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Squee! A New Dogs Teaching Chemistry Video

Look, look! More video of clever & obedient doggies teaching chemistry lessons from snuggliepuppy!

Pardon me if I don’t get up. I’m a happy melty puddle right now.

Two Great Science Videos I Saw Today

First, allow dogs to teach you about chemical bonds. I wish I was this skilled a dog trainer. My dogs know some tricks and my parrot talks a little, but this is well beyond my league.  My hat is off to you, snuggliepupppy!

Next is another cool video that’s significantly more serious in its message: we’re doing students a disservice by not teaching any knowledge more recent than 1865.

minutephysics certainly drives the point home.

Gubernatorial Appointment Cloaked in Elections

I’ve always known the system was rigged against Utah public school students receiving a thorough and evidence based education, but I had no idea just how broken the structure truly is.  In Utah, while individual school districts have local controls, statewide direction is ultimately up to an elected Board of Education.

The trouble is, while the board members are technically elected, the process by which individuals end up on the ballot is anything but a fair democratic representation of the will of the people.  The first step is a committee, whose members are appointed by the governor.  Their job is to nominate and review individuals to produce three recommendations out of a pool of candidates.  The committee passes on those recommendations to the governor who selects which two will appear on the ballot for Utah voters.  Anyone else see the problem here?

Last year there was a bill passed by the Utah Senate to make school board elections partisan and eliminate the recruitment and nomination committee.  It (as well as a number of other proposed changes to board election law) failed.

The commitee has on multiple occasions removed an incumbent board member from the list submitted to the governor based on their opposition to the governor’s public policies.  From the Salt Lake Tribune, we learn that two incumbent board members have filed suit alleging that the nomination process is violates the United States Constitution.

Utah’s controversial way of picking candidates for the state school board has landed the state and its attorney general in court — again.

And yes, this is not the first lawsuit, more on that in a minute.

Incumbent Carol Murphy was elected by Park City area voters four years ago, but rejected in her re-election bid by the Committee for the Recruitment and Nomination of Members of the Utah State Board of Education last April. She is joined by plaintiffs Carmen Snow, who was rejected as a candidate for the seat representing Washington County, and Stacey McGinnis, who wanted to vote for Snow.

The suit alleges the women were rejected, in violation of their First Amendment rights, because they are advocates of public education rather than what it calls “privatization” of schools via school vouchers and other mechanisms.

According to Utah law, the committee, appointed every two years by the governor, scrutinizes those who want to run for the board and submits to the governor the names of three final candidates for every open seat. The governor then picks the two candidates whose names will appear on the November ballot in state school board districts statewide.

The suit contends the system politicizes the school board. It alleges that the committee is heavily weighted with business interests and lobbyists who favor privatizing education and rejects candidates who don’t pass a conservative litmus test.

“For example, the questionnaire required candidates to state their support or opposition to Utah Core Curriculum Standards and the teaching of sex education in public schools, two highly contentious issues, both of which have been driven by ultra-conservative factions of Utah’s Republican Party,” it said. [Emphasis added]

The Utah Education Association opposes the current near-appointment system, saying that because the decision is “contingent upon the approval of the Governor [it] takes away the voice of the people in the electoral process.”  Moreover, they support keeping the races non-partisan, but making reforms.  The UEA states that removing the governor’s conflict riddled control over the process would “increase accountability to voters and better involve the community in the electoral process” and “allow for implementation of good policy, free from party platforms.”

Some, including Third District Court Judge Anthony Quinn have argued that since the eventual nominees are elected, that there is no issue to be concerned with.  When ruling against ousted member Denis Morill two years ago, Quinn wrote the process is legitimate because the recommendations “are neither binding nor unilateral, since the ultimate decision as to who is elected … is determined by the outcome of a general election by the public.”  Nevermind that the system is gamed from the outset to give voters only the choice the governor’s appointed committee and governor himself choose to give us.

Others will say that because the races are all non-partisan, and we all support our children’s education, we needn’t be bothered too much about a conflict of interest or lack of democratic process in representing the wishes of Utah citizens.  On the contrary, while education policy has always had elements of partisan politics, it is especially politicized in an era of a Republican party that increasingly supports libertarian ideas that government should be out of education, that voucher systems should be allowed to drain public schools of resources, and that hostility to science should be fostered so as not to threaten the religious indoctrination of children.

This shouldn’t be difficult.  It’s obvious that deciding education policy is already a politicized issue; all you have to do is look at how vigorously people dissent about substantive issues for public schooling.  What we have to do now is make sure that the party in control (and in Utah, that party will be the Republican party for a very, very long time) can’t keep a stranglehold on the process without any input from the people they were elected to serve.

I Have A Remedial Education Proposal – For Legislators

Part of the problem that having a representative democracy creates is that the representatives are often only as educated and savvy as the populations that elect them (particularly on a more local scale).  This results in elected officials, who are in charge of making important law and policy to govern those they represent, endorsing, doing and saying incredibly stupid and damaging things.

It becomes more pronounced when legislators are required to make determinations about issues that require some specialized knowledge or expertise, because it all comes down to whether or not they find the experts presenting recommendations credible.  And biases against positions make it easy to discount good evidence based policy.  What’s more, a huge handicap is created when legislators approach policy with fundamental ignorance of science: how it works, what is consensus and why scientific consensus should carry great weight.

When this sort of ignorance and “everyone is entitled to their own facts” sort of attitude is allowed to continue, you see idiocy on grand scales.  On just one day during a Utah legislative session, the following headache inducing nonsense was aired, championed by the head of our public lands office, Kathleen Clarke.

The day of this session, it was more or less solid headdesking with some facepalms interspersed for variety.  Issues like this always seem to come down to a mixture of totally misunderstanding science and a deep and sustained fear of federal regulation that borders on paranoia.

Because these people are given public trust to make policy and laws for us, I see no other option but to insist on a basic level scientific, medical and sociological literacy.  Those legislators whose education and experience background are lacking should be required to attend seminars getting them up to speed; they are entrusted with nothing less than our lives and futures.

Confession, I Was A Nerdy Kid

I know this will come as a tremendous shock, but it’s true.

I was thinking the other day about when I was in middle school/junior high (not really a separate thing in the school I was attending, which was pre-school through eighth grade) and how although I played basketball, I really wasn’t up on the whole world of preppy type sports.  I’m remember an embarrassing moment at practice where when I saw a teammate wearing a sweatshirt that said lacrosse on the back.

I had never head of lacrosse.  I thought it was a type of sugar I’d never heard of before.  I just looked at her wondering why the hell she was wearing a specialized sugar sweatshirt.  Could I get one that said fructose?  What about maltose?

I was a really odd kid.

The Ocampa Would Be Extinct

I started watching Star Trek Voyager on Netflix streaming.  If you don’t like the series, fine, but I admit I’ve always kind of liked it.

But there’s a problem.  I didn’t notice it when the episodes first aired, but now that I’ve seen it I can’t un-see it.  There is no way that the Ocampa could exist as a species, they would be extinct.  And it has nothing to do with a short lifespan, that doesn’t matter in any event.  It is clearly stated that their species is capable of only having one pregnancy (which produces only one offspring) in a lifetime.  That’s not even replacement birth rate.

I can suspend my disbelief for all kinds of shit in a science fiction show.  But this seriously damaged my enjoyment of the show.  (It’s science fiction after all.)

Missionary Tactics

Over the New Year holiday weekend, I ran into some roving neighborhood Mormon missionaries.  Even though they were the Spanish language missionaries for the area, when the asked if we were members of their church, they took perhaps 20-25 minutes to talk to me in the front yard because I told them openly and unapologetically that I was an atheist.  They were trying to see if they could send more dedicated proselytizers and I was seeing if the tactics of Mormon missionaries had changed much since I last talked to some (plus my more devout Mormon family who have served missions).

I really wanted to see what sort of arguments I would encounter this time, and perhaps I should feel bad that I basically saw it as an anthropological study opportunity, but I don’t.  From the encounter I got the following highlights:

When dealing with family members who have tried to push me toward Mormonism, I find I used to get much more irritated.  I didn’t bring up my faith, so what fucking business was it of theirs?  I certainly wasn’t trying to convert them.  I’m little less defensive now, but it hasn’t come up for quite a while, so that helps as well.  In general, I try to not to push my ideas about religion, but I will respond honestly when they bring it up.  I will get more than little angry when you start to use religious belief to justify government and school policies because you don’t have the right to impose religious belief; I will argue for secularism.  But when your purpose is eventual conversion?  All bets are off.

I won’t be nice and say that your explanation of the world is good or rational because I can’t agree that it is.  To me, religious belief is not a sacred thing the should be protected from criticism, but is simply another idea attempting to explain reality.  So I will call you out when you use poor logic or circular reasoning to try to convince me that your explanation about reality is the right one.

They seemed eventually to become resigned to the idea that sending missionaries would be futile, thankfully.  But I kind of feel bad when I outmaneuver missionaries that are all fresh and dewy eyed.  Who isn’t a bit of an idiot at 19, after all?

*Followup from Pascal’s Wager.  “If I was to pray to a personal god, which one would I pray to?” “God, of course.” “Right, but not everyone believes in your god, or even in just one.” Stunned reaction and subject change.

** It is apparently really surprising to be told that since I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in magic, or the supernatural or souls.  We are meatsacks and that is a horrifying thought, it seems.