Archive for April, 2010

Andrew Sullivan needs help!

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010


Here is Andy’s stunning reason for why the Press has not followed him down the dark pit of insanity: It’s because the media is all about maximizing ratings by not causing offense.

Hello, Andy? It’s reality calling. It misses you.

The Media has maximized their ratings simply by dropping the P-Word at every turn, including any story that would probably be considered offensive to Palin or her family.

The cable news rivals (and the print media) all agree on one thing: Palin brings viewers (or readers). Whether you love her, hate her, are annoyed by her, or are curious about her, an awful lot of people want to hear the latest Palin story.

She is the most talked about marginal political player at the national level since…..well, who? She is an irresistible Boogy Man to the liberals, and an attractive departure from the political old guard for the Conservatives. Call her a guilty pleasure for all those who enjoy watching liberals froth at the mouth regarding her, yet would never consider voting for her as a Presidential candidate.

Let’s be serious. Most polls have her consistently lagging well behind several other Republican options. Most Conservative politicians pointedly talk all around her viability as a Presidential candidate. Her folksy, but repetitive, dialogue and inch-deep generalizations about current events and policy leaves most potential voters suspcious.

Yet her name is like catnip to those who love her and those who despise her. Including those in the media. So they will continue to search out and publicize every nugget from either Crazy Palin or Real American Palin, until the next Big Thing comes along. And yes Andy, that would include a story about Palin being a Delusional Baby-Switch Conspirator with her daughter. If there was even a whiff of truth to it.

But there isn’t.

So the public will have to mollify itself with the latest stories of Palin adoration or Palin embarrassment, from a media machine that is anything but reserved when it comes to trumpeting the latest Palin nugget to a hungry audience.

Connecticut Principal: Gifted 10-year-olds Can’t Handle the Truth about Darwin

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Public school students should be taught science in their science classes. I think that’s particularly true in the case of gifted children, from whose ranks we can expect the next generation of scientists to emerge. So it’s troubling when a principal more attuned to avoiding confrontations with Christian fundamentalist parents than with serving the educational needs of his students tells a teacher he can’t teach Darwin, for fear it might offend.

Still, I realize that that sort of thing happens. It happens in places like Texas and Arkansas. But thanks to Steven Novella writing at Neurologica, I’ve learned that it also happens in places like Connecticut: Mark Tangarone: Weston TAG teacher leaves over evolution flap.

The whole story is pretty interesting. But the crucial piece of evidence for cutting through the he-said/he-said of the Weston schools superintendent (who says this is a “personnel matter” involving a “disgruntled employee” and has nothing to do with the teaching of evolution) and the teacher who is now resigning (who says he’s leaving because he was ordered to eliminate the teaching of Darwin’s work from his gifted students’ science curriculum), is an email that the teacher received in late 2008 from his then-principal, which reads as follows:

While evolution is a robust scientific theory, it is a philosophically unsatisfactory explanation for the diversity of life. I could anticipate that a number of our parents might object to this topic as part of a TAG project, and further, parents who would object if evolution was part of a presentation by a student to students who do not participate in the TAG program.

Evolution touches on a core belief — Do we share common ancestry with other living organisms? What does it mean to be a human being? I don’t believe that this core belief is one in which you want to debate with children or their parents, and I know personally that I would be challenged in leading a 10-year-old through this sort of discussion while maintaining the appropriate sensitivity to a family’s religious beliefs or traditions.

In short, evolution is a topic that is not age appropriate, is not part of our existing curriculum, is not part of the state frameworks at this point in a student’s education, nor a topic in which you have particular expertise. For all of these reasons, the TAG topics need to be altered this year to eliminate the teaching of Darwin’s work and the theory of evolution.

Oy. The principal who sent that email, Mark Ribbens, apparently has a PhD, since he’s referred to as “Dr.” Ribbens in the news article. I wonder what his doctorate was in.

Update: I was wrong; on further investigation he turns out to have an Ed.D. Not that I’m saying there’s something wrong with that. But I should have realized.

He’s still a principal, but now he’s principal for a part-time performing arts magnet school. I’m thinking that might be a better pedagogical niche for him than supervising the science education of gifted middle schoolers. Anyway, if you’d like to share your philosophical dissatisfaction with Dr. Ribbens’ views on the teaching of evolution, you can reach him at, or call him at (203) 365-8851.

I just emailed him as follows (with a CC: to the head of his current school’s parents association, on the theory that Ribbens might be more sensitive to her views than to mine):

Dr. Ribbens,

I was disturbed to read the article in the Weston Forum quoting your email to Mark Tangarone from a few years ago, in which you forbade him to teach evolution to students in the TAG program at Weston Intermediate. See:

I realize that there probably are (at least) two sides to this matter, and that your email may have been misquoted or taken out of context. But if the quoted statements are accurate, then I encourage you to be more careful in the future when deciding that the religious sensitivities of a subset of parents are sufficient reason to prevent your students from receiving age-appropriate science instruction.

Particularly troubling to me was the following line from your email: “While evolution is a robust scientific theory, it is a philosophically unsatisfactory explanation for the diversity of life.” I’m curious what you mean by that. In what sense do you believe the theory of evolution to be philosophically unsatisfying?

The question of whether or not we share common ancestry with other living organisms is not just “a core belief,” as you describe it in your email. It is a fact, one that has been established as thoroughly as it is possible for scientific investigation to establish such things. It forms the conceptual basis of the bulk of modern medical and biological science. To intervene with a science teacher to prevent middle school students from learning that fact strikes me as profoundly misguided.

I realize that your current position as principal of a part-time performing arts magnet school limits your influence on curriculum decisions regarding science, and speaking frankly as the parent of a school-aged child, I think that’s probably for the best. But I hope you will think about this issue more carefully should you find yourself in a position to make similar decisions in the future.


John Callender

So there it is: My “someone is wrong on the Internet!” moment for the day.

It’s Tax Day. Do You Know Who Your Tea Partiers Are?

Friday, April 16th, 2010

I liked these commentaries on the recent NYT/CBS poll of tea party activists. From Kevin Drum: Birchers yesterday, tea partiers today. And from Nate Silver: Tea party bears Beck’s imprint.

HuffPo’s Craw on O’Reilly vs. Coburn

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Ben Craw at the Huffington Post has some fun video of Bill 0’Reilly taking Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to task for telling a town hall audience that they shouldn’t believe everything they hear on Fox News. In particular, Coburn told the town hall they shouldn’t believe it when Fox tells them that Obama wants to put them in jail for failing to buy health insurance. “We researched to find out if anybody on Fox News had ever said you’re going to jail if you don’t buy health insurance,” said O’Reilly. “Nobody’s ever said it.”

I bet you know where this is going. Roll the tape!

Assange on Colbert

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Keeping the ball rolling, here’s Stephen Colbert’s interview with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Julian Assange
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Rachel Maddow Calls B.S.

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Here’s a fun clip from Rachel Maddow that focuses on how the “pimpgate” ACORN story and the “climategate” hacked-email stories were basically made-up controversies:

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