Thursday, December 20, 2012

Final Post: Good Bye!

So, it's less than an hour before the December 21, 2012 is upon us, and, as we all know, our World will end soon. By the way, I assume the people in other time zones are toast already!

Therefore, I figured, some goodbyes are in order, to all who have ever ventured here...

I don't think we have any way out of this one, since the Mayan calendar (or at least its long count, known as b'ak'tun) ends tomorrow, and we all know how good the Mayans were with predicting the future. And if the Mayans don't get us (rightly so, for all the wrongs we've done to their great civilization), our own calendar ends just a few days later, so I do not think we'll see the light of day on January 1st, 2013.

Seriously though, click over to the Bad Astronomy blog and see why the World will probably NOT end tomorrow: Worried About the End of the World on Dec. 21? Don’t Be.

To those who still believe in this nonsense: please, send my your money, before you close down your bunker hatches!

Stupid Is As Stupid Does (Or Says)...

One of our local Florida geniuses, Dennis Baxley, a State Representative from Ocala, said last Monday that we should give guns to our teachers to protect the kids in schools. Not a surprise, since he's a lifelong National Rifle Association member and a co-sponsor of the bill that became our "stand your ground" law.
My take on the NRA is pretty simple: they are here to protect moneymaking interests, at any cost, even when it means killing innocent children. They have no excuses anymore. They belong in the Dark Ages, not in the 21st Century civilization.

So, even after the unspeakable tragedy like the one in Connecticut last week, when it is pretty evident that making firearms widely available to anyone is a terrible idea, we still have people who want to turn our streets, stores, work and public places, and now even schools, into a wild West of the 1800s.
One can only hope that the cooler, more intelligent and rational heads in politics will finally wake up, get a spine and stand up to those special interests, that's been driving this pro-gun insanity recently.
You want to have a gun in your home, fine, even though it is a disaster waiting to happen (see here, here, and here) but no one in today's world needs a semi-automatic rifle, or a military grade weapons for private use. Period.

So, it's time to ban the assault weapons altogether, because, as data shows, it is very effective: Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings. It's not only necessary to ban them, but it would be best to get the ones currently in private hands off the market by buying them back. In addition, stricter gun control laws should be imposed as soon as possible. Fighting guns in hands of crazy people with more and more guns, will only make the matters worse.

A great place to start is at and

Finally, Rationally Speaking blog has a great (as always) entry on the topic, with some really, really good arguments. Massimo Pigliucci's final conclusion can't be expressed any better:
Another way to put this is in terms of virtue ethics. We need to think about what an openly armed society would do to our character as individual members of that society. I personally doubt even the quality of character of someone who thinks that hunting is a sport worth engaging in, but I am okay with that and other limited use of lethal weapons (“sport” is another questionable application, and even self-defense is reasonable only under fairly unusual circumstances and as a last resort). But I am pretty sure that there is something fundamentally flawed in the character of a person who thinks it’s a good idea to arm teachers and students in school, to allow concealed guns in churches and bars, or to provide citizens with the sort of weapons that other countries reserve only for their military. The most profound damage the NRA and its supporters are doing to this country is not just in allowing the sort of carnage of young children we have seen this past week, as horrible as it is. It lies in a deep corruption of our very character as human beings and in the threat to the very idea of a free and open society.
It is high time for some real action!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vaccinate or Not? Different Year Same Questions.

Very short post, as I seriously lack any time to blog...

I found a great article on Slate about the "controversy" that we all face every year: a flu vaccine.
I personally don't think it is a controversy, as data is pretty much in, and, with some necessary uncertainty found in any scientific problem, we know that generally flu shots are good for the general population as a whole.
In the end, it’s easy to ascribe sinister motives to flu control efforts, especially if you’re unwilling to tolerate uncertainty. With a slight shift in perspective, however, one can see our evolving flu control programs as a triumph of public health.
The article is a good read and it presents this complex issue rather clearly:

The Flu Vaccine Controversy

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Apocalypse Is Upon Us

So... December 2012 is almost here and we have measly 21 days to go. As we all know on December 21, 2012, we are all toast!

You don't believe it? Have you seen the movie 2012? It was all there, with detailed explanations for every little disaster that will occur in just a few weeks. If you don't trust Hollywood, you surely would trust the SCIENTISTS!!! I mean, the books were all well researched and full of scientific language. And if that was not enough, what about all your friends, who told you about the terrible things that were to happen in 2012, about building bunkers, and buying survival gear? They surely must have been right?

We are only three weeks away from the final date, but I'm still making plans for the weekend of the 22nd. Can the Earth be destroyed on December 21st? Sure, there are plenty of ways for this to happen, as nicely described in Philip Plait's book "Death from the Skies!", but I would not bet on them, as the odds are pretty slim (on the other hand, say that to the dinosaurs). If we want to see the real Apocalypse, we need to wait 4 - 5 billion years for the Sun to turn this planet into a burnt out cinder (hey, NASA, time to get to work, and find us a new place to live).

The reality is that, as always (think May 21, 2011 and the "Apocalypse of Mr. Camping"), all the fear mongering is purely done for profit: books, movies, lectures, and don't forget big donations for churches and cults that spread the crazy news. As long as enough people fall for it, because they think people a few thousand years ago knew more about our universe than we do now, it'll continue, and I'm sure on December 22nd, 2012, we'll hear of a new date that will bring fire and brimstone to our little, insignificant planet.

In the meantime, I think we should start worrying about our own human-made apocalypses, like the global warming. Hurricane Sandy gave us a preview of what's to come, and given the latest news ("Rapidly melting polar ice raises concerns of rising seas", "Climate Change Threatens Long-Term Sustainability of Great Plains", and "This Drought's No Dry Run: Lessons Of The Dust Bowl"), and the current simulations ("What Could Disappear"), our children and grandchildren are not looking at a bright future.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Why Do We Pick Idiots To Run Our Country?

Yes, I agree it's rather harsh to say that, but after Florida's very own senator, Marco Rubio said this:
I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries.
in an interview for GQ, as an answer to the question about the age of the Earth, the only two choices are:

1. Crackpot.
2. Liar, who knows the real and scientific answer, but lies to all of us for political reasons.

I admit, #2 is very probable for any politician, but I also want to believe that nobody would consciously and purposefully, expose himself or herself to this kind of ridicule, so I'll stick with my initial assessment.

Let me point to an excellent Bad Astronomy blog, for an expanded explanation of why we all should start picking our government representatives a bit more carefully: they are elected to make decisions that are very complex, require critical thinking skills and can affect all of us (and sometimes even the world). Of course, this is not new and not even rare, especially from the politicians on the right (a.k.a. the Republicans). The scary part is that Rubio is considered a "rising star" in the Republican Party and we might have to endure his misguided views more than we care for.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Finally, the 2012 Election is Over

I'm very glad the crazy political season in America is over. This time around it was especially annoying, with all the adds and calls and e-mails, and just plain insanity of pushing one candidate over the other (and that's not to mention all the local political ads that were equally bad, if not worse).

I'm also very happy with local Florida voters overwhelmingly rejecting a few constitutional amendments, including misguided Amendment 8, which, despite its name (Florida Religious Freedom Amendment), was not about religious freedom, but rather about tax dollars funding religious activities. Amendment 6 also went down in flames and for good reasons, as it was injecting politics into personal health care issues.

Generally speaking, while it's good to see reason and critical thinking winning (I'm glad our president will not be making important decisions peering into a magic hat), it's still pretty scary to see that "unreason" can be sold to almost 50% of the nation, hook, line and sinker.

I also hope that, after highly political campaign, when some issues could not be mentioned, out of fear of loosing precious votes, we might finally deal with problems like global warming, especially since the Hurricane Sandy clearly showed us what direction our planet is heading.

Now, it's time to move on to more important things, like everyday skepticism and fighting lack of critical thinking in our lives.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Election Season

There is not much on the US news recently outside of the Elections. Seemingly the rest of the world just stopped in a great anticipation, to see who will be the next, great "leader of the Free World".

Thanks to our great Postal Service, I already voted by mail, refusing to wait in those enormous lines, like four years ago. The choice was pretty clear this year, despite the fact that, as it happened too often in the past, it was more the vote of opposition, than approval.

In my book, the most important factor in making such decisions is The Golden Rule in a form of "live and let live" (or sometimes, unfortunately, "live and let die"). For me, it mostly means living your a good life, helping others as much as possible, and letting them do the same, without imposing any of my own views and beliefs on them. As long as everyone plays nice and does not try to impose their ways on others, we should be fine.

Rationality matters as well. Since the President of the Unites States has rather imposing powers, I would not want anyone in the office, who drinks Kool Aid too often. We all have our own "blind spots" of rationality, some coming from our culture, upbringing, people we meet in our lives, and some coming from our hard-wired brains that are very difficult to override.However, believing in divining rods, homeopathy, prophets, translating golden plates by looking into a hat with magic stones, and similar things, is a NO-NO in my humble opinion. The same goes for believing in some alternative history of America and other places, that has absolutely no basis in science and reality. When somebody has power to make decisions that influence millions of people, I want at least to hope that reality and reason are the main decision points.

Hopefully, this crazy season of unreason will be over soon, and we can all go back to fighting simple, everyday stupidity in our lives.

Ride to Defeat ALS - HELP NEEDED!!!

As I mentioned before on this blog, I'm a part of a team to raise money for the ALS Association. We are doing it for a friend and co-worked who is affected by this horrible disease.
Our team is signed up for a 25 mile bicycle ride, which will take place on November 3rd in the Tampa Bay area.

We still need sponsors!!! I have been amazed to see that our team was able to raise over $6,500 in a few, short weeks. But we still need more. The money goes to the ALS Association, which helps not only the people affected by the Lou Gehrig's Disease as they go through this debilitating disease, but also provides invaluable resources and information to their families, to help ease their struggle as well.

Click on this link: and sponsor our team!!!

Thank you all for your help!!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Quote of the Day - From a "Science-Loving" Politician

So, where are we heading as a country, if a person, who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology says something like that:
“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell, and it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”
Impressive and scary, given the fact that this guy, U.S. Rep. Paul C. Broun (R., Ga.), is partially responsible for making decisions that drive science and engineering in this country and potentially affect our future.

But... Mr. Broun is not alone on the committee. has some additional "science-literate" politicians:

Least scientific members of the House Science Committee

It's also good to see the Science Guy, Bill Nye weighting in:

Bill Nye: Paul Broun 'Unqualified To Make Decisions About Science, Space, And Technology'

I guess, your brains are not really important in politics, but it should not come as a surprise after all. You can go pretty far in this country, believing that Jews came to America in 600 B.C. and left their story written on the golden plates that can be translated by looking into a magic hat with some stones in it... Priceless!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ride to Defeat ALS - Support Needed!!!

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also here), or ALS for short, is a terrible, neurological disease, affecting people in their prime, usually in early to mid 50s. It debilitates a person rapidly, causing difficulty in speaking, walking and breathing, with a progressive muscle atrophy. The disease affects approximately 5 out of every 100,000 people.
There are some very well known people who suffered from ALS. Among them were: Lou Gehrig, a famous baseball player, and Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, and author of "The Brief History of Time".

Like most of us, I did not know much about ALS until the day I found out that someone I know is affected by it.

So, now, in honor of a co-worker and a friend, Charlie, I'm taking part in the ALS Association's "Ride to Defeat ALS" here in Florida, which is a 25 mile bike ride on November 3rd.

To make a difference, help in funding research of this terrible disease and help those who suffer, I'm looking for donations to our team of bike riders.

My donation page can be found here:

Thank you for any donations!!! Every little bit helps!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Blogging Slump

September has turned into a work nightmare, with very little time for following news and blogging on any interesting topics.

Not to mention that, given the upcoming elections, there is mostly political news out there to follow.

While my political preferences are rather solid this year, venturing into this topic is a minefield I do not wish to endure. It's enough to say that out of the two presidential candidates, one seems to be slightly more rational, slightly more compassionate and visibly more in-touch with reality than the other one. I can bet, each one of us can easily fit his, or her preferred winner into the description above, given enough cognitive dissonance.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Science Debate 2012

I think we can safely bet that we are not likely to see a live, televised science debate between Obama and Romney on CNN (or, even less likely Fox News) this year. The candidates would expose themselves and their agendas, to a field in which real facts and established theories cannot be spun into a political "newspeak", in which all political figures are so well versed.

However, it's still great to see that both of this years presidential candidates have answered questions posed by an independent, on-line initiative started four years ago, called

While, getting answers in a written form is not as revealing as a candidate's live "performance", the answers from both Obama and Romney, do give us a general feel of where they come from and where they want to lead us in the future.

Not surprisingly, at first glance, Obama wins over Romney in this field. I say "not surprisingly", because for many, many years, the Republican Party and most of its candidates at all political levels, have presented an incredible ineptitude for science, reason and critical thinking. They are known for embracing all kinds of unscientific thinking from promoting creationism and intelligent design in our schools, to fighting and denying every environmental issue, including, most recently, global warming.

And, Mitt Romney does not disappoint again... While his running mate, Paul Ryan, is a known global warming denialist, Romney articulates the same view (granted, he does some dancing around, to make himself look a bit less dumb):
I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.
"Lack of scientific consensus?", yes, if you count some loony scientists, mostly not even in the field of climate research. That debate has been closed, at least in the scientific circles and the time is to look for solutions.

In general, the answers from the Obama campaign seem to be a bit more focused and to the point. Romney, on the other hand, has a lot of lofty ideas, with very little essence (create a "Reagan Economic Zone"? Who will join?).

However, it's still good to see those two sets of answers side by side, compare them and analyze them, which, at the end, helps all of us in making our minds in November.

As Thomas Jefferson said (which is wisely pointed by the
"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government."
UPDATE 09/06/2012:
A summary from Slate: Romney Out-Debates Obama

Yes, out-debates... true, but is there a real essence there? I'm not so sure.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Review: The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines

I have been following the climate change "controversy" for some time now. I've known for many years that the science behind it is sound and solid. However, the amount of vicious and coordinated attacks on the whole concept surprised me, even though I still remember attacks on the research into the ozone hole in the 80s.

As in the 80s, I could not understand why anyone with vested interests in our future (and by "interests" I mean our children, who will reap the "rewards" of our stupidity) would deny the facts and research with such viciousness.

So, I was happy when one of the most famous scientists involved in the climate research, Dr. Michael E. Mann, wrote a book, "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines", detailing the last 20 years of his struggle with the climate change denial industry.  
I wanted to see the details of this fight. I wanted to understand the possible reasons behind the people responsible for the attacks not only on science and research itself, but on individuals who dedicated their lives in pursuit of truths that benefit the entire human kind.

This book gave me not only a glimpse into the people who would not stop at anything to get their agenda ahead, no matter how disconnected from reality it was, like Senator James Inhofe, or Virginia's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. It also showed me how personal those attacks were and how they affected people whose only fault was being scientists.

However, the greatest benefit of this book is its amazing explanation of science and research behind our current understanding of the anthropomorphic global warming. Dr. Mann explains details with eloquence that makes those, sometimes difficult concepts, easy to grasp. Climate science is hard. It requires a firm understanding of many other disciplines. It requires statistical methods that are so far away from our daily routines, that their comprehension (and basic comprehension at best) needs an excellent teacher, who can bring them down to a level of a lay person.

I have to say, Dr. Mann does the job perfectly!

It's almost comical that I finished this book on the same day that July of 2012 was announced to be the hottest month on record in the US.

That's just one more reason to read Dr. Mann's book, especially if you are still sitting on a fence, not sure about the science of global warming. If you keep your political mind away, this book will change your mind.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Now, That's What I Call Crazy!!!

Crazy... insane... out of this world? Just plain stupid... Nope... it's NRA.
Let me check the calendar... it is 2012, not 1812, right?
The National Rifle Association will seek to pass a bill legalizing the open carrying of firearms in Florida during the 2013 session of the state Legislature, renewing a crusade for expanded gun rights that faltered last year, a longtime lobbyist for the group said today.
Read the rest: Marion Hammer: NRA wants new open carry law in Florida

Thanks to for the timeless image...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pasco School Board Elections: Let's Stick With Competence

As the election for the local Pasco County School Board is coming up on August 14th, I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who would like to see a candidate with some competence and sanity elected to this important position.

Two candidates are on the ballot this year, Joanne Hurley and Don Stephenson, and since I have a son in the local elementary school, I have a vital interest in how the local school district is managed and what future directions it takes.

I expressed some reservations about Don Stephenson in my previous posts: "2011 - Summary" and "Pasco School Board Elections - My Gripes", especially with his fiscal stance, his opposition to the International Baccalaureate program, and his support of the Amendment 7. As we see American students performing poorly in math, science and engineering, as compared to other developed nations, we need to ensure that more resources are available to our public schools. Freezing taxes, diverting public resources to private schools and religious institutions and dismantling well performing programs like the International Baccalaureate, is not an acceptable solution. It will make our kids less capable of competing in the global marketplace, with no knowledge of other cultures and points of view.

At the same time Don Stephenson's opponent, Joanne Hurley, seems to be well prepared for this position, having served on the Pasco School Board for the last four years. She has a lifetime of experience in this area and seems to be free of the extreme, right-leaning ideas that Mr. Stephenson presents (like branding the IB program anti-American???).

I'm very glad that the Tampa Bay Times also recommends Joanne Hurley for the School Board re-election and that its article shares a lot of my own reservations about Don Stephenson.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Politicians: Brains Not Required

We all know that being smart is not required for being a politician. Having a good education is also not in the requirements for this particular position, which could have been clearly seen in the recent batch of the Republican presidential candidates.
However, when it comes to politicians without brains, I firmly say "Not In My Backyard!!!" (NIMB).
This is exactly what's happening in one of the Florida State House districts, where all three Republican candidates, Kim Kendall, Mike Davis and Ronald “Doc” Renuart, support teaching creationism in our public schools.
It is amusing, and yet scary at the same time, to hear from Renuart, who is a physician (with higher education and extensive scientific training, I presume):
Evolution is still a theory. It should be taught as a theory, not as a fact. Creationism, divine intervention — a lot of people share this belief.
and then:
[Vouchers] give[s] students a way out (of a failing school). It’s not full tuition. When we don’t provide options for students, what’s really left for them? (These schools) must meet the standards of public education.
What standards? The same he just demolished bringing religion into science classes?

Florida Citizens for Science has a short post about this topic as well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pasco County School Board Elections: Vouchers

Our local Pasco County School Board elections are coming up, and as always the idea of school vouchers pops up with the candidates (Don Stephenson is one example). I always found this approach questionable, since it diverts public, tax driven funds from our public schools (where our tax dollars belong) into poorly controlled, private schools, religious in nature in many instances.

Thankfully, by a very wise decision of the good and smart people who wrote the US Constitution, public funds should never be used for religious purposes. However, religious people from all kinds of backgrounds argue differently, trying to prove that they, and their religion, deserves better. Except, when they find out that this slippery slope could also lead to other religions using the tax funds, and sometimes those religions are not as "popular" in this country.

People in Louisiana are finding out this exact thing right now, as reported by The Livingston Parrish News:
Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools.
“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.
“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said.
Hodges mistakenly assumed that “religious” meant “Christian.”
It is funny to see how their minds change and suddenly they are not so much for a "religious freedom", because it is not their own religion that's free.

I think we should keep it in mind when it's time to vote in the upcoming elections, and make sure that we select those candidates who are truly concerned about our public schools and do not support diverting our tax dollars to private schools and other organizations (that includes the very flawed Florida Religious Freedom, Amendment 8).

Monday, July 9, 2012

Real Estate in Florida: Invest Wisely

If you are thinking about buying a beachfront property in Florida (or anywhere else for that matter), think twice and choose wisely, as many places known for their beauty today, will become underwater habitats pretty soon.

A climate experts' summit took place recently in Florida, and The Gainesville Sun has the story: Karl Havens: Florida's warm future

The bad news:
The picture painted by the experts was bleak. Discussions included how to abandon areas of the Keys, lose large portions of the Everglades, and how to completely reconfigure Miami into a series of islands on historical ridges along the coast.
Between now and 2100, floods that happen every 100 years will start to happen every 50, then every 20, then every 5 — until large areas of coastal Florida are under the sea.
The good news:
The news is not all bad. Although there probably is enough excess CO2 in the atmosphere to drive some additional rise in sea level, scientists conclude that we can prevent devastating impacts of global warming on places like Miami and the Keys — if there is a concerted effort to reduce CO2 emissions in the next one to two decades. The costs of doing this will end up being much less than such unimaginable things as moving entire cities away from an advancing coastline.
However, the time is running out fast...

Faithful Get Offended... Again

Recently I wrote about a case of a bad "blasphemy law" in Poland (well, there is no "good" blasphemy law in my opinion, since they all infringe on people's freedom of speech in the name of someone unvalidated opinion), and this week brings us another case, this time from India (thanks to the New Scientist).

This particular case has been brewing for a few months, but finally, it is getting attention it deserves in the "mainstream" media, not just in the skeptic and rational circles. Senal Anamaruku, a skeptic from India, is accused of "hurting religious feelings" by exposing a purported miracle. The case is very straightforward: people believe in a miracle, they are swindled by others, who are trying to make money, someone exposes the fraud (intentional, or not, it's irrelevant) and gets blamed for "hurt feelings" of those who prefer to cling to irrational beliefs at all costs.

The main point to learn from this case, is of course, freedom of speech. And someone's opinion, is, and always should be, protected by this basic freedom, even if others don't agree and even if it goes against people beliefs.

There is also an important nugget of wisdom by Senal:
Once trapped into irrationalism, they become more incapable of mastering reality. It is a vicious circle, like an addiction. They become vulnerable to exploitation by astrologers, godmen, dubious pseudo-psychologists, corrupt politicians and the whole mega-industry of irrationalism.
Great point and worth repeating every day, when someone says "what's the harm?"

Friday, June 29, 2012

Don't Mess With Texas...

... or you might get schooled! Not!
This nugget of wisdom is making its way around the Interwebs, and it really is priceless and funny (even if we are laughing through tears).
It's the official Republican Part of Texas platform document.

Some of my favorite pieces:

1. Environment:

We strongly oppose all efforts of the extreme environmental groups that stymie legitimate business interests. We strongly oppose those efforts that attempt to use the environmental causes to purposefully disrupt and stop those interests within the oil and gas industry. We strongly support the immediate repeal of the Endangered Species Act.
At least, we clearly see who's paying the Republicans of Texas.

2. No taxes for religious organizations, but hey, let them get into politics all they want:
We urge amendment of the Internal Revenue Code to allow a religious organization to address issues without fear of losing its tax-exempt status. We call for repeal of requirements that religious organizations send the government any personal information about their contributors.
3. Health. There is so much here, I don't know where to start...
The first one is the "Conscience Clause":
We believe that doctors, nurses, pharmacists, any employees of hospitals and insurance companies, health care organizations, medical and scientific research students, and any employee should be protected by Texas law if they conscientiously object to participate in practices that conflict with their moral or religious beliefs, including but not limited to abortion, the prescription for and dispensing of drugs with abortifacient potential, human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, eugenic screenings, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration.
That's right; don't provide modern, scientific, medical procedures, just because you don't like them. Maybe you should not have gotten into the medical profession in the first place.

All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.
I agree... if you don't want to get vaccinated, that's your choice, just make sure you lock yourself in a bubble and don't get anywhere close to me and my family.

4. Finally, there is "Education", which must mean something slightly different to Texas' Republicans than to the rest of us:
We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
Yes, that's right... they oppose the teaching of critical thinking skills, and they make it clear why... because when you teach someone some critical thinking, he or she might question you, or your beliefs. Good grief!!! A child who actually thinks for himself or herself!!! God, no! Well, if you ever have to deal with a child like that, this might help:
We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas.
Beat them into submission, so they don't dare to question anything you say... nice.
Oh, and while we making sure that our kids don't learn to think for themselves, let's make sure we also teach them that the world is 6000 years old (whatever the official date is):
We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Poland - Back to the Middle Ages?

Not exactly, but it certainly feels like, when it comes to an issue of free speech.

Poland might be one of the few countries in Europe that has not been affected by the economic crisis and the country is growing rapidly. The UEFA Euro 2012 tournament brought millions of Euros into the local economy and the infrastructure improvements are huge. 

All this, however, does not stop stupidity and backward thinking from creeping into the daily lives of my compatriots. There has been a controversy very recently, which actually started a while back in 2009, when a pop singer Doda, in an interview said that (to translate loosely) she "believes in dinosaurs more than she believes in the Bible, since it is hard to believe in something written by someone drunk on wine and high on some weeds". At the beginning of this week, she was convicted and fined, based on the Polish anti-blasphemy law. Some info about the case in English can be found here.

Was Doda's remark provocative? Sure it was... that's how you keep yourself in the media and create fans. However, it was well within any conceivable limits of free speech. She was only criticizing an idea (religious, or not, it does not matter), did not entice violence against anyone, and expressed only her own opinions and beliefs. To prosecute Doda, or anyone else, for simply not agreeing with the majority, is a terrible idea that belongs in the middle ages, not in the 21st Century Europe. The same goes with so called blasphemy laws, which are still in effect in some countries around the world (you would usually think Afghanistan, or Iran, not Europe, right?). In today's world, we should be able to criticize any and all ideas and beliefs, as long as we respect people. We do not, however, have to hold the same respect for those ideas themselves, especially when they are not based on reality. My idea of "holy" could be yours of "stupid" and vice-versa.

Hopefully, Doda will take this case to the The European Court of Human Rights and the stupidity of Polish law will be stricken down.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Science Education in America - How to Fix It

Slate has a series of excellent articles on the future of science education in America. They touch on a number of important issues that our current educational system faces, from funding and inspiration to testing and gender gap that exists today.

Three of the articles that I would like to point out are:
- Learning by Making - another voice in the discussion about standardized testing, and another good point against it.
- A Moment of Science - how to inspire your kids to pursue science, from one of the best science bloggers, Phil Plait.
- The Dark-Matter Ages - how the US is losing its leading role in basic science research and what it could mean to our future generations. You'd better listen, when such a warning comes from one of the best physicists today, Lawrence Krauss, the author of a recent book I recommended a few days ago.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Boiron Settles, Can't Prove Homeopathy Works

Boiron settles one of the lawsuits against them and their bogus homeopathic product Oscillococcinum. They can't prove the product works, so they rather settle than expose themselves to more scientific scrutiny. As written in the lawsuit:
According to the class action lawsuit, the active ingredients in Boiron’s products are so diluted that they are “effectively non-existent,” making them nothing more than sugar pills.
Yet, those products are still available in our local pharmacies and people still continue to use them, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence they do anything more than emptying your pockets.

Here is some additional info on a different lawsuit (Coldcalm): The CAM Docket: Boiron II

I wrote about a Canadian lawsuit earlier this year: Boiron, the Maker of Oscillococcinum Gets Sued

Let's hope, if nothing else, the public gets to see what homeopathy really is, and how alt-med is used by those big, bad pharmaceutical conglomerates to make tons of money from selling us pure sugar. The next time you hear someone defending alternative medicine as opposed to the Big Pharma, think twice... the reality is not always what it seems.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Summer Slump and Book Recommendations

Summer is here and the slump has begun. Not really... overwhelmed by work in various forms, I completely lack time for writing anything coherent about multitudes of stupidity and gullibility we face daily in our lives.

I would like to write excessively about an ad I saw in a local Polish cultural center about a person, who claims, can "read God", tell you how to reconnect with your loved ones in heaven and extend your life in some magical way. To top it off, that person, in his ad, written in extremely bad English, boasts that he does it all for only 40% of profits, sending the other 60% as a spiritual gift to some mistical place. No kidding! What a bargain!
Or, along the same lines (different name, same BS), I would love to write about the complete nonsense of Reiki, and its scamming ways, making people pay for something that does not exist. Reiki, being an eastern version of therapeutic touch (TT) has no scientific background behind its claims, as famously demonstrated by Emily Rosa in 1998. Yet, right next to the guy who can "read God", I saw an ad from a Reiki master, claiming all kinds of benefits, for a price, of course.

Unfortunately, no time for all this due to work engagements. Luckily, Kindle does wonders, and I was able to read two excellent books that I would like to recommend to everyone:

1. "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming" - Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway
What an excellent overview of the last 50 years of anti-science propaganda, from tobacco industry, acid rain effects, ozone hole and the Star Wars program of the 80s, to the global warming denial, all courtesy of the same people and the same special interests. This book is extremely well written and can hold your interest for hours, presenting facts and connections you would not suspect existed. It is interesting and frightening at the same time, to remember the 80s, when we first started hearing about the ozone hole and how we were damaging it. It felt like the doomsday was upon us, that soon, we would not be able to leave the confines of our homes on a sunny day. When solutions were proposed, I remember various companies and whole industries crying how it'll kill the economy and bring another doomsday on us: the economic one. Yet, after an unprecedented international cooperation, we were able to come up with solutions, ban a few dangerous substances, replace them with better and safer ones and avert the disaster.
Today, we face similar problems with anthropogenic global warming and yet the same people create distractions and false "skepticism" to stall any solutions. Without those solutions, not us, but our kids will face a very bleak future, a future to which they will no doubt adopt, but at what costs? And, they will have only a handful of people to blame, with general public and some media following bad science, propaganda and distortion of facts.

2. "A Universe from Nothing" - Lawrence Krauss
If reading about "long, long time ago, far, far away" is your thing, I highly recommend this book. Lawrence Krauss, a leading cosmologist and theoretical physicist of our times, explains how our Universe (along with possibly, billions of others) came to be, literally out of Nothing. The real Nothing, as it is explained in the book, much better than I could ever do. Where we come from and where we are heading are also topics of discussion, and while it is good to know that we possibly live in the best times (give or take a few billion years), the end for us does not look great, so enjoy your time here. This book is maybe a bit less accessible that some other popular science books ("A Brief History of Time" comes to my mind), as it does include some math and physics, but Krauss makes it rather easy to digest and his style is very engaging and entertaining, given the subject that ends with (spoiler alert!) doom and gloom...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bad Journalism, Bad Science, Bad Medicine

I like local stories, and when I see one, I jump on it.
When browsing the interwebs today, I saw a blog post from Todd W at Harpocrates Speaks about a recent interview with a local pediatrician from Tampa, which was posted on the WTSP's Web site.
Todd does a great job dissecting the article for what it is: an uncritical, gullible piece of sensational journalism:
What could have been a good opportunity to ask critical questions. Instead, we get what basically amounts to advertising for a doctor making claims that are not supported by data. It's all well and good to make sure that families, and in particular women who are about to become or are pregnant, practice a healthy lifestyle. However, to claim that autism can be prevented by Dr. Berger's protocol, when we have no research actually validating it, is premature and irresponsible.

VanNest and Dr. Berger should both be ashamed: VanNest for irresponsible journalism and Dr. Berger for failing to do due diligence before making extraordinary claims. If his protocol actually works, that would be great, but the truth is that we do not know and will not know until the research is done. At best, Dr. Berger is Florida's version of Dr. Jay Gordon. At worst, he's a crank (which I'm leaning toward after viewing the Wholistic Pediatrics web site). Both do an incredible disservice to families who may expend added resources for no actual gain.

Not much needs to be added... perfect summary.
As I was browsing Dr. Berger's site, I also found a typical "holistic" approach to vaccines (we "recommend" them, but set your own schedule if you wish, or just skip the ones you don't like), and a few interesting recommendations that would make me run away from that practice as fast as I could. For example, Wholistic Pediatrics recommends OSCILLOCOCCINUM as a flu treatment. As I mentioned in my previous posts, OSCILLOCOCCINUM is a sugar pill (it says so on the vial!!!), so using it in anything but your coffee is a serious waste of your time, and dollars, as it is way more expensive than the same white powder found in your local supermarket. I also learned something new about this homeopathic remedy:
As with any homeopathic remedy, it is most effective when given away from food, herbs, or strong flavors like mint or cinnamon in toothpaste.
Huh? Cinnamon in toothpaste interacts with ? There must be some magic chemistry behind it, but I fail to understand it...
I'm sure glad my pediatrician uses reason and science in his daily practice.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Protect Your Children - Get Vaccinated

Everyone with any fundamental knowledge of science and statistics knew this was coming: old childhood diseases are returning, because of failing vaccination rates and diminishing herd immunity. The recent news just seemed to confirm that scary trend:

1. Whooping cough (pertussis) is coming back, partially because the adults are not getting immunized and that in turn affects very young children, who can't get their first shot yet:
Whooping Cough Outbreak In Tampa
Whooping cough on the rise in Hillsborough County
Whooping cough outbreak in Tampa area
In this case, it's up to the adults who are around young children to get proper protection, otherwise the results might be deadly: Whooping cough kills baby in Melbourne

2. Measles is coming back too, mostly due to anti-vaccine propaganda: In 2011, U.S. logged the most measles cases it's had in 15 years. The fears of vaccines are worse overseas and the bad stuff seems to be coming from there for now, but it'll get worse.

Let's hope the US does not have to see all the childhood diseases coming back in order to learn its lesson. Unfortunately, some people did think so, and now it's happening...


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Boiron, the Maker of Oscillococcinum Gets Sued

It's good to see that a crappy sugar pill flu medicine Oscillococcinum, which I blogged about more than a year ago, finally gets a fair treatment from the public in a form of a lawsuit filled in Canada.

As I pointed out before, the pill:
Each 0.04 oz. dose (1 g) of Oscillo contains 1 g of sugar
or, if you want to be picky:
1g pill contains 0.85g sucrose and 0.15g lactose
Hmmm... you do the math...

Those pills are all over the pharmacies in the USA and Canada, and, since they do nothing (just as the Airborne used to do) to improve your health, except emptying your pockets, I hope the makers (Brion, a big pharma!!!) get their pockets emptied too.

More: Class Action Lawsuit Filed against Homeopathy Manufacturer Boiron and Shoppers Drug Mart

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Great Words from Michael Mann

Michael Mann, one of the leading climate scientists, and a real expert on the topic, has published a great article on the CNN's portal, in which he discusses a terrible political climate (pun intended) he and his peers in the field face in the United States and around the world:
Imagine you are sitting in your office simply doing your job and a nasty e-mail pops into your inbox accusing you of being a fraud. You go online and find that some bloggers have written virulent posts about you. That night, you're at home with your family watching the news and a talking head is lambasting you by name. Later, a powerful politician demands all your e-mails from your former employer.
I'm glad he presses on, despite the dishonest, personal attacks on him and the science of climate research, because, as he points out:
[...] as the father of a 6-year-old girl, I want to make sure the planet we leave her is at least as beautiful and healthy as the one we grew up on. At the very least, our nation's political and business leaders deserve to have a debate about her future that is grounded in reality.
My daughter, and all of our children, deserve no less.
Yes, our children deserve a planet at least as good as we've had, if not better.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Can You See Our Precious Education Funds Going to the Lawyers?

Yes... all the lawyers across the Florida must have been jumping with joy, when they found out that our not-so-smart governor Rick Scott signed the Florida school prayer bill into law (also here), which authorizes school boards to enable students to deliver "inspirational message" (a.k.a. prayer) in public schools. This seems to be so unconstitutional, that the legal challenges will come quickly, and our school board districts will have to pay the legal bills.
You know this law has nothing to do with what its authors pretend it to be, when even prominent religious leaders are against it. It was politics at its worst, from the bill's sponsors, Sen. Gary Siplin and Rep. Charles Van Zant, to our governor (not that I expected any better from him), catering to the religious right to gain some dubious votes, and at the end our children will pay the price when the lawyers come knocking.
Maybe it's time for the sane ones to make sure the people above (let's repeat: Sen. Gary Siplin, Rep. Charles Van Zant, and Governor Rick Scott) are not allowed to represent us in the future. Let them know when the next election day is here.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Great To See Some Reason...

With all the recent economic trouble across the country (and the world), our local governments are looking to save money in all kinds of strange places. For example, our local school board is evaluating cutting the school week to four days, making them a bit longer instead.

When I first heard about this idea, I did some research and found out that there is relatively few school districts in the U.S., that decided to implement such a solution. As a result, there is rather slim amount of good data available to support its perceived value. It appears to me that there could be some benefits, but they are only apparent in very small and geographically spread out districts. For a district the size of Pasco County, the four day school week idea seems to have rather weak foundations, and might lead to more problems than it's trying to solve.

Unfortunately, when I attended a parents' forum with the chief proponent of this idea and the person who first proposed it, the School Board member Steve Luikart, my impression was that he was already convinced and all he wanted to do was to convince the rest of the board.

I'm glad to see that the issue is getting attention from some of the candidates to the school board during the upcoming elections. As The Tampa Bay Times reported today, Don Stephenson is firmly against the idea of the four day school week. Even though I do not agree with a lot of Mr. Stephenson's agenda, I am happy to be on the same side of the fence when it comes to the shorter school week. Hopefully, this will attract some much needed attention to this issue, and maybe, convince the current board to find better ways of saving money. Cutting our children's time in school is not the best way to ensure they get the best education possible.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Praying Away Our Tax Dollars

When most of our school districts in Florida struggle for every dollar out there during this hard economic times, our "brilliant" politicians keep themselves busy with more "important" things, like students delivering inspirational messages (a.k.a. prayers) at public schools' events. This new bill, just passed by the Florida House, is probably one of the worst and most useless laws recently created. Ordinarily, I would not have much of a problem with this, even though the idea of a "prayer" in a public school invites a large number of potential issues: how is this "inspirational message" given? when is it allowed? what happens if it offends anyone? who decides on the details? etc, etc...
The real problem with this piece of legislation is very simple: America was founded on a simple, yet effective principle of separation of religion and state, and any attempts to circumvent this principle will be challenged in court by someone, sooner or later, and rightly so. Such a challenge will be costly to the taxpayers (all of us). I does not take a genius to know that the first school district to enact such a policy, will be hit with a lawsuit (and, I'm afraid, the first district that refuses to bring this policy to life will be hit by a lawsuit too, just from a different side). At the end, the only winners are the lawyers, who will collect their legal fees. We, the parents, will end up paying for it, and our children will get just a little bit less of the education they deserve.
The final question is... what would the FSM do?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chiropractic Is Bogus

I have no love for the alternative medicine. I think it is based on bogus evidence, or a complete lack of thereof, its various "branches" are mutually exclusive, it feeds on people fears and weaknesses, and it sucks up valuable resources (as in $$$) not only from our individual pockets, but also from larger public funds and governments.

Recent blog activities on the interwebs (some of this can be found here and here), reminded me of a case from a few years ago, in which chiropractic, a widely-accepted, "medical" practice, based on pretty much magic, was put to a test, not only by scientists (this has been settled long time ago), but in a court of law in Great Britain.
In this case, a British science writer, Simon Singh, was accused of libel by the British Chiropractic Association, after he had published an article in The Guardian, claiming that the practice of chiropractic is based on unscientific, unproven principles, and that promoting such practices equals false advertising. Even under the libel-friendly British law, the BSA was forced to withdraw the law suit, after it became evident that Singh was correct in his criticism. A side effect of the case was a magnified focus received by chiropractic and its principles, which boils down to a very simple thing: it is crap.

The problem is that a lot of insurance companies in the US will pay for chiropractic visits and that's the money that eventually comes out of our collective pockets. While I do realize that not all medical treatments are perfect (as all sciences are not perfect and definitive), when I'm paying for something, I would like to make sure that it has at least some validity. In the meantime, chiropractic is based on wishful, magical thinking and 100+ years of coming up with bs to justify charging people for a "fancy" massage. You'd be better off going to a real, licensed physical therapists. At least they get education and training in real medicine, and you get a real treatment.

If you want to find out more about chiropractic, The Skeptic Dictionary is a great place to start.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Less Is NOT More in Case of Education

I can't see ANY good reason to give our children less education... less as in the "four-day school week" idea, which is being studied in Pasco County this year as one of the possible ways to address the local school district's budget shortfall.
On the other hand, I can see a lot of very good reasons why we should try any other solution first to make sure our local schools operate well. Among them the pressing need for better Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), as it is nicely described in an article on the CNN portal:
Two indicators are particularly worrisome, especially as this country experiences greater global competition and high unemployment. American students score 23rd in math and 31st in science when compared with 65 other top industrial countries. In math, we are beaten by countries from Lichtenstein and Slovakia to the Netherlands and Singapore. In science, we are beaten by countries from New Zealand and Estonia to Finland and Hungary.
For the United States, which led the way in space after Sputnik and showed the way in technological development and economic growth for the last 40 years, this is more than an embarrassment. And, for the future of our own GDP, economic well-being, and employer and employment needs, this is a disaster in the making. If the United States wishes to remain the most competitive and innovative country in the world -- never mind just another competitive and innovative country in the constellation of industrial nations -- this cannot stand.
Read: U.S lag in science, math a disaster in the making

This is just one reason, but probably one of the most important and compelling ones. It's good to see that the majority of parents are not happy about this idea and they are voicing their opinions in both meetings and online surveys.

Let's hope the cooler and smarter heads prevail, we'll stop smoking tea leaves and get some money for our children's education, even if it means looking for new sources of that cash.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Florida Science Standards - Fordham Institute Report

Well, while Florida fared pretty well when it comes to our teachers' quality, the science standards in our schools pretty much smell like a big pile of..., well, 'nuff said.

The Fordham Institute released its evaluation of science educational standards and Florida scored a big, bad D, mostly due to the lack of clarity, but also because both Physics and Chemistry ranked zero.
Surprisingly, even in the "southern" and unscientifically-leaning state like Florida, "controversial" topic such as evolution, gets some praise:

I guess, we have some work to do at home to ensure that out children are well prepared for the challenges of the 21st century
Evolution, on the other hand, is very well covered. Take, for example, the following:
Explain how the scientific theory of evolution is supported by the fossil record, comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, biogeography, molecular biology, and observed evolutionary change. (high school life science) Describe the conditions required for natural selection, including: overproduction of offspring, inherited variation, and the struggle to survive, which result in differential reproductive success. (high school life science) Discuss mechanisms of evolutionary hange other than natural selection such as genetic drift and gene flow. (high school life science)
Even human evolution is treated—a rarity in state science standards:
Identify basic trends in hominid evolution from early ancestors six million years ago to modern humans, including brain size, jaw size, language, and anufacture of tools. Discuss specific fossil hominids and what they show about human evolution. (high school life science)
Barely a handful of states tackle human evolution in their standards, bolstering the life science score of the Sunshine State’s standards.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's Getting Hot In Here...

I do not think you could find a sane person at this point, who would question some of the largest environmental disasters our species brought upon this fragile planet: DDT in the 60s, acid rain in the 70s, ozone depletion in the 80s and finally anthropomorphic global warming in the late 90s and 2000s. All of them except the last one (as of today) were averted to some extend by a joint cooperation of many nations and all of as together.

The crazy thing is that while all of those issues had gone through a period of scientific uncertainty (as they should, given the proper scientific process), they also encountered a stiff opposition from denialists, usually associated with some political option. This denial went on for years, against well established scientific facts, studies and despite an overwhelming consensus from the experts in each field of study.
The methods and strategies used by such denialists have not changed for years and can be clearly seen in today's debate on the anthropomorphic global warming.

There is a number of reasons why I'm writing about this topic:

1. Wall Street Journal had a terrible article called "No Need to Panic About Global Warming", which, instead of using science to back up its claims (true or not), used a version of Godwin's Law, and invoked discredited Stalin's scientist Lysenko to drive its point, which can be otherwise refuted in a few easy steps (and, as a matter of fact has been: here, here, and here, to link to just a few of them, not to mention the letter signed by 255 National Academy of Science members).

2. National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a long time defender of quality evolution science education in the US schools, branched out and decided to use its resources on climate science as well. This move comes as no surprise, as both "controversies" keep showing up in our school systems and are driven by mostly beliefs and not real science, which is pretty much settled in both cases.

3. By pure coincidence I just finished reading "Merchants of Doubt", which connects the dots and shows pretty clearly how science has been covered up and muddled for political and financial reasons for many years, starting in the early 1950s with the tobacco industry's fight to cover up effects of smoking, to the present day with a fight to ensure that people are kept in the dark about the anthropomorphic global warming.

The science is in, the verdict has been reached, multiple studies and 99% of scientist around the world have said the same thing: our planet will be a very different place to live for our children, if we don't take action now. There is nobody else, who can fix it for us.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Day Without Internet...

... or at least part of it. However, it could become a permanent state.

Wikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla and many other sites are dark today, and Google is blocking its logo to protest.

Both SOPA and PIPA are terrible pieces of legislation and they must be stopped. Fighting on-line piracy can't be done using censorship and intimidation to legitimate Web sites and portals.

Send a message to congress to prevent many sites you take for granted (YouTube, for example) from going off line.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pasco School Board Elections - My Gripes

A few weeks ago, I’d mentioned our local Pasco County School Board campaign in one of my posts, and I received a comment to which I feel I should respond.

I reserve judgment on Mr. Stephenson’s campaign and his views when more info is available from his web site. However there are a few things that I have an issue with at this time:
1.      Taxes, fees, and fiscal matters. In my mind, a school board member should be primarily concerned with schools and education. To say point blank that raising taxes and fees for education is unacceptable makes me worried about our children, and their future education.
2.      Curriculum. Not much there when it comes to solid ideas, but here we go again… no taxes, no money from federal government, even if it means taking it away from valuable education programs and our kids. Leaving to the states to decide what are the standards and what is taught in our schools is dangerous. All it takes is a single generation of bad, irrational politicians (and we have plenty of those) to set bad standards and it’ll be very hard for any state to dig itself out of that hole (as the next generation, being poorly educated, would continue to dig the hole even deeper). US can be competitive in a global economy only if our children are educated to the highest standards. This also applies to Mr. Stephenson’s comments on International Baccalaureate (which he would like to remove completely): “the curriculum for the IB program is written with an emphasis on ideals of global citizenry rather than emphasizing ideals of American citizenship.” I’m not even sure what that means, except that it sounds like a sound bite taken from Fox News? We live in a global marketplace and global, interconnected economy. Pretending that we can disconnect our children from other cultures and points of view, just because we don’t like them (or we think that our point of view is the only one worth teaching) will only make them less competitive in that global market. Even if we think that some of our ways are better than the ways of others, it’ll take broad knowledge of other cultures to have any impact. I’m also not impressed by a blank opposition to a so called “radical environmentalism”, supposedly contained in the IB program. I think we are on a very well-defined path to destroying our planet and to say that we should not be teaching our children how to better care for it is irresponsible. If our children don’t who will? Maybe Mr. Stephenson should define what ideas he considers “radical” to make the discussion more concrete. To sum up, I would like to see more of his ideas on curriculum: social studies, science and other topics, with some details and not just general, ideological talking points.
3.      Vouchers and charter schools. I’m a bit split on this one. While I like the idea of charter schools, I’m concerned that they can lead to a lack of control over their curriculum and standards. There needs to be a firm control over them to ensure they don’t become ideological (I agree with Mr. Stephenson that ideology of any kind has no place in our schools). However, I do not agree with Amendment 7 proposal, as I think that no tax funds should go to any religious organizations. Period.
As I live in Pasco County and have my son in a public school here, I want to ensure the best possible education for him and others, who will live in a much more demanding, global world from the one we grew up in. This can only be achieved with an education system that’s placed on the top of our priority list, that’s well funded and that teaches children critical thinking, math, science and openness to the world outside of our own. Let’s hope our next local School Board members understand and implement just that.