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Education Politics

Texas Textbooks Battle Is Actually an American War 1252 1252

ideonexus writes "I've been lackadaisical when it comes to following stories about Texas schoolboard attempts to slip creationism into biology textbooks, dismissing the stories as just 'dumbass Texans,' but what I didn't realize is that Texas schoolbooks set the standard for the rest of the country. And it's not just Creationism that this Christian coalition is attempting to bring into schoolbooks, but a full frontal assault on history, politics, and the humanities that exploits the fact that final decisions are being made by a school board completely academically unqualified to make informed evaluations of the changes these lobbyists propose. This evangelical lobby has successfully had references to the American Constitution as a 'living document,' as textbooks have defined it since the 1950s, removed in favor of an 'enduring Constitution' not subject to change, as well as attempting to over-emphasize the role Christianity played in the founding of America. The leaders of these efforts outright admit they are attempting to redefine the way our children understand the political landscape so that, when they grow up, they will have preconceived notions of the American political system that favor their evangelical Christian goals."
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Texas Textbooks Battle Is Actually an American War

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  • by Mechagodzilla (94503) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:44PM (#31117218)

    How much damage could a poorly educated man from Texas actually cause? It's not like he could become President or something...

  • by rugatero (1292060) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:45PM (#31117230)

    ...dismissing the stories as just 'dumbass Texans,' but what I didn't realize is that Texas schoolbooks set the standard for the rest of the country.

    I knew this and am not even American. Every piece of coverage I've seen on this issue has explained how wide reaching the ramifications are. How can anyone have missed it?

  • Refreshing! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hduff (570443) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {ffudtyoh}> on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:45PM (#31117236) Homepage Journal
    Re-writing history to inure a political viewpoint? This is nothing new. At least these folks are being honest about their goals; that's a refreshing approach from narrow-minded zealots.
  • by geoffrobinson (109879) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:47PM (#31117260) Homepage

    I asked a lawyer who believed in this, pre-market crash, if they believed in a "living mortgage." Why is the Constitution the only legal document we do that to?

    Anyone who wants to teach that is going for a particular point of view. Why is the opposite view nefarious but this one all sweetness and light?

    This whole summary is ignorant. Everyone is pushing a point of view. It has to be somebody's.

    • by zippthorne (748122) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:52PM (#31117342) Journal

      Yeah, "living document" was definitely a rhetorical fraud or at least a rhetorical mistake made at some point. The constitution is valueless if it can be simply interpreted into the mores and norms of whatever the current age happens to be rather than debated and amended into the modern age as the framers intended.

      • by JerryLove (1158461) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:11PM (#31117734)

        Yeah, "living document" was definitely a rhetorical fraud or at least a rhetorical mistake made at some point. The constitution is valueless if it can be simply interpreted into the mores and norms of whatever the current age happens to be rather than debated and amended into the modern age as the framers intended.

        Which means that there's no way to understand what the constitution says in the first place.

        "right to bear arms". What is an "arm"? Could the founders have intended it to cover a weapon they hadn't conceived of existing.

        "right to feel secure in person and property". Does that include data on your hard-drive? What if we invent a scanner that can perform an invasive search without entering your house? Are you secure or not? The constitution doesn't mention scanners (or wire taps, or computer sniffing, or infra-red cameras, or WiFi hacking equipment, or laser mics).

        It's "living" when it's applied to a new situation that did not in the past exist. The same as all laws (or do we need to make new copyright laws every time someone comes up with a new storage device?)

        • by Chardish (529780) <chardish@gmaiSLACKWAREl.com minus distro> on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:45PM (#31121020) Homepage

          If there's consensus about what the Founders meant when they said something, there should not be difficulty in amending the constitution if its language is thought to be ambiguous. If there's no consensus, then it must be assumed that the Constitution means what it says. So yes, nuclear weapons are "arms." If you want to amend the constitution to forbid citizens from owning nukes, it should not be difficult to do so, since it's likely there's popular consensus on that matter.

    • by Rene S. Hollan (1943) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:52PM (#31117346)

      The constitution is not the only legal document subject to modification. In fact many legal judgments and court orders are subject to modification.

      The key is that the terms of how and to what degree things can be modified are either part of the document itself, or established by statute.

      As with all things, there's often room for subjective interpretation of the terms of modification, and that's where case law and precedent come in.

      What distinguishes a constitution is that it is intentionally difficult to modify.

    • by $1uck (710826) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:53PM (#31117358)
      What's living in the interpretation of the Constitution. Any sufficiently vague legal document is going to be open to interpretation which is going to change as society goes on. I guarantee your mortgage is not as open to interpretation as the constitution.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There is no vagueness at all. The constitution is very simple and easy to read. Anyone and their mother can read the constitution and know exactly what it means.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      A mortgage isn't a living document because it is a contract between to organizations, a lender and a lendee. You could argue that the constitution is likewise a contract between the government and the governed, so where's the difference? The constitution lays out in it's contract exactly what needs to take place in order for the contract to be amended. Most notably, the contract can be amended without the support of, or indeed in opposition to, the government (realistically this would never happen but it

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by benjamindees (441808)

        No one has ever argued that the Constitution can't be amended.

        The problem is that the Constitution is simply ignored.

    • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:07PM (#31117646) Journal

      Because the Constitution was deliberately designed to act as Chains upon the U.S. Government and its leaders, and politicians don't like to be chained. They like to be free to act and control whatever they want. So what better way to achieve that goal than to pretend the Constitution is not a chain, but instead a piece of silly putty they can mold into any shape they please (or more recently - ignore completely). That gives the DC politicians the ability to do any damn thing that pleases them.

      IMHO they (and we) have forgotten what the Democratic Party's founder (Thom. Jefferson) called the most important part of the Constitution: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

      In reality the Constitution is a piece-of-paper with some Laws scribbled upon it, and it remains "fixed" for a long long time (two decades so far), until an amendment is added to it. Then it changes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Waffle Iron (339739)

      We don't live in an 18th century agrarian society anymore. If you don't want it to be "living", and you want to interpret every word with strict literalism, then it will have to be revised and expanded to properly define a government's actual real world role modern life and technology. It would probably take at least couple of thousand pages to do the job properly.

      (Note that it has never been taken literally since day one anyway. For example, for many decades slavery was allowed in spite of the fact that it

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pluther (647209)

      Yeah, I wish other legal documents could be amended, too!

      I own an automobile, and I think that the law, passed 1904, should be changed so that I don't have to drive under 5mph with someone walking ahead of me waving a red flag...

      But, I guess, that's just my "point of view", and I should accept all others as equally valid...

  • Nothing new here. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by couchslug (175151) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:47PM (#31117272)

    It's worth revisiting the lesson of the sixties that the Hippies got right, such as not to trust the government and that the purpose of public education is to lie to you.

    Students should regard any political lesson taught in school as propaganda, should never trust their teachers, an in general fucking hate the government. Bible Thumpers have always sought to rule by infiltration and dominionism.
    Know this, fight back, agitate others to fight back, and above all disregard anything any religionist says to defend their superstition. We don't respect Scientology for obvious reasons, and there is no reason any other superstition should get a pass, especially on a geek site. We are modern people, and modern people don't need gods.

    • by diamondsw (685967) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:14PM (#31117806)

      Yes, because rejecting everything wholesale is so much better than accepting it wholesale.

      Having a reasonable mind that can think through issues and make decisions for oneself - that is what we should strive for. Precious few high schools teach this, however.

  • by Rene S. Hollan (1943) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:48PM (#31117284)

    All it will take is a suit that the school board violates civil liberties.

    I wish it could go further. I wish that provably willful violations of civil liberties were treated as treason.

    • "I wish that provably willful violations of civil liberties were treated as treason."

      Christians regard any government practice that is not Christian as a violation of their civil rights to impose de facto theocracy by dominionism.

  • by J. T. MacLeod (111094) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:55PM (#31117408)

    Regardless of "academic qualification" (Most people with the paper don't have the ethical or logical capability to be truly considered qualified), the Texas school board was responding to its own concerns about the insertion of bias into textbooks.

    Textbooks are already biased. How many people are around that are willing to stand against bias in ALL directions? I'm sick of bickering between defining "unbiased" as "suiting my own personal bias".

  • So Ignorant It Hurts (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOsPAM.gmail.com> on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:56PM (#31117422) Journal
    While the article is a bit biased as well as the people it covers, a lot of the things these people tout amount to plain ignorance.

    More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians ...

    True.

    ... and according to biblical precepts.

    False. The founding fathers (especially Thomas Jefferson) read so much philosophy and ethics that The Christian Bible was one of a hundred sources. One could easily argue that the nation was founded on principles of the League of Five Nations [wikipedia.org] as much as anything else. Yes, the founding fathers most likely borrowed from heathen savages that populated a land where everyone went to hell before the Europeans got here.

    If the people in the article think the founding fathers didn't intend for a separation of church and state, let's visit what documentation we have [loc.gov] from them:

    Gentlemen

    The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

    Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

    I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

    Th Jefferson
    Jan. 1. 1802.

    All men and women are created equal. Everyone has a right to practice what religion they so choose. So keep your religious crap out of our public schools.

  • children at risk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:58PM (#31117452) Homepage Journal
    Here is my favorite thing Texas has done in the name of promoting christianity. Adding "under god" to the Texas pledge that all Texas public school children are forced to say every day. Now, I have not problem with a pledge. It is a fetish thing when people want to show allegiance without have to do anything uncomfortable to demonstrate allegiance. I do have an issue with adding the notion of god, because that make it more a religious prayer than a country thing.

    Here is the problem. The bible, and jesus, pretty much considered the worst thing one can do it be a hypocrite. A hypocrite is one who does things in a crowd to make others believe he or she has faith. Here is a famous verse of prayer.
    Mathew 6:5-6"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

    We also know the verses on giving money to be seen. The idea is that one does these things because they are in our heart, not to gain profit. And we are putting our children in jeopardy when we ask them to do these things we know are wrong, such as acting like hypocrites.

    The problem with these nut cases in Texas is they have no faith. No amount of science will sway me from what i feel to be true. No amount of world religions will change my mind what I know to be right. This does not mean I am inflexible, but that flexibility comes with experience, not cult brain washing. And because these people have not faith, how can they build faith in their children. They can't. So they limit their exposure to the world knowing the false faith could never withstand the truths in the world.

    In some ways I agree with this. If one is not able to build faith in a child, then ones options are limited. What I disagree with is making all the rest of us suffer. Sure, a parent may have a right to screw up their own child, but that does not mean they have the right to screw up everyone else's. The parent can home school, turn off the TV, but there is no reason that those of us who are responsible should have to suffer because a few are irresponsible. It would be like saying I can't buy a beer because some children weren't taught discipline, or because genetically they can't have beer, and haven't been trained to stay away from it.

    • by Anonymous Codger (96717) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:09PM (#31117704)

      I wish I had mod points: +1 insightful. You are especially spot-on about these people's lack of faith. I pity the poor creationist whose weak faith can't survive the scientific realities of evolution. Someone with a real, abiding faith in God wouldn't be affected by evolution or other scientific theories - they would just adapt. Christianity survived the discovery that the universe doesn't revolve around the earth, and it can survive evolution.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sconeu (64226)

        Yeah. Again, my sig (quoted below in case I change it) seems relevant as well...

        "People who need govt to enforce their religion must not have much faith in the power of its message."

      • by dido (9125) <dido@@@imperium...ph> on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:39PM (#31119808)

        I myself had most of my primary and secondary education at Roman Catholic school, and one of the things they taught us in religious classes is that the conflict between science and religion is completely bogus. Science is there to answer the how of the universe, whereas religion is there to answer the why. It is unimportant that the ancient Sumerian cosmology reflected in the Old Testament creation stories is at odds with the findings of modern-day science, that's not the point. The point behind the creation story is not to explain how man and the universe came to be, but rather why they came to be, and their purpose. It seems that this was how the Catholic Church came to resolve its once-turbulent relationship to science since the days of Galileo. As Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI has said:

        We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. (emphasis mine)

        Further, he says in a book published in 2008:

        The theory of evolution does not invalidate the faith, nor does it corroborate it. But it does challenge the faith to understand itself more profoundly and thus to help man to understand himself and to become increasingly what he is: the being who is supposed to say Thou to God in eternity.

        The Catholic Church seems to have come a long way since the 17th Century. Unfortunately, it looks like fundamentalist Christians in the United States are all set to repeat many of the mistakes made by the Catholic Church back then, but with far greater matters at stake than the life and reputation of an old scientist.

  • by dpilot (134227) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:00PM (#31117498) Homepage Journal

    Two immediate responses are prompted by this article...

    First is to call to mind the fate of the Muslim civilization in the second millennium. The Muslims kept the lights on during the Dark Ages. They're the reason we know about the ancient Greeks. In those days, science was considered good, because it was discovery of God's world and ways. Somewhere about the middle of the second millennium the Muslim civilization encountered other pressures (like invasions) and turned their backs on science in favor of religious dogma. (Don't know if there was cause and effect there, coincidental timing, or some other relationship.) They've never been at the forefront of civilization since. We're starting to do the same thing here in the US. One key part of science is to face the world truthfully, whatever it tells you, and deal with it. Religion can help you deal with it. But when you impose religion as a "truth filter" between you and the real world, you've lost it.

    Second, a more tactical response, is to quit following Texas' lead on textbook purchases. Is there any reason we have to let them set the standard, or is it a combination of laziness and their purchasing power?

  • by skydude_20 (307538) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:02PM (#31117534) Journal
    you refer to people as "dumbass Texans".. if you're so smart, why not reason with them and fight the good fight instead of dropping below their level and resorting to name calling. those "dumbass Texans" are winning...
    • by Scrameustache (459504) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:31PM (#31118168) Homepage Journal

      you refer to people as "dumbass Texans".. if you're so smart, why not reason with them

      Because he's smart enough to know that no amount of intelligent, thoughtfull discussion can sway these people from their emotional beliefs. We're talking about people who go "if evolution was true, why would there still be monkeys?" as if they'd pulled some irrefutable argument instead of profoundly ignorant tripe. You can't reason with them: they're immune to it.

    • by tthomas48 (180798) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:32PM (#31118190) Homepage

      Obama does this every day from the highest bullypullpit in the land. You know why you can't do it? Because they're not "for" anything, they're only against Democrats. Every time he concedes a point. Every time he gives Republicans what they want. Suddenly it's not what they want anymore. You wanht lower taxes? You want balanced budgets? Well, sure, but not if a Democrat's doing it. If a Democrat's doing it, it's going to destroy the very fabric of our nation.

      The reason that you can't reason with the textbook manufacturers is that they honestly believe that if they somehow "fix" the textbooks there won't be any more Democrats in the United States and it will be one homogenous white Christian nation. The failure of reality to match up with that expectation means they have not gone far enough and must keep going. It's not a matter of reality. It's a matter of frustration at not being able to fix the world using the ideals they have faith in.

      Most Christians in Texas who are aware of the situation think these people are ridiculously extreme, but it's nearly impossible to get rid of them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      if you're so smart, why not reason with them and fight the good fight instead of dropping below their level and resorting to name calling. those "dumbass Texans" are winning...

      That would be giving them the credibility they want. They are not our equals. The only reason they do this is to annoy us, to try to force the educated and influential to pay them the attention they crave.

      They are only "winning" in the sense in that they are playing their roles as pawns in a larger game effectively.

  • by tjstork (137384) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (ykswordnab.ddot)> on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:02PM (#31117538) Homepage Journal

    Is that, some would argue that the present "living document" and history as given in textbooks from the 1970s and later was done by a concerted left wing effort to make the country swing left.

    Instead, it backfired miserably.

    My 1970s textbooks in grade school and high school went out of their way to define progress as a big march to the nanny state.. and as I remember flipping through pictures of poor people doing nothing, along came Ronald Reagan, to say that, well, it was all a bunch of crap.

    Propaganda for kids doesn't work, because, the truthful documents are there. The truth is this: The wingers have this much of a point: The constitution is a strict document that defines powers given to the government, not, giving people rights, and the framers did base their ideas on Locke, that, because we've all got souls, we've all got rights. But what wingers also neglect to mention is that the framers were decidedly against much of their agenda too.

    The founding fathers, in particular, want a standing army or a standing military at all. Indeed, up until the 1900s, the USA was barely a 2nd rate military power and looked on European military spending as a colossal sort of stupidity.

    The founding fathers envisioned no federal power to regulate drugs or marriage or anything else. They would tax whiskey, and that was about it, and that was only to pay down the debt from the revolutionary war.

    Bottom line is this, if you believe in the Constitution as it is written, there may not be any federal right to entitlements making, but there's no right to having a big army or any of the stuff the right wing wants, either.

    The founding fathers were libertarians.

  • by G-Man (79561) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:09PM (#31117688)

    You know, I have to chuckle every time I see one of these stories. When I was back in school, it was pretty standard classical stuff - the Greeks, Shakespeare, Newton, the Scientific Method, etc. Now, it happened to be that dead white guys came up with most of that stuff, but that was just how it was. But sometime after I left, the Deconstructionists, the Postmodernists, the Moral Relativists, and the Frankfurt School got their hands on the reigns. No ones 'truth' was any better than another. The scientific method was no more valid than animism. Everyone got their own truth.

    Well, guess what, folks? Now the Christian Fundamentalists (and the Islamic Fundamentalists) are pressing for their own 'truth'. Remember, yin and yang - everything contains within itself the seed of its opposite. That's one piece of non-white guy wisdom that holds up pretty well.

  • by presidenteloco (659168) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:12PM (#31117750)

    I figure that there should be mandatory classes, at the mid to upper high school level,
    in basic epistemology and metaphysics (i.e. meta-level topics such as):

    -How to think carefully, logically.

    -How to search.

    -How to formulate good questions.

    -How to recognize bias; people who are "speaking for effect"; trying to
    influence you, and some of the common motivations why people do
    that.

    How to form beliefs using epistemic responsibility.

    Then set them free to explore the information from a billion sources
    that we have available to us at a mouse click today.

    The scariest kind of graduate is one who has been taught only to
    parrot, and to conform to orthodoxy, and who does not know how to question.

  • Open it up! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by justfred (63412) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:21PM (#31117926) Homepage

    This (and other reasons) is why I believe public school textbooks should be free/open source (as in speech, as well as as in beer, aside from a nominal small printing/distribution charge - which will not be needed once all schoolchildren own iPads or other e-readers) and wiki-editable with review before publishing. Get the textbook companies out of the business of making massive profits off the backs of our school system, and involve the public in the education process. Find a way to review that will weaken agenda-driven edits.

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:29PM (#31118124)
    As the NY Times discusses- the Christian nutjobs pushed themselves onto school boards over the last 20 years, and that's how we got into this mess. It's time for the rationalists, atheists, and humanists to do the same.

    Hold more than a bachelor's degree, or a degree in education? Run for your local school board. Especially if you live in Texas. You're running against dentists and hair stylists. Just remember to not appear to be some anti-god nutjob.

    Meanwhile, everyone lobby their state representatives and education boards to refuse to use any textbooks Texas does. Sue, if necessary. Make Texasisms so toxic that textbook companies will have no choice but to produce books for texas, and books for the rest of us. If they want to turn themselves into a hellhole of ignorance, so be it, but they can do it alone.

  • by bugs2squash (1132591) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:42PM (#31118460)
    from Benjamin Crowell [lightandmatter.com]. I liked it so much I payed for a printed copy from lulu. It seems to me that these are the textbooks of the future, not created by school boards, but chosen by individual teachers from a wealth of free or low-cost online material. If you don't like textbooks, write one, publish it online and at lulu and give teachers the right to choose their own materials for teaching.
  • Dominionism at play (Score:5, Informative)

    by magus_melchior (262681) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:53PM (#31118726) Journal

    Dominionists, for those who don't recognize the term, are Christians (usually evangelical Protestants, though some Catholic groups exhibit dominionist theology) who believe that God's "laws" or moral wishes supersede any law drafted by men. To these folks, abolishing abortion by legislation or by Supreme Court reversal, banning homosexual rights (and possibly even recognition as humans), and creationism (along with a general rejection of scientific consensus) are all crucial and pressing policies that must be enacted in any government.

    Naturally, that theology runs afoul of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...). They will, of course, try to argue that they're not trying to establish a Church of America, but nevertheless the consequences of their success are no different. Furthermore, trying to reason with them is usually futile, as they perceive the US to be a rebellious state against God that was originally founded by Christians (which is a poor reading of history at best)-- and since their theology unnaturally blends Old and New Testaments, they think that if the US continues the status quo or adopts policies left of conservatism*, it will meet the same fate as ancient Israel when it was conquered by Babylon, or when it rebelled against the Roman Empire. No amount of arguing from Paul's letters or "render unto Caesar" will do any good, because as far as they're concerned, they have absolutely nothing to lose-- the Kingdom on the earth must be established, but they will not recognize that it was never meant to be a literal kingdom or government built by the hands of men.

    But in their minds, they've already lost several times-- the conservative Supreme Court has at least ruled conservatively where social issues were concerned-- as in, they relied more on precedent and the Constitution rather than Christian morals (though we'll really see their true colors when the CA Prop 8 trial is sent their way), they only got what was no doubt in their minds a watered-down abortion/stem cell ban from Congress, and they've now lost a very reliable friend and ally in the White House due to term limits and a charismatic Democrat-- not that the former Alaskan governor did much to help them at all. They refuse to believe that their allies in government (the Republicans) failed them, because their allies are their leaders and to them, "one of us". If you're a member of the congregation, you don't speak ill of "one of us", though you can heap criticism and vitriol on "one of them". Therefore they see the electoral losses in 2006 and 2008 not as defeats, but as "them"-- non-dominionists-- having conspired to destroy the Church (or euphemistically, the "good things about America"). You'll notice that this duress argument is used commonly in the big Tea Party rallies and by some right-wing media men.

    So the way they see it, because the "liberals" and the "atheists"** cheated, they're going to fight back just as dirty-- but of course they'll justify their own actions as "saving the children", as that has demonstrably worked to enact skewed legislation for generations. Their efforts to mess with public school textbooks is but a taste of what these extremists are capable of, and are willing to do. The greatest shame is that they will think they have brought another Enlightenment and Revival to the US, when in fact they will have consigned their children to academic inferiority as China, India, and other nations progress. The conservatives who are participating in the name of ideological "balance" are digging their own graves as well, as they are more interested in indoctrination, not building up thinking skills in our children. I suppose that, given their permanent self-victimization, they'll blame our relative failure on the "liberals" and "atheists" too.

    * Given the "small government" creed of conservatism, dominionism has always been a strange bedfellow, but I suppose Frank Schaeffer's father leveraged his connections well to cement the alliance...
    ** And here's where Dawkins' movement really hurts those who wish to bring some of these folks back to reason... Yes, I know reasoning with them is usually futile, but that doesn't mean I'll stop trying.

  • by BlackSupra (742450) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:59PM (#31118884)

    http://www.gorgorat.com/#49 [gorgorat.com]

    • Judging Books by Their Covers

              After the war, physicists were often asked to go to Washington and give
    advice to various sections of the government, especially the military. What
    happened, I suppose, is that since the scientists had made these bombs that
    were so important, the military felt we were useful for something.
              Once I was asked to serve on a committee which was to evaluate various
    weapons for the army, and I wrote a letter back which explained that I was
    only a theoretical physicist, and I didn't know anything about weapons for
    the army.
              The army responded that they had found in their experience that
    theoretical physicists were very useful to them in making decisions, so
    would I please reconsider?
              I wrote back again and said I didn't really know anything, and doubted
    I could help them.
              Finally I got a letter from the Secretary of the Army, which proposed a
    compromise: I would come to the first meeting, where I could listen and see
    whether I could make a contribution or not. Then I could decide whether I
    should continue.
              I said I would, of course. What else could I do?
              I went down to Washington and the first thing that I went to was a
    cocktail party to meet everybody. There were generals and other important
    characters from the army, and everybody talked. It was pleasant enough.
              One guy in a uniform came to me and told me that the army was glad that
    physicists were advising the military because it had a lot of problems. One
    of the problems was that tanks use up their fuel very quickly and thus can't
    go very far. So the question was how to refuel them as they're going along.
    Now this guy had the idea that, since the physicists can get energy out of
    uranium, could I work out a way in which we could use silicon dioxide --
    sand, dirt -- as a fuel? If that were possible, then all this tank would
    have to do would be to have a little scoop underneath, and as it goes along,
    it would pick up the dirt and use it for fuel! He thought that was a great
    idea, and that all I had to do was to work out the details. That was the
    kind of problem I thought we would be talking about in the meeting the next
    day.
              I went to the meeting and noticed that some guy who had introduced me
    to all the people at the cocktail party was sitting next to me. He was
    apparently some flunky assigned to be at my side at all times. On my other
    side was some super general I had heard of before.
              At the first session of the meeting they talked about some technical
    matters, and I made a few comments. But later on, near the end of the
    meeting, they began to discuss some problem of logistics, about which I knew
    nothing. It had to do with figuring out how much stuff you should have at
    different places at different times. And although I tried to keep my trap
    shut, when you get into a situation like that, where you're sitting around a
    table with all these "important people" discussing these "important
    problems," you can't keep your mouth shut, even if you know nothing
    whatsoever! So I made some comments in that discussion, too.
              During the next coffee break the guy who had been assigned to shepherd
    me around said, "I was very impressed by the things you said during the
    discussion. They certainly were an important contribution."
              I stopped and thought about my "contribution" to the logistics problem,
    and realized that a man like the guy who orders the stuff for Christmas at
    Macy's would be better able to figure out how to handle problems like that
    than I. So I concluded: a) if I had made an important contribution, it was
    sheer luck; b) anybody else could have done as well, but most people could
    have done better, and c) this flattery should wake me up to the fact that I
    am not capable of contributing much.
              Right after that they decided, in the meeting, that they could do
    better discussing the organization of scientific research (such as, should
    scientific development be under the Corps of Engineers or the Quartermaster
    Division?) than specific technical matters. I knew that if there was to be
    any hope of my making a real contribution, it would be only on some specific
    technical matter, and surely not on how to organize research in the army.
              Until then I didn't let on any of my feelings about the situation to
    the chairman of the meeting -- the big shot who had invited me in the first
    place. As we were packing our bags to leave, he said to me, all smiles,
    "You'll be joining us, then, for the next meeting..."
              "No, I won't." I could see his face change suddenly. He was very

    surprised that I would say no, after making those "contributions."
              In the early sixties, a lot of my friends were still giving advice to
    the government. Meanwhile, I was having no feeling of social responsibility
    and resisting, as much as possible, offers to go to Washington, which took a
    certain amount of courage in those times.

              I was giving a series of freshman physics lectures at that time, and
    after one of them, Tom Harvey, who assisted me in putting on the
    demonstrations, said, "You oughta see what's happening to mathematics in
    schoolbooks! My daughter comes home with a lot of crazy stuff!"
              I didn't pay much attention to what he said.
              But the next day I got a telephone call from a pretty famous lawyer
    here in Pasadena, Mr. Norris, who was at that time on the State Board of
    Education. He asked me if I would serve on the State Curriculum Commission,
    which had to choose the new schoolbooks for the state of California. You
    see, the state had a law that all of the schoolbooks used by all of the kids
    in all of the public schools have to be chosen by the State Board of
    Education, so they have a committee to look over the books and to give them
    advice on which books to take.
              It happened that a lot of the books were on a new method of teaching
    arithmetic that they called "new math," and since usually the only people to
    look at the books were schoolteachers or administrators in education, they
    thought it would be a good idea to have somebody who uses mathematics
    scientifically, who knows what the end product is and what we're trying to
    teach it for, to help in the evaluation of the schoolbooks.
              I must have had, by this time, a guilty feeling about not cooperating
    with the government, because I agreed to get on this committee.
              Immediately I began getting letters and telephone calls from book
    publishers. They said things like, "We're very glad to hear you're on the
    committee because we really wanted a scientific guy..." and "It's wonderful
    to have a scientist on the committee, because our books are scientifically
    oriented..." But they also said things like, "We'd like to explain to you
    what our book is about..." and "We'll be very glad to help you in any way we
    can to judge our books..." That seemed to me kind of crazy. I'm an objective
    scientist, and it seemed to me that since the only thing the kids in school
    are going to get is the books (and the teachers get the teacher's manual,
    which I would also get), any extra explanation from the company was a
    distortion. So I didn't want to speak to any of the publishers and always
    replied, "You don't have to explain; I'm sure the books will speak for
    themselves."
              I represented a certain district, which comprised most of the Los
    Angeles area except for the city of Los Angeles, which was represented by a
    very nice lady from the L.A. school system named Mrs. Whitehouse. Mr. Norris
    suggested that I meet her and find out what the committee did and how it
    worked.
              Mrs. Whitehouse started out telling me about the stuff they were going
    to talk about in the next meeting (they had already had one meeting; I was
    appointed late). "They're going to talk about the counting numbers." I
    didn't know what that was, but it turned out they were what I used to call
    integers. They had different names for everything, so I had a lot of trouble
    right from the start.
              She told me how the members of the commission normally rated the new
    schoolbooks. They would get a relatively large number of copies of each book
    and would give them to various teachers and administrators in their
    district. Then they would get reports back on what these people thought
    about the books. Since I didn't know a lot of teachers or administrators,
    and since I felt that I could, by reading the books myself, make up my mind
    as to how they looked to me, I chose to read all the books myself. (There
    were some people in my district who had expected to look at the books and
    wanted a chance to give their opinion. Mrs. Whitehouse offered to put their
    reports in with hers so they would feel better and I wouldn't have to worry
    about their complaints. They were satisfied, and I didn't get much trouble.)
              A few days later a guy from the book depository called me up and said,
    "We're ready to send you the books, Mr. Feynman; there are three hundred
    pounds."
              I was overwhelmed.
              "It's all right, Mr. Feynman; we'll get someone to help you read them."
              I couldn't figure out how you do that: you either read them or you
    don't read them. I had a special bookshelf put in my study downstairs (the
    books took up seventeen feet), and began reading all the books that were
    going to be discussed in the next meeting. We were going to start out with
    the elementary schoolbooks.
              It was a pretty big job, and I worked all the time at it down in the
    basement. My wife says that during this period it was like living over a
    volcano. It would be quiet for a while, but then all of a sudden,
    "BLLLLLOOOOOOWWWWW!!!!" -- there would be a big explosion from the "volcano"
    below. The reason was that the books were so lousy. They were false. They
    were hurried. They would try to be rigorous, but they would use examples
    (like automobiles in the street for "sets") which were almost OK, but in
    which there were always some subtleties. The definitions weren't accurate.
    Everything was a little bit ambiguous -- they weren't smart enough to
    understand what was meant by "rigor." They were faking it. They were
    teaching something they didn't understand, and which was, in fact, useless,
    at that time, for the child.
              I understood what they were trying to do. Many people thought we were
    behind the Russians after Sputnik, and some mathematicians were asked to
    give advice on how to teach math by using some of the rather interesting
    modern concepts of mathematics. The purpose was to enhance mathematics for
    the children who found it dull.
              I'll give you an example: They would talk about different bases of
    numbers -- five, six, and so on -- to show the possibilities. That would be
    interesting for a kid who could understand base ten -- something to
    entertain his mind. But what they had turned it into, in these books, was
    that every child had to learn another base! And then the usual horror would
    come: "Translate these numbers, which are written in base seven, to base
    five." Translating from one base to another is an utterly useless thing. If
    you can do it, maybe it's entertaining; if you can't do it, forget it.
    There's no point to it.
              Anyhow, I'm looking at all these books, all these books, and none of
    them has said anything about using arithmetic in science. If there are any
    examples on the use of arithmetic at all (most of the time it's this
    abstract new modern nonsense), they are about things like buying stamps.
              Finally I come to a book that says, "Mathematics is used in science in
    many ways. We will give you an example from astronomy, which is the science
    of stars." I turn the page, and it says, "Red stars have a temperature of
    four thousand degrees, yellow stars have a temperature of five thousand
    degrees..." -- so far, so good. It continues: "Green stars have a
    temperature of seven thousand degrees, blue stars have a temperature of ten
    thousand degrees, and violet stars have a temperature of... (some big
    number)." There are no green or violet stars, but the figures for the others
    are roughly correct. It's vaguely right -- but already, trouble! That's the
    way everything was: Everything was written by somebody who didn't know what
    the hell he was talking about, so it was a little bit wrong, always! And how
    we are going to teach well by using books written by people who don't quite

    understand what they're talking about, I cannot understand. I don't know
    why, but the books are lousy; UNIVERSALLY LOUSY!
              Anyway, I'm happy with this book, because it's the first example of
    applying arithmetic to science. I'm a bit unhappy when I read about the
    stars' temperatures, but I'm not very unhappy because it's more or less
    right -- it's just an example of error. Then comes the list of problems. It
    says, "John and his father go out to look at the stars. John sees two blue
    stars and a red star. His father sees a green star, a violet star, and two
    yellow stars. What is the total temperature of the stars seen by John and
    his father?" -- and I would explode in horror.
              My wife would talk about the volcano downstairs. That's only an
    example: it was perpetually like that. Perpetual absurdity! There's no
    purpose whatsoever in adding the temperature of two stars. Nobody ever does
    that except, maybe, to then take the average temperature of the stars, but

    not to find out the total temperature of all the stars! It was awful! All it
    was was a game to get you to add, and they didn't understand what they were
    talking about. It was like reading sentences with a few typographical
    errors, and then suddenly a whole sentence is written backwards. The
    mathematics was like that. Just hopeless!
              Then I came to my first meeting. The other members had given some kind
    of ratings to some of the books, and they asked me what my ratings were. My
    rating was often different from theirs, and they would ask, "Why did you
    rate that book low?"
              I would say the trouble with that book was this and this on page
    so-and-so -- I had my notes.
              They discovered that I was kind of a goldmine: I would tell them, in
    detail, what was good and bad in all the books; I had a reason for every
    rating.
              I would ask them why they had rated this book so high, and they would
    say, "Let us hear what you thought about such and such a book." I would
    never find out why they rated anything the way they did. Instead, they kept
    asking me what I thought.
              We came to a certain book, part of a set of three supplementary books
    published by the same company, and they asked me what I thought about it.
              I said, "The book depository didn't send me that book, but the other
    two were nice."
              Someone tried repeating the question: "What do you think about that
    book?"
              "I said they didn't send me that one, so I don't have any judgment on
    it."
              The man from the book depository was there, and he said, "Excuse me; I
    can explain that. I didn't send it to you because that book hadn't been
    completed yet. There's a rule that you have to have every entry in by a
    certain time, and the publisher was a few days late with it. So it was sent
    to us with just the covers, and it's blank in between. The company sent a
    note excusing themselves and hoping they could have their set of three books
    considered, even though the third one would be late."
              It turned out that the blank book had a rating by some of the other
    members! They couldn't believe it was blank, because they had a rating. In
    fact, the rating for the missing book was a little bit higher than for the
    two others. The fact that there was nothing in the book had nothing to do
    with the rating.
              I believe the reason for all this is that the system works this way.
    When you give books all over the place to people, they're busy; they're
    careless; they think, "Well, a lot of people are reading this book, so it
    doesn't make any difference." And they put in some kind of number -- some of
    them, at least; not all of them, but some of them. Then when you receive
    your reports, you don't know why this particular book has fewer reports than
    the other books -- that is, perhaps one book has ten, and this one only has
    six people reporting -- so you average the rating of those who reported; you
    don't average the ones who didn't report, so you get a reasonable number.
    This process of averaging all the time misses the fact that there is
    absolutely nothing between the covers of the book!
              I made that theory up because I saw what happened in the curriculum
    commission: For the blank book, only six out of the ten members were
    reporting, whereas with the other books, eight or nine out of the ten were
    reporting. And when they averaged the six, they got as good an average as
    when they averaged with eight or nine. They were very embarrassed to
    discover they were giving ratings to that book, and it gave me a little bit
    more confidence. It turned out the other members of the committee had done a
    lot of work in giving out the books and collecting reports, and had gone to
    sessions in which the book publishers would explain the books before they
    read them; I was the only guy on that commission who read all the books and
    didn't get any information from the book publishers except what was in the
    books themselves, the things that would ultimately go to the schools.
              This question of trying to figure out whether a book is good or bad by
    looking at it carefully or by taking the reports of a lot of people who
    looked at it carelessly is like this famous old problem: Nobody was
    permitted to see the Emperor of China, and the question was, What is the
    length of the Emperor of China's nose? To find out, you go all over the
    country asking people what they think the length of the Emperor of China's
    nose is, and you average it. And that would be very "accurate" because you
    averaged so many people. But it's no way to find anything out; when you have
    a very wide range of people who contribute without looking carefully at it,
    you don't improve your knowledge of the situation by averaging.
              At first we weren't supposed to talk about the cost of the books. We
    were told how many books we could choose, so we designed a program which
    used a lot of supplementary books, because all the new textbooks had
    failures of one kind or another. The most serious failures were in the "new
    math" books: there were no applications; not enough word problems. There was
    no talk of selling stamps; instead there was too much talk about commutation
    and abstract things and not enough translation to situations in the world.
    What do you do: add, subtract, multiply, or divide? So we suggested some
    books which had some of that as supplementary -- one or two for each
    classroom -- in addition to a textbook for each student. We had it all
    worked out to balance everything, after much discussion.
              When we took our recommendations to the Board of Education, they told
    us they didn't have as much money as they had thought, so we'd have to go
    over the whole thing and cut out this and that, now taking the cost into
    consideration, and ruining what was a fairly balanced program, in which
    there was a chance for a teacher to find examples of the things (s)he
    needed.
              Now that they changed the rules about how many books we could recommend
    and we had no more chance to balance, it was a pretty lousy program. When
    the senate budget committee got to it, the program was emasculated still
    further. Now it was really lousy! I was asked to appear before the state
    senators when the issue was being discussed, but I declined: By that time,
    having argued this stuff so much, I was tired. We had prepared our
    recommendations for the Board of Education, and I figured it was their job
    to present it to the state -- which was legally right, but not politically
    sound. I shouldn't have given up so soon, but to have worked so hard and
    discussed so much about all these books to make a fairly balanced program,
    and then to have the whole thing scrapped at the end -- that was
    discouraging! The whole thing was an unnecessary effort that could have been
    turned around and done the opposite way: start with the cost of the books,
    and buy what you can afford.
              What finally clinched it, and made me ultimately resign, was that the
    following year we were going to discuss science books. I thought maybe the
    science would be different, so I looked at a few of them.
              The same thing happened: something would look good at first and then
    turn out to be horrifying. For example, there was a book that started out
    with four pictures: first there was a wind-up toy; then there was an
    automobile; then there was a boy riding a bicycle; then there was something
    else. And underneath each picture it said, "What makes it go?"
              I thought, "I know what it is: They're going to talk about mechanics,
    how the springs work inside the toy; about chemistry, how the engine of the
    automobile works; and biology, about how the muscles work."
              It was the kind of thing my father would have talked about: "What makes
    it go? Everything goes because the sun is shining." And then we would have
    fun discussing it:
              "No, the toy goes because the spring is wound up," I would say.
              "How did the spring get wound up?" he would ask.
              "I wound it up."
              "And how did you get moving?"
              "From eating."
              "And food grows only because the sun is shining. So it's because the
    sun is shining that all these things are moving." That would get the concept
    across that motion is simply the transformation of the sun's power.
              I turned the page. The answer was, for the wind-up toy, "Energy makes
    it go." And for the boy on the bicycle, "Energy makes it go." For
    everything, "Energy makes it go."
              Now that doesn't mean anything. Suppose it's "Wakalixes." That's the
    general principle: "Wakalixes makes it go." There's no knowledge coming in.
    The child doesn't learn anything; it's just a word!
              What they should have done is to look at the wind-up toy, see that
    there are springs inside, learn about springs, learn about wheels, and never
    mind "energy." Later on, when the children know something about how the toy
    actually works, they can discuss the more general principles of energy.
              It's also not even true that "energy makes it go," because if it stops,
    you could say, "energy makes it stop" just as well. What they're talking
    about is concentrated energy being transformed into more dilute forms, which
    is a very subtle aspect of energy. Energy is neither increased nor decreased
    in these examples; it's just changed from one form to another. And when the
    things stop, the energy is changed into heat, into general chaos.
              But that's the way all the books were: They said things that were
    useless, mixed-up, ambiguous, confusing, and partially incorrect. How
    anybody can learn science from these books, I don't know, because it's not
    science.
              So when I saw all these horrifying books with the same kind of trouble
    as the math books had, I saw my volcano process starting again. Since I was
    exhausted from reading all the math books, and discouraged from its all
    being a wasted effort, I couldn't face another year of that, and had to
    resign. Sometime later I heard that the energy-makes-it-go book was going to
    be recommended by the curriculum commission to the Board of Education, so I
    made one last effort. At each meeting of the commission the public was
    allowed to make comments, so I got up and said why I thought the book was
    bad.
              The man who replaced me on the commission said, "That book was approved
    by sixty-five engineers at the Such-and-such Aircraft Company!"
              I didn't doubt that the company had some pretty good engineers, but to
    take sixty-five engineers is to take a wide range of ability -- and to
    necessarily include some pretty poor guys! It was once again the problem of

    averaging the length of the emperor's nose, or the ratings on a book with
    nothing between the covers. It would have been far better to have the
    company decide who their better engineers were, and to have them look at the
    book. I couldn't claim that I was smarter than sixty-five other guys -- but
    the average of sixty-five other guys, certainly!
              I couldn't get through to him, and the book was approved by the board.
              When I was still on the commission, I had to go to San Francisco a few
    times for some of the meetings, and when I returned to Los Angeles from the
    first trip, I stopped in the commission office to get reimbursed for my
    expenses.
              "How much did it cost, Mr. Feynman?"
              "Well, I flew to San Francisco, so it's the airfare, plus the parking
    at the airport while I was away."
              "Do you have your ticket?"
              I happened to have the ticket.
              "Do you have a receipt for the parking?"
              "No, but it cost $2.35 to park my car."
              "But we have to have a receipt."
              "I told you how much it cost. If you don't trust me, why do you let me
    tell you what I think is good and bad about the schoolbooks?".
              There was a big stew about that. Unfortunately, I had been used to
    giving lectures for some company or university or for ordinary people, not
    for the government. I was used to, "What were your expenses?" -- "So-and-so
    much." -- "Here you are, Mr. Feynman."
              I then decided I wasn't going to give them a receipt for anything.
              After the second trip to San Francisco they again asked me for my
    ticket and receipts.
              "I haven't got any."
              "This can't go on, Mr. Feynman."
              "When I accepted to serve on the commission, I was told you were going
    to pay my expenses."
              "But we expected to have some receipts to prove the expenses."
              "I have nothing to prove it, but you know I live in Los Angeles and I
    go to these other towns; how the hell do you think I get there?"
              They didn't give in, and neither did I. I feel when you're in a
    position like that, where you choose not to buckle down to the System, you
    must pay the consequences if it doesn't work. So I'm perfectly satisfied,
    but I never did get compensation for the trips.
              It's one of those games I play. They want a receipt? I'm not giving
    them a receipt. Then you're not going to get the money. OK, then I'm not
    taking the money. They don't trust me? The hell with it; they don't have to
    pay me. Of course it's absurd! I know that's the way the government works;
    well, screw the government! I feel that human beings should treat human
    beings like human beings. And unless I'm going to be treated like one, I'm
    not going to have anything to do with them! They feel bad? They feel bad. I
    feel bad, too. We'll just let it go. I know they're "protecting the
    taxpayer," but see how well you think the taxpayer was being protected in
    the following situation.
              There were two books that we were unable to come to a decision about
    after much discussion; they were extremely close. So we left it open to the
    Board of Education to decide. Since the board was now taking the cost into
    consideration, and since the two books were so evenly matched, the board
    decided to open the bids and take the lower one.
              Then the question came up, "Will the schools be getting the books at
    the regular time, or could they, perhaps, get them a little earlier, in time
    for the coming term?"
              One publisher's representative got up and said, "We are happy that you
    accepted our bid; we can get it out in time for the next term."
              A representative of the publisher that lost out was also there, and he
    got up and said, "Since our bids were submitted based on the later deadline,
    I think we should have a chance to bid again for the earlier deadline,
    because we too can meet the earlier deadline."
              Mr. Norris, the Pasadena lawyer on the board, asked the guy from the
    other publisher, "And how much would it cost for us to get your books at the
    earlier date?"
              And he gave a number: It was less!
              The first guy got up: "If he changes his bid, I have the right to
    change my bid!" -- and his bid is still less!
              Norris asked, "Well how is that -- we get the books earlier and it's

    cheaper?"
              "Yes," one guy says. "We can use a special offset method we wouldn't
    normally use..." -- some excuse why it came out cheaper.
              The other guy agreed: "When you do it quicker, it costs less!"
              That was really a shock. It ended up two million dollars cheaper.
    Norris was really incensed by this sudden change.
              What happened, of course, was that the uncertainty about the date had
    opened the possibility that these guys could bid against each other.
    Normally, when books were supposed to be chosen without taking the cost into
    consideration, there was no reason to lower the price; the book publishers
    could put the prices at any place they wanted to. There was no advantage in
    competing by lowering the price; the way you competed was to impress the
    members of the curriculum commission.
              By the way, whenever our commission had a meeting, there were book
    publishers entertaining curriculum commission members by taking them to
    lunch and talking to them about their books. I never went.
              It seems obvious now, but I didn't know what was happening the time I
    got a package of dried fruit and whatnot delivered by Western Union with a
    message that read, "From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving -- The
    Families."
              It was from a family I had never heard of in Long Beach, obviously
    someone wanting to send this to his friend's family who got the name and
    address wrong, so I thought I'd better straighten it out. I called up
    Western Union, got the telephone number of the people who sent the stuff,
    and I called them.
              "Hello, my name is Mr. Feynman. I received a package..."
              "Oh, hello, Mr. Feynman, this is Pete Pamilio" and he says it in such a
    friendly way that I think I'm supposed to know who he is! I'm normally such
    a dunce that I can't remember who anyone is.
              So I said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Pamilio, but I don't quite remember who you
    are..."
              It turned out he was a representative of one of the publishers whose
    books I had to judge on the curriculum commission.
              "I see. But this could be misunderstood."
              "It's only family to family."
              "Yes, but I'm judging a book that you're publishing, and maybe someone
    might misinterpret your kindness!" I knew what was happening, but I made it
    sound like I was a complete idiot.
              Another thing like this happened when one of the publishers sent me a
    leather briefcase with my name nicely written in gold on it. I gave them the
    same stuff: "I can't accept it; I'm judging some of the books you're
    publishing. I don't think you understand that!"
              One commissioner, who had been there for the greatest length of time,
    said, "I never accept the stuff; it makes me very upset. But it just goes
    on."
              But I really missed one opportunity. If I had only thought fast enough,
    I could have had a very good time on that commission. I got to the hotel in
    San Francisco in the evening to attend my very first meeting the next day,
    and I decided to go out to wander in the town and eat something. I came out
    of the elevator, and sitting on a bench in the hotel lobby were two guys who
    jumped up and said, "Good evening, Mr. Feynman. Where are you going? Is
    there something we can show you in San Francisco?" They were from a
    publishing company, and I didn't want to have anything to do with them.
              "I'm going out to eat."
              "We can take you out to dinner."
              "No, I want to be alone."
              "Well, whatever you want, we can help you."
              I couldn't resist. I said, "Well, I'm going out to get myself in
    trouble."
              "I think we can help you in that, too."
              "No, I think I'll take care of that myself." Then I thought, "What an
    error! I should have let all that stuff operate and keep a diary, so the
    people of the state of California could find out how far the publishers will
    go!" And when I found out about the two-million-dollar difference, God knows
    what the pressures are!

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday February 12, 2010 @07:01PM (#31121292) Homepage

    One of the weirder bits of right-wing belief is that U.S. Constitution was "divinely inspired" [ldschurchnews.com]. This is an official Mormon position, and some of the more right-wing Christian groups have picked up on it.

    What's so weird about this is that we have the Federalist Paper and the debates of the Constitutional Convention. There's not much mystery about how it was put together. The major players all wrote about their thinking.

    The basic parameters of the U.S. Constitution came from the constraints the authors faced. They already had the Articles of Confederation of the Continental Congress in force, which set up a confederation of states, somewhat like the United Nations or the European Union. This was a weak federation, and it ran into the problems of most weak federations - too many decisions required unanimity. so it was hard to get things done. So they needed something with more central authority. Britain was still a threat. "We must hang together, or we will assuredly all hang separately". The key point to remember about the Constitutional Convention was that the delegates knew that if their new government broke down, they'd end up being hung for treason by British soldiers. (This was not a theoretical risk. See War of 1812.)

    But the states didn't want too much central authority. Almost everyone agreed that a king was a bad idea. (Well, Hamilton wanted a king. He wanted to be king. Didn't fly.) Direct democracy was considered, but the French Revolution was getting underway at the time (the storming of the Bastille occurred during the convention), and that wasn't looking too good. Especially since many of the delegates were aristocrats. Most of the states already had a two-house legislature and a governor, so that looked like an acceptable model to follow. So that was the basic model.

    Once it became clear that a strong president was needed, the problem was making sure he didn't become a dictator. All the players knew what had happened to Rome. This led to some basic safeguards. Congress can impeach the President, but the President cannot dissolve Congress. There are also some subtle safeguards not often mentioned; the President has a fixed term of office and it runs out at noon on inauguration day. It's the clock, not the swearing in, that makes the new President. So an outgoing president can't stall. (Nixon's cronies once considered that option.) So when the time comes, the old guy has to leave, like it or not.

    On the rights side, the debates are well known. Again, existing models were followed; the Bill of Rights looks a lot like the Virginia Declaration of Rights. The notion of an established religion was rejected; Britain had that, and it led to several civil wars. So the delegates agreed on a "hands off" approach to religion.

    All this stuff was argued out. What made it work was that the delegates all knew that if they screwed up and a divided nation resulted, Britain would move in. The knowledge that one is to be hanged at dawn concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"

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