Geography report card determines U.S. students are still lost

As depicted in the bible in 1893

Even as schools aim to better prepare students for a global work force, fewer than one in three American students are proficient in geography, with most eighth graders unable to explain what causes earthquakes or accurately describe the American Southwest…

The average test score for 12th graders declined to 282 (on a scale of 500) from 284 in 2001 when the test was last given. It remained essentially unchanged for eighth graders during that period, though there were gains among the lowest-performing students. Fourth graders had the largest gains, with the average score rising to 213, up five points from 2001.

Geography is not just about maps,” said David P. Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, who expressed concern that students were not doing better in geography. “It is a rich and varied discipline that, now more than ever, is vital to understanding the connections between our global economy, environment and diverse cultures…”

Roger M. Downs, a geography professor at Pennsylvania State University who has studied the results, said that while he was encouraged by the improving test scores for fourth graders, and for low-performing and minority students, he was concerned that “geography’s role in the curriculum is limited and, at best, static.”

“That is ironic given the convincing case that can be made for the importance of geographic literacy,” Mr. Downs said. “But it is doubly ironic given a world in which adults and now children have smartphones and tablets that can download maps on the fly, provide directions to places, and give your location to your friends…”

Some of our local high school graduates would have a hard time finding a rock concert one state over – except for the freeway taking them straight to the appropriate city.

I know it’s an easy hit to comment on the ignorance our school systems roll out like so many candy bars on a Cadbury production line. There still breathes a jot or two of hope that repeated smacks on the bottom will jolt some life not only into voters who easily share missing the absence of educated graduates – but, folks who care about how and what combines into local movements to turn our education systems back into something that once did our country proud.

Service Animal definition changed: But what about capuchin monkeys?

Term “service animal” mostly can refer only to dogs, now

The landmark Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 stated very clearly that people with disabilities had a right to take their service animals along with them wherever they went…

The law termed it “any animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability”….

Plenty of people have claimed to have service cats and rats and parrots and ferrets and llamas and iguanas and at least one snake…

This March … the government issued a new definition:

“Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition.” (The new rules make an exception for only miniature horses — and then only under certain conditions.)

Just in case you wanted to know. And to ask if the new definition will create its own new challenges.

Related Link: Capuchin monkeys as helpers

Arkansas town draws the line against constitutional democracy

Mayor Nash

Be careful before starting a Boy Scout troop in Gould, Ark. Or a Harry Potter fan club. Or a baseball team. The City Council adopted an ordinance last week making it illegal to form any kind of group without its permission.

That is a clear violation of the Constitution, legal scholars agree. But it is also a sign of just how nasty politics has gotten in Gould, a farming town of 1,100 some 70 miles southeast of Little Rock, where members of the Council have struggled with a local political group that seeks to influence how the town is governed. The mayor, Earnest Nash Jr., also happens to be a member of the political group, the Gould Citizens Advisory Council.

Even by the standards of small-town dramas, Gould’s situation is bleak. The town faces nearly $300,000 in unpaid taxes, and there have been frequent clashes among the mayor, the advisory group and the City Council over how to repay it. Those clashes — and a perception by the City Council that the citizens’ group is seeking too much influence — led to the ban on new organizations…

Last week, the Council overrode the mayor’s veto of two other controversial measures. One required that the citizens advisory council cease to exist. The other made it illegal for the mayor to meet with “any organization in any location” either “inside or outside Gould city limits” without the Council’s permission.

The advisory council, which calls itself a nonpartisan group that educates voters and raises money for public causes, says it will continue its work. But the City Council, in one ordinance, accused the group of “causing confusion and discourse among the citizens” by harshly criticizing local officials at public meetings.

As a result, the City Council said, “No new organizations shall be allowed to exist in the City of Gould without approval from a majority of the City Council…”

In the meantime, Mr. Nash said he would continue to do his job exactly as he always had.

Technically, what I’m doing I guess is illegal,” he said. “But if I’m going to get arrested for meeting with citizens or letting them form their own groups, that’s a pretty good reason to go to jail.”

No doubt Congress wouldn’t mind passing similar legislation if very many voters decided to go their own way outside the limits of our 2-Party country club commedia della politica.

Two arrested in Sharia home invasion and whipping

So, um, who’s winning this week?

A second man has been charged after an Islam convert was allegedly whipped 40 times for drinking alcohol with friends as part of a sharia law punishment.

The 43-year-old man was arrested when he attended Auburn Police Station this morning.

He has been charged with aggravated break and enter with intent to commit an indictable offence, detain person in company with intent obtain advantage, and two counts of steal from dwelling.

The man has been refused bail and will appear in Burwood Local Court tomorrow.

Earlier today Tolga Cifci, 20, one of three men accused of attacking a 31-year-old victim at his Silverwater unit on Sunday, appeared in Burwood Local Court.

The victim who converted to Islam recently was allegedly whipped up to 40 times for going out for alcoholic drinks with friends.

The man awoke in the middle of the night to find that four men had broken into his bedroom. As three men held the victim down on the bed, the fourth man is alleged to have lashed him 40 times with a cable…

Police opposed bail and said Mr Cifci put his religious rules above the laws of New South Wales…

Magistrate Tim Keady granted Mr Cifci bail but imposed strict conditions, including a curfew and reporting daily to police.

Nothing new about a lynching, mob rule to satisfy bigotry. Circumstances vary according to where in the world nutballs decide to take the law into their own hands. Whether the result is death or torture, torment or dishonor – the motivation is the same.

Only the uncivilized will justify the guidance of their god in harming another ordinary citizen who somehow offended their belief system.

All non-Africans have at least a touch of Neanderthal

If your heritage is non-African, you are part Neanderthal, according to a new study in the July issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution…This latest research confirms earlier findings.

Damian Labuda of the University of Montreal’s Department of Pediatrics and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center conducted the study with his colleagues. They determined some of the human X chromosome originates from Neanderthals, but only in people of non-African heritage.

“This confirms recent findings suggesting that the two populations interbred,” Labuda was quoted as saying in a press release. His team believes most, if not all, of the interbreeding took place in the Middle East, while modern humans were migrating out of Africa and spreading to other regions…

Neanderthals possessed the gene for language and had sophisticated music, art and tool craftsmanship skills, so they must have not been all that unattractive to modern humans at the time.

“In addition, because our methods were totally independent of Neanderthal material, we can also conclude that previous results were not influenced by contaminating artifacts,” Labuda said.

This work goes back to nearly a decade ago, when Labuda and his colleagues identified a piece of DNA, called a haplotype, in the human X chromosome that seemed different. They questioned its origins…

David Reich, a Harvard Medical School geneticist, added, “Dr. Labuda and his colleagues were the first to identify a genetic variation in non-Africans that was likely to have come from an archaic population. This was done entirely without the Neanderthal genome sequence, but in light of the Neanderthal sequence, it is now clear that they were absolutely right!”

The modern human/Neanderthal combo likely benefitted our species, enabling it to survive in harsh, cold regions that Neanderthals previously had adapted to.

“Variability is very important for long-term survival of a species,” Labuda concluded. “Every addition to the genome can be enriching.”

Someone should explain that to the populist puritans still marching to the George Wallace drum from decades past. Meanwhile –

The admixture and uniting of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon streams in comparatively modern hominids is something that many students of ethnology felt would be proved sooner or later. Some thought reluctance to accept the work offered by Professor Labuda was prompted more by hopes of “purity” than reality. Folks have to understand that human beings have sex with just about anyone, anytime, anywhere – given the opportunity.

Rejecting vaccines is as dangerous as it is dumb!

Given the success of vaccines in preventing a long list of diseases, why is opposition to vaccination gaining hold? Decision-making expert Valerie Reyna contends that it’s because anti-vaccination messages tell a compelling story compared to official sources, and they meet people’s need to understand rare adverse outcomes.

“In the era of Web 2.0, the contagion of ideas, transmitted rapidly through social media, is as concerning as the contagion of diseases because of their power to reduce vaccination rates, leaving populations vulnerable to preventable death and disability,” said Reyna…

This spring, the Centers for Disease Control reported that the United States is experiencing the highest number of measles cases in more than a decade. According to the alert, measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 due to a high vaccination rate. This could change should vaccination rates decline…

Since most people don’t understand how vaccines work, the Internet, which facilitates users across the globe to sharing personal experiences and ideas about health care, fills the vacuum.

According to Reyna, anti-vaccination messages are expected when people don’t understand how vaccination works and when adverse events that are difficult to explain appear to be connected. Autism, for example, is diagnosed in children during the same time period that children receive a battery of vaccinations. Despite research to the contrary, anti-vaccination messages have claimed vaccines are to blame. Official sites, on the other hand, tend not to provide a convincing narrative story line that helps people connect the dots.

Under these circumstances, how do people approach the decision to vaccinate? In Reyna’s model, the decision to get a flu shot, for example, could be a seen as a decision between feeling OK (by not getting the vaccine) or taking a chance on not feeling OK (due to a vaccine side effect). Without better information, most people would choose not to get a vaccine.

In a culture as anarchistic as ours here in the United States, the misreading can be deliberate. There is a pundit I know who considers rejecting flu vaccination a point of libertarian ethics – and he stores/replenishes his supply of anti-virals at a cost of hundreds of dollars every flu season as appropriate “protection”. I guess if you can afford such lengths to satisfy rejecting one of medical history’s best solutions to recurrent illness – rock on!.

Rejecting a solution, a methodology – on the basis of the statistically-tiny number of long-term reversals or, worse, products demeaned by sleazy profiteers on occasion [as are all products], is illogical. I don’t mean to sound too much like Mr. Spock; but, the Age of Reason took our species past this sort of rationale a century-and-a-half ago.

I know my choice of words may offend good people; but, I grew up before most childhood vaccines were commonplace. My neighborhood in that New England factory town extended to 3 or 4 elementary schools, public and Catholic. When we finished winter and schoolkids gathered together again for the new season of sandlot baseball, one of the first things we sorted out was who died over the winter. Who had scarlet fever, who had diphtheria, who had whooping cough or mumps, who had measles, who died from the flu – la grippe. The only exception was the summer special, polio.

I know what it feels like to count up who was missing from a smallish community on just one side of a small city. Who died before we had access to vaccines. Those numbers were a hell of a lot more than the fears and trembling of people who don’t really look at statistics. Or have my memories.