Nature makes a case for same-sex marriage

Biology has returned to the nation’s highest court. It’s not Darwin’s theory of evolution on the docket this time, but the nature of sex. Defenders of Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, base their case on what they call the “objective biological fact” that procreation is an exclusively heterosexual process. Citing the 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone, they argue that marriage should be “founded in nature.”

Evolution or sexuality, the same religious conservatives bring their ignorance to court.

This invocation of nature echoes other voices. Last December, before Pope Benedict XVI resigned, he used his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia to deplore what he called a “new philosophy of sexuality” that manipulates and denies nature. Roy S. Moore, re-elected last fall as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, once let rip with less measured language, exclaiming in a child-custody case that homosexuality was “a crime against nature and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Meanwhile, Tennessee legislators have repeatedly sought the prohibition of any sexual education “inconsistent with natural human reproduction.” None of this is, in fact, new: Oscar Wilde’s trials hinged on the courts’ understanding of natural love and unnatural vice.

References to biology coat these arguments with a gloss of scientific rigor. But before we write nature into law, let’s take a stroll outside the Supreme Court’s chambers and check those biological facts. Descending the steps of the court, we enter Washington’s planted landscape, a formal park where nature stands alongside patriotic monuments and federal buildings. There is no shortage of counsel about biology here.

The grandeur of the National Mall is rightly famous. Less well known are the hermaphroditic sex lives of many of its inhabitants. Japanese cherry trees break bud in explosions of pink; male and female coexist at the heart of each flower. The American elms that frame the Mall’s lawns present a more reserved countenance to the world. But their inconspicuous lime-green flowers are biologically bisexual. Ginkgo, another tree common in Washington, follows a Prop 8-approved sexual separation, growing as discrete males and females. But even the ginkgo will sometimes surprise horticulturalists with a stray flower of the other sex.

Continue reading

Shooting leaves 4-year-old dead, 6-year old suspect!

rahquel-carr-4-year-old-girl-shot-to-death-in-car-facebook

The shocking death of a 4-year-old girl — shot dead with a handgun inside a car outside her grandparent’s home — zeroed in on two issues…

How did the gun that apparently killed little Rahquel Carr get into the hands of a group of children? And who owned the weapon?

A 6-year-old was found holding the weapon after the shooting. Police would not confirm if he fired the fatal bullet.

Family members were in shock Easter Sunday as the struggled to understand what happened and why. The girl’s grandfather, Willie Carr 57, collapsed Saturday night after the shooting and was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital after he collapsed Saturday night…

Police will focus on who owned the gun and why it was in the car — was it stored there or brought by one of the children — are key questions in the investigation.

For now, no arrests have been made.

The children who witnessed the shooting are being interviewed by Miami-Dade police, Police spokesman Roy Rutland said.

The Medical Examiner Department will perform an autopsy on the child to determine the exact cause of death, police said.

Wayne LaPierre should be required to represent the NRA at the little girl’s funeral.

Even though the paltry Florida regulations were probably violated, these scumbags oppose even minimum controls for safety.

All the new tests for teachers give high passing grades

Across the country, education reformers and their allies in both parties have revamped the way teachers are graded, abandoning methods under which nearly everyone was deemed satisfactory, even when students were falling behind…

The changes, already under way in some cities and states, are intended to provide meaningful feedback and, critically, to weed out weak performers. And here are some of the early results:

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.” In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.

Advocates of education reform concede that such rosy numbers, after many millions of dollars developing the new systems and thousands of hours of training, are worrisome…

The teachers might be rated all above average, like students in Lake Wobegon, for the same reason that the older evaluation methods were considered lacking. Principals, who are often responsible for the personal-observation part of the grade, generally are not detached managerial types and can be loath to give teachers low marks…

But even the part of the grade that was intended to be objective, how students perform on standardized tests, has proved squishy. In part, this is because tests have changed so much in recent years — and are changing still, because of the new “Common Core” curriculum standards that most states have adopted — that administrators have been unwilling to set the test-score bar too high for teachers. In many states, consecutive “ineffective” ratings are grounds for firing…

The new evaluation systems have been closely scrutinized in the education world by policy makers, publications like Education Week, and foundations that have provided money to help perfect the methods…

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that even though the data from these systems “was not ready for prime time,” it proved what she had long argued: That the majority of teachers are very good…

RTFA for lots of anecdotal information – which, in my mind, doesn’t answer any questions about the lousy overall capabilities of graduates. None of this addresses dropout rates. None of this seems to confront the whole decline in education over the past half-century.

What has been discussed to death is how to blame the teachers. That seems to bear no fruit at all. What hasn’t been discussed especially is what constitutes a useful curriculum – and how much teaching professionals don’t get to participate. Between Congress, the White House, state and local school boards, we have no end of politicians chiming in. They don’t even take the time to examine what worked in the past, what works, now, in other lands.

I’ll offer something I rarely do – the “back in my day” examination. Aside from walking to school in knee-deep snowstorms and the other crap that people think they recall 🙂 – a couple of facts are incontrovertible. The elementary school I attended in a New England factory town was mostly kids from workingclass families. Pretty average teachers – probably not unlike today’s flavor. Dropout rate was less than 5%. We completed the tasks assigned.

I attended high school in the next town over – we moved. A semi-rural town rapidly becoming a commuter suburb. Teachers were about the same. Dropout rate was less than 3%. We all completed the curriculum. I enjoyed school, learned a lot, probably learned even more on my own or in studies with my parents; but, they and I wanted more than acceptable.

Now, living in northern New Mexico, the school system truly hopes to get “up” to the national average of 20% dropouts. We couldn’t get a law passed allowing schools to hold back students with failing marks to repeat the grade. Mom and dad can overrule the school and demand their child be bumped ahead into the next grade even when unable to do the work.

From my perspective, this fits into the phenomena I saw happening broadly across our education system starting in the 1960’s. If the kiddies felt learning something was too hard, too difficult, the schools were mandated to pass them along, anyway. You weren’t to hurt their sensibilities – though, frankly, I never saw anything sensible coming from kids who preferred not to learn.

That’s only a small subjective look at the question. I wanted to offer it because I don’t see anyone who’s in charge doing anything at all useful. That includes BTW the whole Charter School copout. Which has a failure rate worse than our public schools.

Antibiotics and the quality of meat

Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration systematically monitor the meat and poultry sold in supermarkets around the country for the presence of disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. These food products are bellwethers that tell us how bad the crisis of antibiotic resistance is getting. And they’re telling us it’s getting worse…

In 2011, drugmakers sold nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics for livestock — the largest amount yet recorded and about 80 percent of all reported antibiotic sales that year. The rest was for human health care. We don’t know much more except that, rather than healing sick animals, these drugs are often fed to animals at low levels to make them grow faster and to suppress diseases that arise because they live in dangerously close quarters on top of one another’s waste…

It was not until 2008…that Congress required companies to tell the F.D.A. the quantity of antibiotics they sold for use in agriculture. The agency’s latest report, on 2011 sales…was just four pages long — including the cover and two pages of boilerplate. There was no information on how these drugs were administered or to which animals and why.

We have more than enough scientific evidence to justify curbing the rampant use of antibiotics for livestock, yet the food and drug industries are not only fighting proposed legislation to reduce these practices, they also oppose collecting the data. Unfortunately, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, as well as the F.D.A., is aiding and abetting them.

The Senate committee recently approved the Animal Drug User Fee Act, a bill that would authorize the F.D.A. to collect fees from veterinary-drug makers to finance the agency’s review of their products. Public health experts had urged the committee to require drug companies to provide more detailed antibiotic sales data to the agency. Yet the F.D.A. stood by silently as the committee declined to act, rejecting a modest proposal from Senators Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California, both Democrats, that required the agency to report data it already collects but does not disclose…

…Why are lawmakers so reluctant to find out how 80 percent of our antibiotics are used? We cannot avoid tough questions because we’re afraid of the answers. Lawmakers must let the public know how the drugs they need to stay well are being used to produce cheaper meat.

Overdue. Another example of reactionary politicians on the payroll of corporations dominating an industry establishing standards – or lack or standards – for that industry.

The not-so-reactionary politicians stand around and do little more than pat themselves on the back.

The bureaucrats in charge of enforcing regulations seem to work hardest at avoiding the implementation of regulations worth enforcing.

We pick up the tab.