Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Happy Birthday Willie!

The red headed stranger turns 75 today! My iPod will have Whiskey River on continuous loop in tribute.

"Here I sit with a drink and a memory
But I'm not cold, I'm not wet, and I'm not hungry
So classify these as good times. Good times."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Blue Lone Star State?

Perhaps borrowing a page from the Dallas Cowboys playbook, our fine state may be ready to change its Lone Star to blue. (Butchered metaphor? Perhaps, but I stand by it.)

We received our fresh clean shiny new copy of Texas Monthly on Saturday with a very craggy Willie Nelson on the cover. He’s still going strong no doubt. We should probably go ahead and institute a monarchy and crown him King of Texas.

But what caught my eye were not Willie’s weathered hands (OK, those caught my eye as well), but Paul Burka’s column asking if Texas is about to be a Democratic state again? (Almost Blue, May 2008). Fascinating to even ponder the question.

Burka notes that there were scads more Democratic voters in the March primary than Republicans in several key counties including Dallas, Tarrant, Harris, Collin, and Denton. And there were just about as many total voters in the primary as there were in the 2004 general election.

Of course Dallas county Dems swept out the Republicans last year, in what has been considered the first possible sign of a realignment. Even competent smart officeholders were not spared (paging Margaret Keliher, we miss you!) if they had an R next to their name.

There has been quite a bit of speculation that some of the strong numbers in the Democratic primary came from cynical and insincere Republicans who were trying to extend the Democratic primary as long as possible by voting for Senator Clinton. Burka thankfully notes that the numbers do not seem to bear this out.

Is Texas becoming a blue state again? Not even King Willie knows, but we’ll find out in November (watch out Sen. Cornyn!)

Welcome to Dallas, Bishop Katharine!

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church in the U.S., was on hand yesterday to bless a community garden at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Dallas. This was Bishop Katharine's first visit to Dallas in her capacity as Presiding Bishop. The small, social justice-minded congregation will use the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor to help fill inventories at local food banks.

Three Cheers for St. Thomas parish! Three Cheers for Bishop Katharine! Y'all come back now.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thanks be to God (and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board)

The Academic Excellence and Research Committee of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board voted unanimously to deny the request of a creationist group to offer a masters degree in science.

This sets up the vote by the full Board today.

“Religious belief is not science,” Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said. “Science and religious belief are surely reconcilable, but they are not the same thing.”


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

1, 2, 3, 4, Murdoch declares a newspaper war

Rupert Murdoch, international king of media and new owner of The Wall Street Journal has declared war on The New York Times. Here's a great Newsweek article about the changes he has in mind. The short of it: a shift to more general news coverage and trying to broaden the appeal of the Journal beyond the business reader.

I'm sure it's no coincidence that the managing editor of the Journal just resigned.

I'm no fan of Rupert Murdoch's politics or what he's done to our political discourse with the Faux News Channel, but this guy believes in the contribution print media makes and is willing to invest money in the Journal, a great newspaper, and put it up against the preeminent American newspaper.

Some analysts are suggesting that it's not a good move to change the Journal. I think they will pick up some readers like me who are sick of their thinning local paper but still want a smart daily newspaper. I'm not sure how big a group we are, though.

Meanwhile, the Times had a bad first quarter and people are floating the idea of Michael Bloomberg buying the Times and taking it private. This is an idea whose time has come, by the way. I think at least a few of the major dailies will go private in the next few years to keep them from the kind of cost cutting they've had to endure to survive Wall Street's expectations. The Sulzberger family that has a controlling interest in the Times says it's not for sale.


And on it goes

The presidential race continues to Indiana and North Carolina. I like the metaphor that Clinton is "running out of runway." Give her props, she won Pennsylvania, a state whose demographics heavily favor her. But the math just doesn't work for her to overtake Obama in pledged delegates or popular vote (which everyone has been saying for about six or seven weeks now).

Look for the Clinton campaign to once again raise the specter of Michigan and Florida primaries and taking that fight to the convention.

But look for her advisers to encourage her to drop out if she can't win Indiana (North Carolina should be a lock for Obama) on May 6.

Meanwhile, let's consider if we want more careless blustery rhetoric in the White House. In an election day pronouncement yesterday morning, Clinton suggested that the United States could "totally obliterate" Iran if they attacked Israel. Oy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hug a tree today

For your Earth Day reading pleasure, I offer the following:

The Transportation Department will make an announcement today that they have a plan to enact the law passed last year raising fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. Does it concern anyone that it merits an announcement that the executive branch will comply with the law?

Paul Krugman scares the pants off of anyone remotely concerned about commodity prices, overpopulation, and the sea change that is already underway. This is gloomy stuff, but it is important to understand what we're going through.

On a more hopeful note, Michael Pollan makes me want to plant a vegetable garden. This is a good read, and speaks to the problem that our individual actions seem to pale in comparison to the magnitude of challenge of climate change. But there are actions we can take to help make viral shifts in the way folks think and live.

Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tag Team Character Assasination

My quickly dashed off thoughts about the Democratic debate on ABC.

We should launch an investigation looking for links to RWNJ swift boaters who must have brainwashed George Stephanopolous and Charlie Gibson to relentlessly question Obama's credibility based on such things as his not wearing a flag lapel pin and his sitting on the same board with a 1960s radical.

They really were digging for skeletons in the closet. Maybe they just didn't want to be accused of giving him a free pass on SNL. I was ready for them to ask him if he isn't really a secret Muslim.

They also tried to entrap both candidates on tax issues by getting the candidates to pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class, which by some amazing stretch just became people making less than $250,000 a year. Excuse me, but what freaking planet do these folks live on? Then they questioned the candidates' openness to raising the ridiculously low 15% capital gains tax which has helped to usher in a second Gilded Age (that's not a good thing, folks, if you care about massive gaps in income inequality not seen since the 1920s and stagnant wages for average Americans) and said that would affect middle class taxpayers. So then George and Charlie grilled the candidates on going back on the pledge the moderators just extracted from them because the capital gains tax impacts the middle class as well as the wealthy. Is this a debate or do they have them on the witness stand?

I know it must be fun to try to insert yourself into the story, but we could have used more moderating and a little less attack dog journalism last night.

I got so angry watching that so-called debate, which didn't even have a question about an actual issue until about 50 minutes in, that I had to shut it off and go for a run.

Maybe I've become a little too personally invested in this. I didn't like seeing my candidate, the probable Democratic nominee, on the defensive. But I was also embarrassed for our democracy by the ridiculous display by the moderators on ABC last night.

Update: See Tom Shales' analysis of ABC's performance last night. We miss you, Peter Jennings.

Update 2: Apparently the blogosphere is abuzz about how poorly this debate was conducted. Good to know I'm not alone.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hump Day Quick Hits

As we wander through that twilight zone that is the space between Tax Day and Earth Day, I offer you the following Wednesdaylicious rapid strikes.

I am shocked! Shocked, I tell you!
Proof that outrage over the words "bitter" and "cling" is mostly media-manufactured: Obama's poll numbers in Pennsylvania are basically the same as they were last week, down to Hillary by high single digits.

The Boss endorses Obama!
I have no idea how much this helps, but it is really cool nonetheless.

Yes we do, Mr. President.
President Bush, who started a war of choice with a nation that was not a threat and has therefore caused the deaths of thousands, welcomed the Pope to the United States with the following statement: "In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred.”

I'm an old man and old men read their news from dead trees, dammit!
Someone else feels my pain about the lousiness that The Dallas Morning News has become. So I found it a bit late. Tim Rogers over at D Magazine says it very well:’s my two cents: I don’t want my newspaper easier to read. I want it smarter to read, more engaging to read. I actually want it more challenging to read.

And the idea of making it “easier to use” is patently silly. It’s not a universal remote. It’s a newspaper. If the DMN is trying to reach people who are having trouble using a newspaper, they are in worse trouble than I imagined.

I have made the decision to cut the cord and let loose my hometown newspaper for now. I'll cancel as soon as my Wall Street Journal subscription starts. Luckily there are some decent hometown blogs that should keep me well apprised of the goings on in our fair burg. (Yes, the Journal is a Murdoch-owned property and their editorial page is a far right mouthpiece which shall line our cat box, but it still has excellent original reporting.) Here is the letter I am sending to the DMN, if there is still anyone there to read it:

As The Morning News has slimmed down every couple of years I knew that eventually the time would come that I would have to cancel my subscription because spending my morning with the paper was no longer a valuable use of my time. I’m sad to report that time has come.

The latest incarnation of The News is only slightly less useful than the previous, but over the years as the paper has cut costs, reduced staff, reduced content, and reduced quality, it has become but a shell of the newspaper I subscribed to when I first moved to the area in 1997.

Best of luck to you, and if you ever decide to invest in The News rather than relentlessly cut costs I’ll be willing to give you another shot.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Neanderthal Man to State Board of Education: Don't Fence Me In!

Apparently I neglected to pick up a copy of the Dallas Observer a couple of weeks ago, and I missed a well reported story by Jesse Hyde about the ultra-right wing creationists taking over our State Board of Education. Luckily I found the article online yesterday. For those who are keeping score, the creationists hold 7 out of 15 seats and Gov. Perry appointed one of them to the chairmanship. Creationist Barney Maddox lost a bid to unseat incumbent Pat Hardy in the Republican primary in Fort Worth in March, so we’ve narrowly avoided giving these folks complete control, but it’s a little too close for comfort for this future public school parent.

Science textbook adoption is to occur this year, so there is a critical battle being waged to keep real science in the textbooks and not allow the board to sneak their “weaknesses in evolutionary theory” into the text.

I was pleased to learn from Hyde’s article that the board will not be able to blatantly put creationism into the textbooks due to a 1987 Supreme Court ruling. It seems that ruling is what spurred the rise of sciency-sounding intelligent design as a “wedge” the creationists want to drive into our science classes to make room for creationism.

In the article, Hyde revisited the incredible decision the board made last year to reject a highly successful math text, part of a program that has raised scores dramatically in Dallas schools – 11 to 47 percent improvements at various grade levels. I had a visceral reaction as I read how the RWNJs used this issue as a test case to see how far they could go in rejecting perfectly good, possibly excellent, textbooks for whatever reasons they chose. These folks, some of whom didn’t even send their own children to public schools, are playing games with Texas’ future. Geraldine Miller, board member from Dallas, fought to keep the math textbook. Here’s what she ran up against:

Miller argued passionately for the books. The state math review panel recommended them, as did the state's commissioner of education, and several top-notch private schools in Dallas were using the book. But for reasons Miller didn't understand, the seven far-right members of the board were arguing against it.

"They said the multiplication tables didn't go high enough. They said it introduced calculators too early and that was a crutch," Miller recalls. "So I turned to the publisher and said, 'Here are the concerns they have, are you willing to work with the board and make these changes?' And they said, 'Absolutely.' They stayed up all night working on it, and in the morning they made this beautiful presentation on how they would make the changes."

Miller says the publishers then asked the board if they had any other requests. None was given. The vote was called. And the book was rejected 7-6.

"You know what that was? That was a display of power. That's when I realized the direction the board had gone and became very worried," Miller says.

Like others, Miller now thinks the main reason the book was rejected was to set a precedent.

"If they can reject a math book and not give a reason, then they can do the same thing to a science book," [board member Mary Helen] Berlanga says. "It was very clever how they got rid of that book in November, and they will use the same tactics to get rid of books that don't say what they want about intelligent design."

Can we please stop the madness already?

Scientists and businesses are speaking up that we need to make sure Texas science classrooms stick to real science, and to educate the public that there is no controversy in the scientific community about evolutionary theory. And that belief in God is not at odds with evolutionary theory. I don’t know that they can change the minds of the creationists on the SBOE, but they need to keep it up and get this issue out in front of the public. Only with public pressure and accountability can we retain credibility, reason, and real science in Texas classrooms.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

TEC named official denomination of MLB

Episcopal Cafe is reporting today that The Episcopal Church has been named the official denomination of Major League Baseball, narrowly beating out the Baptists and the Catholics.

Selig said that Episcopalians bring the right mix of arcane tradition, an appreciation of minutiae and a tolerance for long stretches of relative inaction that make them "a good fit for us."

Play ball! Happy April 1.