How low can you get?

February 22, 2012

Cubs fans … they known not how low they can get.

The Boston Red Sox … a team that once upon a time was a lovable set of losers are now just losers.  And a Cub fan is rubbing it in for no reason.

The Red Sox have just pulled the wrapping paper off of their brand new Spring Training facility’s crow jewel:  JetBlue Park.  A local Cubs fan decided for some reason it would be fun to look into the availability of the domain name “”, and surprisingly found it unclaimed.  So he bought it.

To top it off, he has decided to use the URL as a redirect.  Go ahead and type in, and see where it takes you … though baseball fans could probably guess where this guy is sending beleaguered Sawx fans.


You know spring is around the corner …

February 22, 2012

… forget the swallows at Capistrano.  Forget the light winter we have had … those four glorious words  rang out this morning …



The winter is nearly at an end, and the time has come for the world to be reborn again.

That said, it is going to be a long summer on the South Side.  Only in baseball do the words “it will be a long summer” actually not sound so good.

Novel idea: solve the science vs. religion roadblock with …education!!

February 20, 2012

The good news:  when it comes to understanding natural selection and evolution, the United States does not score the worst in the industrialized world.  We rank just ahead of Turkey for second-to-last place.

There is however good news:  educators can play a role in altering the understanding and attitudes about science, even among the far right wing conservative crowd.

Some recent research demonstrates that students who are introduced to well taught courses in evolution change their attitudes toward the subject.

This all comes out of a conference in Canada … which attempts to make clear what I have preached forever:  science and religion are not at odds with each other;  as noted in the article this is not a battle between rationalism and irrationalism.  There are plenty of religious people who act very rational, and plenty of people behind science who act irrationally.  It is the extremists on both sides of the debate that grab the headlines and further marginalize people into “pro” and “con” camps.  As a matter of fact, some of the folks who made some of the earliest breakthroughs in the areas of cosmology and evolution (the two big sticking points between religious conservatives and science) were in fact made by people with rather strong religious convictions.

One of my favorite all-time works of the written language is Stephen Jay Gould’s Nonoverlapping Magisteria. The late Gould was an evolutionary biologist (one of the first scientists to argue in favor of punctuated equilibrium as an evolutionary pathway), a gifted writer, a baseball fan, and an atheist.  Unlike folks like Richard Dawkins who intentionally or unintentionally flame the fires of conflict, Gould saw other options.  He actually talked with people and refused to stereotype and avoided leaping to conclusions  This essay talks very eloquently about the fact that religion and science may have points that approach each other, but that only extremists see any issues, and that a vast majority of people, given close examination of what a bulk of religious people and a bulk of scientists do, would not only not see a problem, but would see that the conflict is largely engineered.

If your faith is strong, viewing the universe through the lens of a microscope and telescope won’t diminish it … in fact it may even strengthen it.  If your faith requires physical proof, how strong is it in the first point.

MLB news: Gary Carter sent to the Angels

February 19, 2012

I’ve been a bit busy, and missed noting a very sad moment last week.

I don’t believe for a moment that athletes are heroes.  Gary Carter comes close though.  Carter was a catcher who spent most of his career with the Montreal Expos, and was nicknamed “The Kid”.  He was an outstanding athlete (could have gone pro in football or basketball), but chose baseball.  He was converted to catcher in the minors, and went on to become one of the greatest catchers in history.  He was a part of the great Expos teams of the early 1980s (with Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, and Steve Rogers, among others).

In 1985, he was sent to New York and took over catching duties for the Mets.  While there, he instituted regular meeting with the pitchers to plan on how to pitch to hitters.  On a team that had its fair share of problems (cocaine was rampant in MLB at the time, and the Mets were practically ground zero for that), Carter provided stability and a moral center.  In 1986, he was a key part of the Mets drive to the World Series Championship.  In the infamous tenth inning of Game 6, with the Red Sox one out from winning the World Series for the first time since 1918, it was Kid Carter who got a single to begin the surreal two out rally that won the game for the Mets, ending with the slow roller to Bill Buckner.  He ended his career an 11-time All-Star, a 3-time Gold Glove winner, a 5-time silver slugger winner, and was elected to the Hall-of-Fame in 2003; the first player to play a large part of his career with the Expos to make it in.  His number 8 was retired by the Expos.

He has spent many years involving himself in charitable causes.  I never met him, but I do have a neat story.  When I was in junior high, I briefly tried sending some baseball cards to players to get autographed.  Most of them were never returned.  I sent a few cards to Gary Carter.  I got them back, but they were unsigned.  There was a form letter in the envelope explaining that he was under contract with a charity, and could not sign baseball cards unless he charged money and turned it over to the charity.  It then asked me to accept the enclosed instead.  Inside was a postcard-sized glossy picture of Carter, autographed personally to me.  It was a real treasure of my childhood.

Last year, I was hoping to finally meet him and thank him for the generosity.  He was due to appear at an autograph show, and I had bought a ticket, but he had to cancel.  We found out why:  he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor;  inoperable and aggressive.  I never visit “official sites”, but I decided to visit his and leave a note wishing him hte best, and expressing my gratitude for his gift of so many years ago.

He died this last week.  One of the rarest of the rare:  a gifted, heard working athlete who seemed by all measures to be a good guy to the core.  There are never enough people like this around in any human endeavor.

The next classroom war: global warming denialism

February 17, 2012

For most of the last 20 years, far right-wing conservatives have been looking for ways to circumvent the law of the land and introduce either alternatives to natural selection, or more recently, looking for ways to spread false doubt about natural selection (evolution, as theories go is not wholly complete … but neither is gravity … we don’t teach that we have doubts over gravity).

The next battle heating up over the minds of young Americans is global warming denialism.  The Heartland Institute (a group that supported Philip Morris in its claims that second-hand smoke wasn’t a health risk, and supports charter schools) has had documents come to light that they are preparing a curriculum for schools designed to shed doubt on the influence of humanity on the global climate.

To be sure folks:  I have heard legitimate scientists talk on this topic, and there is still some disagreement to what degree global warming (to which there is universally no doubt) is influenced by human activity.  Some see humans as having the predominant influence.  Others see humans as having a moderate influence, exacerbated by natural phenomena.  Any legit scientists will tell you we are playing a role … the extent is still under investigation.

This, however, is absolutely no reason to mount an attack on the science that is taking place.  However, that never gets in the way of people who love to politicize something, because once something is politicized, it can be attacked politically.

However, the scariest thing in this article was this little piece of information:

If state standards are up to par with national science standards, writing a curriculum that denied climate change would be tough, said Julie Lambert, an associate professor of science education at Florida Atlantic University.

On the surface, this seems to be great news!  Since the new national core curriculum won’t stand for this nonsense, schools would be wasting their time adopting it (charter and private schools could still adopt it).

However …

… as I stated before, the state of the national core curriculum will be largely in the hands of the politicians in office.  Today, under President Obama, we may have someone more willing to allow scientists to set the tone of those standards, but what happens when a new administration, similar to 2001-2009, comes to power, and entirely politicizes the core curriculum to reflect their personal global views …. one with an anti-science agenda who then co-opts the national curriculum … things like this can more easily creep in.

The core curriculum is an example of an idea that is good on paper but could have some unintended consequences down the road.  Here is another example of politics turning classrooms into political warzones.  In some ways, this is nothing new …. but I am getting damn sick and tired of my kids, my profession, my colleagues, and me, being used as pawns by a political system that demands my participation but makes me grow ever more sickened by it.

Another story about why charter schools aren’t an improvement on public schools

February 13, 2012

I start by saying that there are probably good charter schools out there just like I know there are perfectly fine public schools.

One of the things that leaves me bewildered are the claims by some who say “public schools aren’t accountable, and that charter schools are an improvement”.  Public schools are run by an elected board.  Schools are nothing if not continuously accountable to the tax payers.  Charter schools are businesses who are accountable to no one.

Take this charter school that has won the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  This group of charter schools uses fines as discipline.  Not sitting up straight in class results in a fine.  Bringing unhealthy food from home is fineable.  In three years, the school has collected nearly $400,000 in fines!  Some of these fines are nearly $300!!

The school’s claim is that these are not “fines”, but “fees” to cover the cost of discipline.  The article’s writer notes that Catholic schools don’t charge extra for their discipline.

To be fair, the charter schools note that the public schools don’t discipline their kids enough.  They are likely right, but those are often times legal restrictions.  That said, simply saying “we need to have better discipline” doesn’t seem justification to bleed families who likely can’t afford it, and add it to company profit.

To give some props to this charter school company, this was the only charter school to post standardized test scores above the Chicago Public Schools.  Congratulations, you scored above mediocrity, and still finished substantially behind most public schools in the state. This seems to be far from marked improvement.

I endorse public schools, and endorse that some restrictions placed on public schools in terms of maintaining discipline should be reviewed.  That said, this article reminds me that charter schools are far from the best solution to whatever problems are plaguing schools.  There are a lot of complaints out there that schools don’t have enough business sense.  Here is a prime example of what happens when businesses get their hooks into education:  they turn schools into businesses accountable only to shareholders, and those shareholders are far too often not students and parents.

Is this next?

February 4, 2012


The last few weeks have seen some rumblings that I would not have expected:  Iran does not appear to be budging on their nuclear capabilities, and I find that interesting because while they spew a lot of rhetoric, they are are from foolish most of the time.  This refusal to back down is starting to back nations into a corner … and it pauses for thought:

1.  No matter what the UN or anyone says or does, Israel is almost certain to make sure at all costs Iran does not get nukes.  Western nations do not have a recent history of terrorist attacks (I say recent, because the CIA etal has stooped that low in the past).  Iran has very intimate ties to terrorists.  It is one thing to set off a car bomb or fire some hand held rockets into Israel … heck it is even another thing to slam some planes into buildings.  Allowing a known supporter of terrorism to have nuclear weapons that can be handed to terrorists is a sure fire way to cause way too much damage to Israel while saying “It wasn’t us!!”.  In the end, I suspect Israel will take matters into their own hands.  Strategically, it makes sense:  Israel cannot win a war with terrorists very easily.  An actual military war is something Israel can likely win.

2.  If you think the U.S. population doesn’t have a heart for war after 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, wait until Iran gets moved up to #1 contender.  I mean this things has been brewing for over 30 years!  If the US got away with sending troops to Iraq and not having to deal with a major enough backlash at home (sorry anti war movement, you blew it!), there will be far less opposition to sending the troops in to Iran where a hard line anti-Christian, anti-liberal Western culture government might just be the thing we need to unite the left and right in our country (it won’t really happen).

3.  Had Iran done this 15 years ago, we would have been at a disadvantage, but Iran is picking a very bad time for this.  Our troops are battle hardened and are now used to fighting in that region.  We’ve probably had invasion plans for Iran sitting on the shelf longer than plans for Iraq.

4.  Much like Iraq, we really don’t need to win this war.  If Iran is thinking that they can just go underground once things get bad, they need to rethink their strategy, and what they think American-Israeli ambitions are.  Does anyone actually think our mission in Iraq was to conquer?  It was not.  That strategy went out the window in Vietnam.  Iraq (and to an extent Afghanistan) was a communication; a message:  we aren’t coming to plant the flag or permanently install a puppet government (I doubt anyone suspects Iraq’s current government will last 5 years).  We come to inflict pure, brutal devastation to your land … we are going to make sure that it is a long couple of decades before your nation is capable of doing anything.  Perhaps this is why Iran not backing down is such a bad idea:  Iran is trying right now to become the regional superpower:  they want to be the biggest kid in South and Southwest Asia.  This is very difficult to do when Tehran starts looking like the surface of the moon (exaggeration, but you get my point).  When Iran sees its military degraded, its infrastructure ruined, etc … its ability to flex muscle and bring the local nations in line is going to be a problem.  There’s yet another reason Iran needs to be cautious:

5.  Iran is not going to get much help.  There will be a lot of citizens in the Arab states who go off to fight for Iran, and the Arab states will happily let these extremists go to their doom.  While Islam is a uniting religion, the Arab and Gulf states are not particular allies of Iran, and would collectively love to see Iran beaten down several pegs.  They likely won’t get too involved in helping the US, but they aren’t going to send aide to Iran.  Ironically, Iran’s biggest ally is likely to be atheist North Korea, with such super powers as Venezuela and Bolivia thrown in for good measure.  China will absolutely not get involved, and India will sit by munching popcorn while one of their biggest pains in the butt gets steamrolled (India deals with far more extremist violence than even the US does).  The only likely culprit to get involved would be Russia, but even they are likely to sit this one out given that once the US is done, they might even have more lucrative business associations with a new government, vs. one that is infringing a bit on the whole “Russian sphere of influence” thing.

6.  Any war is going to re-tank the world economy.  Just as things are starting to look up a little, something like this could send the economy crashing down again.  Europe won’t be happy, but don’t expect to see the Greeks or Irish sending military aide to Iran.

7.  Iran needs to consider the future of their philosophy.  Iran is one of the last Islamic theocracies that has any power to do anything big in the world.  If they and many of their supporters get knocked down a notch, who will hold the mantle of anti-westernism, anti-Zionism, pro-extremism thought?  Oh sure, there will be small enclaves here and there, but Iran needs to know that its position is very precarious.  At a time when extremists are making small headways in Egypt and Syria, and probably Iraq, Iran getting wasted could spell doom for their entire worldview and its ability to make headlines and get support from local governments.

It just seems to me that Iran really needs to back down.