Then They Went for the Pigs

Just when you thought the market for controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was completely saturated, a new study published in the Journal of Organic Systems finds that pigs raised on a mixed diet of GM corn and GM soy had higher rates of intestinal problems, “including inflammation of the stomach and small intestine, stomach ulcers, a thinning of intestinal walls and an increase in haemorrhagic bowel disease, where a pig can rapidly ‘bleed-out’ from their bowel and die.” Both male and female pigs reared on the GM diet were more likely to have severe stomach inflammation, at a rate of four times and 2.2 times the control group, respectively. There were also reproductive effects: the uteri of female pigs raised on GM feed were 25 percent larger (in proportion to body size) than those of control sows. (All male pigs were neutered, so scientists were unable to study any effects on the male reproductive systems.)

Damning New Study Demonstrates Harm to Animals Raised on GMO Feed” Leslie Hatfield

This one cuts several ways. We don’t have nearly enough funding going for objective research into the impact of genetically modified foods. Why? Corporate interests harmonize nicely with right-wing fantasies about the all-powerful federal government and debt and so on. If you can shrink the government, then on one will be looking when you introduce dangerous foods into the system. We are all guinea pigs for corporate profit.

Damming research, of course, isn’t yet a solid case. It does suggest the need for a very healthy skepticism about corporate safety assurances, to say the very least. What would be the harm, Hatfield asks, in a precautionary principle? Only corporate profits and common sense. The fact is that we don’t need these modified foods; I suspect that every problem they purport to solve either isn’t important or can be solved in other ways.

Good News Inside the Bad

I know these threats [pandemics, population, climate change, etc.] sound like science fiction, but they are real and my generation will have to address them. The way to overcome these challenges and ensure the continued long-term existence of our species is through investment in rapid scientific innovation.

To make this second giant leap possible, the culture surrounding science in America must change. Too many have rejected evidence-based science. Nearly 60 percent of American public school biology teachers are not teaching evolution properly and another 13 percent admit to teaching creationism. Almost half of Americans believe that the Earth was formed in the last 10,000 years. Taxpayer funded schools in my home state of Louisiana are teaching that scientists and their scientific work are “sinful.” At least 300 taxpayer funded voucher schools nationwide are teaching creationism. Teachers in public schools in Louisiana and Tennessee are teaching unscientific “alternatives” to evolution, the origin of the Earth, and climate change, and this is allowed by state law. Other states may soon follow suit.

President Obama, Please Call for a Second Giant Leap for Mankind,” Zack Kopplin

I should be a little embarrassed to admit it but I had not heard of Zack Kopplin before I saw an interview with him on Moyers and Company. (It aired a few days ago but I watched the tape at lunch today.) I won’t say much about Mr. Kopplin– his ideas speak for themselves– except to say that he’s a wonderful breath of fresh air. Not only is he anti-creationist, he sees the connections between the right’s anti-evolution ideology and their fight against public schools. Kopplin shows that critical thinking and resistance is alive and well.

Good Parks and Schools

The United States confronts a moment of tremendous opportunity and urgency. For the first time in our nation’s history, we are confronted with the very real possibility that we will, through inaction or active disregard, fail to meet a global challenge head-on. For all of the progress our nation has made in expanding educational opportunity and achievement, there are countries far larger than ours that are advancing and improving at rates that surpass ours. If we hope to compete in, let alone win, in the global mind race, we cannot continue to leave so many Americans on the sidelines. American global competitiveness demands the full, active participation of every young person and his or her talents, regardless of location or circumstance of birth.

For Each and Every Child,” Equity and Excellence Commission

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Mr. Paulson’s gift was only one of a number of large donations to the city’s parks: $20 million was given to the High Line in late 2011, an additional $10 million to Central Park this month, and $40 million was pledged to build a field house in Brooklyn Bridge Park, though the plan was abandoned. The gifts have put New York’s green spaces on a par with hospitals, universities and cultural institutions as objects of philanthropy.

The largess has delighted city officials, who say it will ensure that New York’s signature parks have the resources to remain pristine while accommodating millions of visitors a year. But the donations have also highlighted the disparity between parks in Manhattan’s high-rent districts and those, like Flushing Meadows-Corona or Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, that are in less affluent communities. In those parks, conservancies and friends groups must struggle to raise any money at all.

New York Parks in Less Affluent Areas Lack Big Gifts,” Lisa W. Foderaro

I probably like juxtaposition too much, but when it comes to socioeconomic class, nothing works better. We tend to think about class in terms of individual income and wealth. Class, though, is also about neighborhoods and roads, parks and schools. The Reagan Era (which some might say is ending) tended to minimize this sort of wealth by demonizing government and celebrating the so-called competitive private markets.

We got lots of images of rich individuals over the last three or four decades but we have constantly grown poorer as a people as our roads, and neighborhoods, and parks and schools have been neglected. What’s interesting is that we may well be reading some sort of turning point where those rich individuals come to the (bleated) realization that their wealth is inseparable from our collective wealth. Keep your fingers crossed.

Show Me the (Research) Money

Alarmed by growing scientific research on the health risks created by the widespread prevalence of guns, the NRA and its Congressional allies stripped all funding for the Center for Disease Control’s gun research budget. They also inserted a provision into the CDC appropriation bills that said “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control,” deterring the CDC from providing significant funds to gun research ever since. As a result, the New York Times reports, “the amount of money available today for studying the impact of firearms is a fraction of what it was in the mid-1990s, and the number of scientists toiling in the field has dwindled to just a handful as a result.” This has meant in practice that “there is no scientific consensus on the best approach to limiting gun violence, and the N.R.A. is blocking work that might well lead to such a consensus.”

Biden: The White House Will Fight NRA’s War On Science” Zack Beauchamp

We know from other areas– evolution and climate change would have to top the list– that the American right is profoundly anti-intellectual and anti-science. They don’t want public funding of science (unless it supports corporate profit) and when science tells them something they don’t want to hear, they start disinformation campaigns. They force religious dogma– creationism– into the school textbooks and they pretend to debunk climate science.

The damage this has done to our intellectual life is probably best measured by the damage to our coastlines, amplified by the public’s unwillingness to support measures that might slow down the global rise in temperature. We are more ignorant, as a culture, than we ought to be and we will be paying the price for decades. I suppose that I knew this but it turns out the right has long used the same tactics in the science of gun violence.

Here, the enforced ignorance, sponsored by the right, has cost us in the sorts of scientific knowledge we might have used to prevent the recent gun massacres. It also makes effective gun control measures now much less effective, which I suppose is the point. I think that restoring this research has to be high on the agenda if we have any hope of real change. It ought to be obvious that We can’t prevent gun violence unless we understand it.

Violence

It’s difficult to write about violence after yet another school shooting; I’d hate to contribute to the sense of mindless obsession that surrounds these things, especially on television. The news channels haven’t been able to talk about anything else, even when there’s little to say; they design graphics and even theme songs around every incident, fighting over ratings and advertisers. It’s all predictable and mostly empty and sad.

At some point in the ritual, sooner rather than later this time, perhaps because very young children are involved, the journalists turn their attention to the debate over gun control. We do need some sensible regulations over guns, of course, especially cheap handguns and automatic (and semi-automatic) rifles, even if we also know that anyone set on mass violence will probably find a way to find a gun and ammunition. We make it too easy.

The culture of guns runs from the posturing of the NRA to the families who keep small armories at home, certain that they are safer against some poorly defined threat. It doesn’t stop there. The same “moneyed interests” who have made sensible gun regulation impossible (and try to destroy unions and privatize schools and…) stand in the way of a comprehensive national health care system with full parity for mental health. We need to connect the dots.

Never Forget

The report I reviewed  ["Do Our Public Schools Threaten National Security?'] was written by a task force chaired by Joel Klein and Condaleeza Rice. I believe the report is part of a campaign to undermine public education. Public education needs constant improvement, of that there can be no doubt. But it does not need to be disparaged and demeaned as a national security threat.

As I say in the review, the real threat to our future is growing poverty and income inequality and intensifying racial isolation. The report mentions these issues but fails to offer any suggestions to reduce their negative impact on our society.

Stop the Campaign Against Public Schools!” Diane Ravitch

It’s time to demand a new model: classrooms that eschew rote memorization and test prep; teachers with the power to implement effective and flexible teaching strategies; students who are connected to their teachers and love to learn. Policymakers will find it hard to argue with that.

Is this really what education is about?’ Valerie Strauss

It’s Memorial Day, and I suppose I ought to be writing something about my father, who drove a tank in WWII, and died of a heart attack in 1982. He’s buried in the National Cemetery in Houston, Texas.  It’s a very moving place and it’s exactly where he ought to be buried. He was proud of his service. I have to say, though, that even a  few days of memorializing soldiers is very depressing. It doesn’t make me feel in any way patriotic, or grateful; it makes me feel that I live in world whose history is long chain of brutal collective violence.

It also reminds me that my Dad , and many of his generation, felt that social development and education, not violence, was the only long-term solution to authoritarianism and fascism. Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, the ideology of the standardized test, deeply rooted in eugenics, has ties to the same racist nationalism that has fed so many conflicts.  Then, as now, some sought an objective proof of superiority; the shift from defining race to determining merit is mercurial at best, a supremacist slight of hand at worst.

We don’t need the standardized test or its attendant distortions of classroom practice– and wars against collective bargaining– to pursue the long-term goal that was so important to men like my father.  There are lots of alternatives, all of them related in some fashion to a projects approach of the sort outlined in “A Step-by-Step Guide to the Best Projects.”  (A petition to end the over use of standardized testing is here, too.)  A revitalized system of public education would be the best memorial to collective sacrifices.