, that is an important and ongoing legacy of Occupy.  And, hopefully (2017?) we’l see this start to bear meaningful fruit in policy.

Video of the day

This is truly, truly awesome.  View from the Space Shuttle solid rocket booster with enhanced sound.  Make sure you watch in 720p.

Kids and dogs

Part of me thinks its really stupid to waste my time ranting against what stupid people write.  But sometimes I cannot resist.  Such as this completely absurd Allison Benedikt piece in Slate on how you should not get a dog if you plan on having kids.

Now, there’s a nice essay to be written on how becoming a parent changes your emotional relationship with your dog.  In our case, the dog really did go from our baby to a beloved, but definitely subsidiary member of the family.   Emphasis on still beloved (especially by all the kids) and well-treated.

In Bendikt’s case, the lesson is that having three kids four and under (that always seemed nuts to me) and a high-strung, barky dog don’t mix.  I’ll absolutely give her that, but to generalize from that that one should not get a dog if you are going to have kids is beyond absurd.  For one, from a practical standpoint, you can’t beat how fabulous they are at cleaning up every crumb your toddler spills.  In our case, Lira did a great job of deep cleaning the carpet wherever David spit up (which happened a lot).  Gross, yes.  Effective, yes.

Anyway, here’s the kids with our beloved (and departed) Sasha from Easter 2012 (and damn, they grow so fast!)


How to end obesity

Way back when I was at the beach last month I read the Atlantic cover story titled “How Junk Food Can End Obesity” and loved it.  Great, thought-provoking stuff.  I’ve been meaning to blog about it ever since and have failed till now.   Anyway, the basic gist– which strikes me as pretty much right– is that the food elitists are never going to succeed by convincing the mass of Americans to give up their potato chips and McDonalds in exchange for arugula and cooking their own rice and lentils.  Rather, healthier Americans will result from technology that takes the foods that are making us fat and re-making them so they don’t make us fat.  To wit:

If the most-influential voices in our food culture today get their way, we will achieve a genuine food revolution. Too bad it would be one tailored to the dubious health fantasies of a small, elite minority. And too bad it would largely exclude the obese masses, who would continue to sicken and die early. Despite the best efforts of a small army of wholesome-food heroes, there is no reasonable scenario under which these foods could become cheap and plentiful enough to serve as the core diet for most of the obese population—even in the unlikely case that your typical junk-food eater would be willing and able to break lifelong habits to embrace kale and yellow beets. And many of the dishes glorified by the wholesome-food movement are, in any case, as caloric and obesogenic as anything served in a Burger King.

Through its growing sway over health-conscious consumers and policy makers, the wholesome-food movement is impeding the progress of the one segment of the food world that is actually positioned to take effective, near-term steps to reverse the obesity trend: the processed-food industry. Popular food producers, fast-food chains among them, are already applying various tricks and technologies to create less caloric and more satiating versions of their junky fare that nonetheless retain much of the appeal of the originals, and could be induced to go much further. In fact, these roundly demonized companies could do far more for the public’s health in five years than the wholesome-food movement is likely to accomplish in the next 50. But will the wholesome-food advocates let them? …

To be sure, many of Big Food’s most popular products are loaded with appalling amounts of fat and sugar and other problem carbs (as well as salt), and the plentitude of these ingredients, exacerbated by large portion sizes, has clearly helped foment the obesity crisis. It’s hard to find anyone anywhere who disagrees. Junk food is bad for you because it’s full of fat and problem carbs. But will switching to wholesome foods free us from this scourge? It could in theory, but in practice, it’s hard to see how. Even putting aside for a moment the serious questions about whether wholesome foods could be made accessible to the obese public, and whether the obese would be willing to eat them, we have a more immediate stumbling block: many of the foods served up and even glorified by the wholesome-food movement are themselves chock full of fat and problem carbs…

Hold on, you may be thinking. Leaving fat, sugar, and salt aside, what about all the nasty things that wholesome foods do not, by definition, contain and processed foods do?  …

The health concerns raised about processing itself—rather than the amount of fat and problem carbs in any given dish—are not, by and large, related to weight gain or obesity. That’s important to keep in mind, because obesity is, by an enormous margin, the largest health problem created by what we eat. But even putting that aside, concerns about processed food have been magnified out of all proportion.

Some studies have shown that people who eat wholesomely tend to be healthier than people who live on fast food and other processed food (particularly meat), but the problem with such studies is obvious: substantial nondietary differences exist between these groups, such as propensity to exercise, smoking rates, air quality, access to health care, and much more. (Some researchers say they’ve tried to control for these factors, but that’s a claim most scientists don’t put much faith in.) What’s more, the people in these groups are sometimes eating entirely different foods, not the same sorts of foods subjected to different levels of processing. It’s comparing apples to Whoppers, instead of Whoppers to hand-ground, grass-fed-beef burgers with heirloom tomatoes, garlic aioli, and artisanal cheese. For all these reasons, such findings linking food type and health are considered highly unreliable, and constantly contradict one another, as is true of most epidemiological studies that try to tackle broad nutritional questions.

The fact is, there is simply no clear, credible evidence that any aspect of food processing or storage makes a food uniquely unhealthy.

Now, ceteris paribus, eating healthier, less-processed food is probably better for you.  But, in most all things in life, all else is not equal.  And as long as that’s the case, if we want people to eat (maybe not even more healthy, but) less obesogenic food, than Big Food simply has to be part of the solution.   (Now go read the whole thing).

Go Pope!

I cannot say I pay all that much attention to what Pope Francis has been up to, but most every time I hear something, it is heartening.  Clearly, a sharp break from his predecessor.  Here’s the latest:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE— Pope Francis opened the door Sunday to greater acceptance of gay priests inside the ranks of Roman Catholicism as he returned to the Vatican from his maiden trip overseas.

Fielding questions from reporters during the first news conference of his young papacy, the pontiff broached the delicate question of how he would respond to learning that a cleric in his ranks was gay, though not sexually active. For decades, the Vatican has regarded homosexuality as a “disorder,” and Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVIformally barred men with what the Vatican deemed “deep-seated” homosexuality from entering the priesthood.

“Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” the pontiff said, speaking in Italian. “You can’t marginalize these people.”

Never before had a pope spoken out in defense of gay priests in the Catholic ministry, said Vatican analysts. Past popes have traditionally treated homosexuality as an obstacle to priestly celibacy, and the Vatican has sent extensive instructions to Catholic seminaries on how to restrict gay candidates from the priesthood.

Pope Francis “is showing a deep respect for the human condition as it is instead of approaching things in a doctrinal way,” said Alberto Melloni, a church historian.

No, he’s not going to argue for the ordination of women any time soon or overturn the ban on “artificial” contraception, but he clearly has a strong and passionate commitment to social justice and helping the poor.  Given the pool of Catholic Cardinals at the time of his selection, this seems to be about as good a Pope as we could have hoped for.

Driving in reverse down the education highway

It seems to me if there’s one thing we can really learn for sure from other nations with superior school systems it’s this: get the best and brightest teachers by valuing them highly, treating them as professionals, and compensating accordingly.  Testing or no testing– you get the best teachers and everything else should reasonably well fall into place.   How to get consistently mediocre teachers?  Scare away bright, ambitious young people by continually dis-respecting those who do the job, both through words and through inadequate compensation.

Now, there are many truly fabulous teachers here in NC (and I’m lucky to count several as friends), but there is no doubt that on average if you want to improve the quality of teachers you need to value and reward those who go into the profession.  Far too many good teachers leave because they simply cannot afford to be so under-compensated and far too many people never seriously consider the field due to the institutionalized dis-respect.

Thus, the idea that somehow we will improve education in NC as our teacher salaries sink ever lower (in a relative sense) is truly ludicrous.  Now, I’m actually for a gradual reform where you eliminate Master’s degree raises (the evidence is clear– no correlation between higher degrees and quality teaching), but only if those funds are re-distributed to better compensate all teachers.

My biggest fear about the craziness from the legislature this year is that NC will have a genuine brain drain.  Many of the best and brightest will never come here and many others will leave.  Among those who stay, our education system will surely only stagnate as we lose too many good teachers (both actual and potential) over the low salaries and lack of professional respect.

Anyway, the NCAE has a nice summary of the changes:

1. Eliminates 9,306.5 education positions — 5,184.5 teachers, 3,850 teacher assistants, and 272 Support Personnel (guidance counselors, psychologist, etc.).

2. Provides NO pay increases for educators, continuing North Carolina’s race to the bottom of national salaries. In 2007-08 North Carolina was ranked 25th in the nation in teacher pay, last year our state was 46th. With no additional pay, next year North Carolina undoubtedly will be at the bottom…

6. Grades Schools (A-F), 80% based on standardized test scores, 20% based on growth. No other variables will be considered in this grading.

7. Eliminates the Teaching Fellows Program, once viewed as a national model for recruiting teachers into the classroom, the program is no longer funded.

8. Reduces targeted education funding: • Cuts Textbook funding by $77.4 million dollars; • Cuts Classroom supply funding by $45.7 million dollars; • Cuts Limited English Proficiency funding by $6 million dollars.

Oh, yeah, all this while cutting taxes–primarily for the richest residents– by over half a billion over the next two years.

Meanwhile, on the anecdotal side, this letter from a teacher to the legislature is great:

When I moved here and began teaching in 2007, $30,000 was a major drop from the $40,000 starting salaries being offered by districts all around me in metro Detroit, but it was fine for a young single woman sharing a house with roommates and paying off student loans. However, over six years later, $31,000 is wholly insufficient to support my family. So insufficient, in fact, that my children qualify for and use Medicaid as their medical insurance, and since there is simply no way to deduct $600 per month from my meager take-home pay in order to include my husband on my health plan, he has gone uninsured…

I will make no apologies for saying that I am a great teacher. I run an innovative classroom where the subject matter is relevant and the standards are high. My teaching practice has resulted in consistently high evaluations from administrators, positive feedback from parents, and documented growth in students.

I realize that no one in Raleigh will care or feel the impact when this one teacher out of 80,000 leaves the classroom. I understand. However, my 160 students will feel the impact. And 160 the next year. And the next. My Professional Learning Community, teachers around the county with whom I collaborate, will be impacted, and their students as well. Young teachers become great when they are mentored by experienced, effective educators, and all their students are impacted as well. When quality teachers leave the classroom, the loss of mentors is yet another effect. This is how the quiet and exponential decline in education happens.

Higher teacher pay may be unpopular, and I am aware it is difficult to see the connection between teacher pay and a quality education for students, so I will try to make it clear. Paying me a salary on which I can live means I can stay in the classroom, and keeping me in the classroom means thousands of students over the next decade would get a quality education from me. It’s that simple.

And, while she is just 1 teacher out of 80,000, you can be guaranteed that she is far from alone in her situation and that thousands of other good teachers will be making similar decisions.  This is a slow-motion disaster for North Carolina.  Mississippi here we come.

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