Category Archives: Life in the USA

Survey shows college professors back teaching of evolution in schools

By Calvin Palmer

Tomorrow the Texas State Board of Education will hold a public hearing on science curriculum standards.  The main topic of discussion is expected to be how teachers should treat the theory of evolution.
 
It is paradoxical that the country that launched the space shuttle Endeavour last Friday should be having such a hearing.  But despite its advanced technological status, the United States is underpinned by medieval beliefs just as frightening and backward to the rest of the western world as the beliefs of fundamental Islam.
 
The state board will vote early next year on new standards for the science curriculum for Texas public school students.  The vote is expected to be close.
 
The new guidelines are known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS.)  Conservatives on the 15-member State Board of Education are likely to push for the retention of the present standard whereby high school students are taught the weaknesses of evolution.  The standards adopted by the board will remain in place of the next decade.
 
To advance the case for Texas stepping into the 21st Century, a survey commissioned by the Texas Freedom Network in Austin shows 98 percent of the 450 biologists and biological anthropologists from 49 public and private universities in Texas who responded to the survey reject intelligent design as a concept and regard the teaching of it as invalid science.
 
The survey also shows 95 percent of the college professors want evolution to be the only theory of the origin of life taught in public schools.
 
Raymond Eve, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Arlington who conducted the survey said: “Opponents of evolution often say that we should teach “the controversy.”  The response of scientists is: What controversy?”
 
Needless to say, opponents say that Eve’s study is flawed.  Case Luskin at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, a think tank that advocates teaching students to analyze the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, said fewer than half of the 1,019 faculty members contacted responded to the survey.
 
“It is a self-selecting survey,” Luskin said.  “There is a well-documented culture of intimidation that makes scientists uncomfortable expressing their doubts about Darwinism.  This just serves to reinforce that climate of intimidation.”
 
State board member David Bradley (Republican, Beaumont) said: “There is no one on this board trying to inject intelligent design or creationism.  They are trying to whip up into a frenzy over something that is not going to happen.  But by trying to remove strengths and weaknesses, yes, they will get a fight.”
 
He added that the requirement that teachers teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution is the result of a compromise offered by a Democratic board member 20 years ago.
 
Curriculum standards prepare children for college and jobs in today’s economy and that requires “sound science, not watered down politicized science,” said Kathy Miller, the president of Texas Freedom Network.
 
“Teach evolution and don’t water it down with creationism, intelligent design or phony weaknesses,” she said.
 
Miller said it would be a mistake to ignore the beliefs of the science professors from public and private universities across the state.
 
“This survey leaves no doubt that the political crusade against evolution and other attempts to dumb down our public school science curriculum are deeply misguided,” she said.
 
[Based on reports by the Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Associated Press.]

Add to Technorati Favorites

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Life in the USA, News, Science

Son shoots father and then himself after argument over fast-food order

By Calvin Palmer

An argument between a father and son over a wrong fast-food order led to the boy shooting his father and then turning the gun on himself, according to Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.
 
The incident occurred on Sunday afternoon when 16-year-old Bobby Mueller returned from a fast-food restaurant with food his father, Robert Lee Mueller, had not ordered.
 
The boy got hold of a gun and shot his father once in the head at their home on Lazy Lane, Kemah, Texas.
 
Sheriff’s spokesman Maj. Ray Tuttoilmondo said the boy’s mother witnessed the shooting and called 911.
 
When a Clear Lake Shores police officer entered the home, he spotted the youngster with the gun and ordered him to drop it.  But the boy moved out of view and shot himself in the head.
 
The youngster and his 59-year-old father were taken to Memorial-Hermann-Texas Medical Center where they were both described as being in a critical condition late yesterday.
 
Neighbors said the Muellers kept to themselves after moving into their two-story home in 2007.
 
They also said they found it odd that Mueller’s wife would walk the half-mile to the Target store.  Several of the neighbors said they often saw her pushing a cart with her purchases.
 
After hearing about the shooting, Susan Hickson said: “I thought something had been wrong in the house.”  She went on to say that she once encountered Mueller’s wife walking down Lazy Lane, saying that she had been ordered out of the house.
 
“She seems to be a lonely person,” Hickson added.
 
Another neighbor Cathy Thomas said the Muellers did not attend a community gathering a week ago to talk about the damage caused by Hurricane Ike.
 
Bobby Mueller is a junior at Clear Lake Christian School, which posted a tribute on its Web site.
 
“It is very devastating to hear,” said a concerned parent, Karen William Smith.  “We have been praying since we heard that this had happened.  I am just hoping the students can bounce back from this.”
 
[Based on reports by the Houston Chronicle and KTRK News.]

Add to Technorati Favorites

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime, Life in the USA, News

Man, 75, left AK-47 in parked car

By Calvin Palmer

Usually when a car is broken into, the thief gets away with a purse, camera or laptop that has been carelessly left inside the car on full view.  For some that is too great of a temptation to resist.
 
But earlier this week a car thief in Palmetto, in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, got away with a far deadlier haul -– an AK-47 assault rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition.
 
Police say a 75-year-old man reported the theft of the weapon from his car while it was parked outside a house on 12th Street West.
 
The man parked his car around 7:00 on Tuesday morning and when he returned in the early evening, he found the passenger window of the vehicle smashed, the assault rifle and ammunition missing.
 
The AK-47 was not the automatic version and, as such, the owner was perfectly entitled to own it under Florida law.
 
Lt. Scott Tyler of Palmetto Police told the Bradenton Herald if it had been an automatic, the owner would have required a permit from the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
 
“I am not sure why he was driving around with an AK-47 in his car,” said Tyler.  “Unfortunately, it is now floating around somewhere.”
 
In October 2005, Florida became a “stand-your-ground” state whereby Florida law established that law-abiding residents and visitors may legally presume the threat of bodily harm or death from anyone who breaks into a residence or occupied vehicle and may use defensive force, including deadly force, against the intruder.
 
In any other place where a person “has a right to be,” the person has “no duty to retreat” if attacked and may meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
 
In either case, a person using any force permitted by the law is immune from criminal prosecution or civil action and cannot be arrested unless a law enforcement agency determines there is probable cause that the force used was unlawful.
 
On July 1, 2008, Florida became a “take your gun to work” state.  The new law prohibited most businesses from firing any employee with a Concealed Weapon License for keeping a legal firearm locked in their vehicle in the company parking lot.
 
The purpose of the new law was to allow CWL holders to exercise their Second Amendment rights during their commute to and from work.
 
That really was one of the most pressing concerns facing the state at that time and it was encouraging to see the state legislature respond so swiftly to this pressing need.  Children going without health care, public schools that are failing to educate children to a decent standard pale into insignificance when compared to upholding the constitutional rights of CWL holders.
 
Last night, an 82-year-old man was gunned down and killed on a Jacksonville street.  Leroy Snider, Sr. became the 108th murder victim in the city this year.
 
The news of the crime was carried by The Florida Times-Union under the headline, “Slaying victim, 82, oldest of year.”  That must have been most comforting to Snider’s relatives; the death of their loved one reduced to what amounts to a sports statistic.
 
I guess life is cheap when you are a “Guns R Us” Republican propaganda sheet.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime, Life in the USA, News

Saggy-pants ban ruled unconstitutional

By Calvin Palmer

Police in a Florida city have brought a new meaning to the phrase “getting caught with your pants down.”
 
Voters in Riviera Beach, southeast Florida, approved a law banning baggy pants in March.  It’s not really a case of baggy pants but pants worn low so as to reveal the wearer’s boxer shorts.  Saggy pants is probably a better description.
 
The reasoning behind this fashion escapes me but then so do shorts where the crotch of the pants hangs level or below the wearer’s knees.  If it is some kind of fashion statement then it is lost on me.  It reminds me of characters out of the The Beano or The Beezer, two comics from the 1960s back in England.
 
But it obviously offended the good folks of Riviera Beach and, after collecting a 5,000-strong petition, the law was passed. And Riviera Beach’s finest began a crackdown last month since when at least 11 males have been arrested, according to The Smoking Gun.
 
Last Wednesday, 17-year-old Julius Hart was charged when an officer spotted him riding his bicycle with four to five inches of blue and black boxer shorts sticking out of his black pants, according to the Palm Beach Post.
 
A first offense usually carries a $150 fine or community service.  Habitual offenders can face time in jail.
 
Hart’s charge meant a violation of his probation on a marijuana possession charge and so he spent the night in jail.
 
“Somebody help me,” Palm Beach Circuit Judge Paul Moyle said.  “We’re not talking about exposure of buttocks. No! We’re talking about someone who has on pants whose underwear are apparently visible to a police officer who then makes an arrest and the basis is he’s then held overnight, no bond.  No bond!”
 
Public defender Carol Bickerstaff told the judge: “We now have the fashion police.  Our office really does intend to appeal this ordinance, which we believe is totally unconstitutional.”
 
Judge Moyle agreed it was unconstitutional, based on the “limited facts of this case.”
 
Riviera Beach spokeswoman Rose Anne Brown said that the city had not yet seen the ruling and could not comment.
 
Last week, a judge in Tampa, tired of seeing the underwear of inmates sticking out above their saggy orange jail pants, ordered them back to jail so that those wearing loose pants could change into a pair that fit.  The court was delayed for one and a half hours.
 
The day before the sight of an inmate’s boxer shorts caused Circuit Judge Daniel Perry to cut proceedings short.
 
Judge Perry said: “I do not want to see these people in here again with their rear-ends hanging out of their pants.  We’re done.”
 
Laws that ban low-slung pants are in effect in several small U.S. cities, such as Delcambre, Louisiana, where offenders face a fine of up to $500 or up to six months in jail.
 
Large U.S. cities such as Dallas and Atlanta are considering similar bans.

[Based on reports by the AFP news agency and St. Petersburg Times.]

Add to Technorati Favorites

Leave a comment

Filed under Justice, Life in the USA, News

Buddy can you spare a billion dollars

By Calvin Palmer

In decades past, I am talking 50, 60, 70 years ago, the financial crisis that is unfolding before our eyes would have sparked a spate of cardiac arrests, even suicides.  But these days, the money men are healthier and fitter; bankruptcy no longer carries the social stigma it once did.  They are probably laughing all the way to their bank account in the Bahamas.
 
Even so, I should imagine hearts are beating a little faster than normal in the boardroom of AIG.  And I hope they remembered to apply deodorant this morning because there is going to be a lot of sweating before this day is out.
 
The troubled insurance company has, according to New York Governor David Paterson, one more day to come up with the capital to stay afloat.  That is some pressure.
 
Mr. Paterson told CNBC that without a capital-raising deal, AIG would not be able to benefit from the $20 billion lifeline thrown by state regulators on Monday.
 
If that wasn’t bad enough, even that lifeline was put in jeopardy by a series of credit downgrades.  It never rains but it pours.
 
AIG is the world’s largest insurance company with a $1,000 billion balance sheet but it faces a $14.5 billion cash-call as a result of the cuts, which will make it even more difficult for banks and regulators to provide a $75 billion lifeline.
 
The specter of bankruptcy will loom large if that money cannot be raised.  It may well be the only option the company has to protect its assets, many of which continue to operate profitably.
 
The collapse of AIG would make the recent demise of Lehman Brothers and the takeover of Merrill Lynch by the Bank of America seem like a normal day.
 
Kenneth Lewis the chief executive of Bank of America said: “I don’t know of a major bank that doesn’t have some significant exposure to AIG.”
 
A collapse of AIG would be in the words of Lewis, “a much bigger problem than most we have looked at.”
 
Well, that should keep him busy this afternoon.  I wonder if he will cut back on the two-hour lunch?
 
I doubt the top money men will be too worried by recent events.  They have their personal fortunes to fall back on.  The financial crash just means those fortunes will not be growing bigger any time in the near future and their stock options will reduce in value. But you can rest assured, they will survive and you won’t see them panhandling in the streets of New York.
 
Lower down the pecking order, people are not so lucky.  Some have already lost their jobs and they will soon find that the market for their skills has dried up.  Welcome to my world.
 
It is all too easy to think that just because you don’t work in the financial sector, these bankruptcies and the growing gloom have no impact on your day-to-day life.  Wrong.  The shock waves will reverberate right through the economy as hard times suddenly become harder.
 
Increased job losses will see spending in the economy falter and if people don’t spend, chances are more businesses are going to feel the pinch.  The trendy bars, restaurants and shops will be among the first to feel the effects.  As money becomes increasingly tighter, the whole economy will slow down by a gear, if not two.
 
Older people in the workforce will also start to worry about their pensions.  Retirement is increasingly looking like years of penury, and the time will be made longer by the advances in medical science.  Those retirement dreams of visits to places in the world that you have always wanted to visit may no longer be realized.  Many of those dreams have already crashed in Britain with the demise of the XL travel firm last week.
 
Homeowners will start to face their worst nightmare – negative equity.  Even if people want to get out of the huge mortgage they have, many more will now find they are trapped, effectively held prisoner by the financial institutions.  Feudalism may well have disappeared centuries ago but it still exists in one form or another.  We are all servile to banks, mortgage and insurance companies; like the barons of medieval England, they hold people’s lives in their hands.
 
It is estimated that Hurricane Ike has wreaked $22 billion damage.  Much of the property destroyed will have been insured.  And Hurricane Ike was preceded a week earlier by Gustav.  An awful lot of people out there are looking to the payouts from insurance companies to rebuild their shattered homes.  If AIG fails, what are the chances of those property owners ever getting their insurance claims paid in full? 
 
The last time America faced financial meltdown on this scale, the then President Herbert Hoover froze like a deer caught in a car’s headlights.  It took Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal to put the country back on the road to recovery.
 
President Roosevelt’s inaugural address in March 1933 shows how the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Roosevelt blamed the economic crisis of the 1930s on bankers, financiers, the quest for profit and the self-interest basis of capitalism:
 
“Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence….The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.”
 
Clearly, after the events of recent days, and John McCain’s admission that economics isn’t his strong suit, the country can only go in one direction in November and follow the precedent set in 1932.  And if the electorate is foolish enough to go the other way, don’t be surprised at the Republican reaction to those unfortunate enough to be caught up in this financial maelstrom: “Let them eat soup.”

[Based on reports in the Financial Times and The Daily Telegraph.]

Add to Technorati Favorites

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Life in the USA, News, politics

Ike calls bluff of stay-behind folks

By Calvin Palmer

It is to the eternal credit of emergency services personnel the world over that they do suffer fools gladly and save people from the consequences of their stupidity. 

On Friday, warnings were issued to residents living in the low-lying areas of the Gulf coast in Texas that they faced “certain death” if they remained in their homes as Category 2 Hurricane Ike swept in.
 
But Tyler Twoguns and his wife Mary Jo know best.  They put their trust in the Lord, only for the Lord to desert them.  And then it becomes a different tale.  The know-all braggart suddenly starts hollering like a child calling for his mom. “Rescue me!” he wails.
 
Search and rescue efforts by the U.S. military and U.S. Coastguard have been hampered by the conditions.  The worst might be over but it will be several hours before the high winds and driving rain abate.
 
Three people have already died and the death toll is likely to rise in the coming days.  Tens of thousands of homes have been flooded and four million people are without power.  And hundreds of desperate calls have been made from people such as Tyler Twoguns.
 
Officials estimate that up to 40 percent of Galveston’s residents failed to heed the warnings to evacuate.  Galveston city manager Steve LeBlanc issued a diplomatic comment.  “It is unfortunate that the warnings were not heeded,” he said.
 
I would have loved to have heard Steve’s comments off the record.  I imagine that words like “dumb” and “stupid” would have figured prominently alongside some words that couldn’t possibly be printed here.
 
Two people who refused to evacuate on Friday were advised by police to write their names and Social Security numbers on their arms in waterproof black ink in case they were later found floating in the flood water.  That will have been Tyler and Mary Jo, no doubt.
 
Although one million people fled the coastal communities threatened by Ike, authorities in four counties said that 140,000 ignored the mandatory evacuation orders.  Other counties were unable to provide numbers but officials are concerned many people had stayed behind.
 
Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said: “We don’t know what we are going to find.  We hope we will find the people who are left alive and well.”
 
Good news did emerge regarding the fate of the freighter Antalina.  The Cypriot vessel lost power yesterday and was drifting 100 miles off the Texas coast at the mercy of Hurricane Ike.  The ship survived and its 22-man crew is safe, according to the Associated Press.  A tow boat is expected to meet up with the stricken vessel some time this afternoon and tow it back to port.

[Based on reports by The Daily Telegraph, the Houston Chronicle and Associated Press.]

Add to Technorati Favorites

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Life in the USA, News

Ike poses threat of “certain death”

By Calvin Palmer

The warning from the Mayor of Galveston’s office was stark.  “Persons not heeding evacuation orders in single family, one- or two-story homes will face certain death,” said official Mary Jo Naschke.
 
Her words were backed up by the first effects of Hurricane Ike.  Sea water had already started to flood the low-lying city on the island of Galveston.  And Ike is still 190 miles off shore.
 
The Category 2 hurricane will make landfall on the Texas coast either later tonight or in the early hours of Saturday morning.  Galveston and Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, lie directly in its path.
 
The Mayor of Houston, Bill White, and Harris County Judge Ed Emmet urged residents living in areas at risk from flooding to leave their homes.
 
“This is a serious event,” said White.  “If you had a plan that you were going to wait it out in place, that may have made sense yesterday.  It doesn’t make sense now.  Don’t wait until noon to decide whether to evacuate.”
 
Houston residents not in these surge zones, which forecasters predict could be as high as 20 feet, have been told to stay put.
 
Frank Michel of the Houston mayor’s office urged those living on higher ground to board up their windows and stock up on medicine, food and water.  Ike’s 110 mph winds could cause power outages lasting several days.
 
Oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut off.  The U.S. Department of Energy believes the production platforms will largely escape the effects of Ike.
 
The wholesale price of gasoline rose to $4.85 in the Gulf area and there was a slight knock-on effect in other wholesale markets throughout the country.  Those increases might not be passed on to customers unless the effects of Ike are severe and long-lasting, according to one oil market analyst quoted by the Associated Press.
 
The Army’s air force has already been called into action to rescue the 22-man crew of the freighter Antalina, which has lost power 90 miles south of Galveston.  Two helicopters and three other aircraft had been sent to the stricken vessel but the rescue mission had to be aborted.
 
Galveston is the scene of America’s greatest natural disaster, when a Category 4 hurricane swept ashore on September 8, 1900, claiming 6,000 lives.  The 15-foot storm surge swept over the barrier island and destroyed 3,600 homes in the city.

The death and destruction of that storm prompted the building of a 17-foot high sea wall and the raising of some parts of the island.  The new wall was soon tested by a similar strength storm and 12-foot surge in 1915.  Although 265 people lost their lives, the loss of life did not approach the magnitude of the Great Storm in 1900.

[Based on reports in the Houston Chronicle, and AFP.]

Add to Technorati Favorites

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Life in the USA, News