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Bloggers win Polk Award – congrats to TPM

TalkingPointsMemo won the George Polk Award for legal reporting for their coverage of the US Attorneys scandal.  In the words of Will Bunch at Attytood:

The George Polk Awards are kind of like the Golden Globes of American journalism . Not as well known as those Oscars of the news business, the Pulitzer Prize, the Polk Awards are nevertheless probably a close second in terms of prestige, and this year I am especially blown away by the quality of the work they honor.

The idea that an award like this would go to a blogger shows the way that the landscape is changing.  Granted, Josh Marshall and TPM are the best of their kind, but they are not alone among blogs in doing real investigative reporting.  Bunch continues

It would have seemed incredible a couple of years ago, but a George Polk Award was given this morning to a blogger.

Not just any blogger, of course. Josh Marshall … of Talking Points Memo may have started back in 2000 as a kind of blogging stereotype, posting late at night from his small D.C. apartment and from the corner Starbucks and — in just two years — shining a light on the remarks that cost Sen. Trent Lott his GOP Senate leadership post, but he’s turned his operation into much, much more.

H/T MissLaura at dKos.

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Florida Board of Education

Mike O’Risal has more on today’s vote by the Florida Board of Education on whether to accept the new science standards.  He has links to live webcasts of the meeting and a discussion of editorials that “get it” and that don’t.

Creationism in Florida

The St Petersburg Times ran a fascinating article last week on the issue of evolution education.  Mike the Mad Biologist already commented on one point that really jumps out at you – when asked what evolution is, 45% of the Floridians they surveyed picked “Human beings were created directly by God”.  Is this what they want kept out of the science standards?  But I actually find the rest of the article even more interesting.

“I have a very firm religious background,” said Betty Lininger of Lecanto, who is raising her 15-year-old niece and thinks public schools should teach intelligent design but not evolution. “I can’t just shove it out the door.”

What is it about a religious background that makes intelligent design more palatable than science?  Why should a religious background want you to have children taught lies and half-truths?  What is it about a religious background that makes the idea that God specifically tinkered with the genetics of malaria so that children could die in their mothers’ arms (as Michael Behe asserts)?  What is it about a religious background that makes you want children to be taught that God is so limited that he can only act as a tinkerer, and an inefficient tinkerer at that?  Sounds more like something that would appeal to someone trying to make religious people look like IDiots.  Or maybe you aren’t familiar with this thing you want taught in schools.

Sue Sams of Spring Hill, a retired English teacher who describes herself as Protestant, said schools should teach creationism only.

“I don’t disagree with the theory of evolution,” said Sams, 65. “I’m just not sure it’s 100 percent right.”

Because you aren’t convinced that evolution is “100% right”, you believe that children should be taught something that is demonstrably false?  I’m assuming she means “creation science”.  Or maybe she believes that children should be taught creation stories in class – there are two of them in Genesis.  Since she only wants something that’s “100% right” taught in schools, which story does she pick?  They can’t both be “100% right”.  I can just see it now…

“Children, put away your textbooks and take out your bibles.  We’re going to teach creation today.”

“But in Chapter 1 it says that plants were created before humans, and in Chapter 2 it says humans were created before plants…”

“Now children, don’t be silly…”

“No, really, look…”

“Hmm…I never really read the story, you know, I just heard the TV preacher talk about it…”

Worse yet, of course, if your children actually were taught about the Yahwists and the Elohists, and the redactors…

But Dennis Baxley of the Christian Coalition of Florida really takes the cake.  The arrogant ignorance is stunning

“There is no justification for singling out evolution for special skepticism or critical analysis,” wrote Richard T. O’Grady, executive director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in a Feb. 8 letter to the Board of Education. “Its strength as a scientific theory matches that of the theory of gravitation, atomic theory and the germ theory.”

The response from Dennis Baxley, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida: “He’s in error.”

Baxley (who is also a funeral director and former member of the Florida House of Representatives) takes it upon himself to say that the head of AIBS is “in error” about science.  Not content with claiming that he knows more about science that the head of AIBS, Baxley goes on to demonstrate his total lack of comprehension of what science is

“At one time, the scientific community thought that for good health, you should attach leaches to your body,” said Baxley, a former state representative from Ocala. “We’re just asking them to leave the door open a little bit” for other evidence to be considered.

For one, “bleeding” was a feature of pre-scientific medical practice.  For another, science is self-correcting.  The door is open wide for other ideas – if there’s some way to test them.  But evolution has overwhelming scientific evidence, while every explanation put forward by creationism has been disproven.  The door is open.  No one is keeping the creationists out of the academy – they are choosing to exclude themselves.

Perhaps the most interesting comment in the whole article comes from Michael Ruse.

Florida State University professor Michael Ruse said the numbers are not likely to change any time soon. He likened the clash over evolution to the civil rights movement.

“People are going to have to be carried kicking and screaming over the threshold,” said Ruse, an authority on the history and philosophy of science. “If we can only get over this hangup about the sciences and evolution, 20, 40, 50 years from now, people are going to be looking back and saying, ‘Am I ever glad we don’t have to fight that anymore.'”

Quite honestly, I never saw that parallel, but it certainly makes sense.  The southern racists refused to allow desegregation, despite the fact that they were (a) wrong and (b) breaking the law of the land.  Having failed, their children and grandchildren are fighting to impose another evil on children – not racism, but ignorance.  Like creationism, racism was once a fashionable pseudoscience.  It’s still there, it has just gone out of fashion.  The sooner people discard both lies, the better.

Boissiere House

The Magnificent Seven stand on the western side of the Queen’s Park Savannah.  Built at the turn of the twentieth century, these seven stately homes are some of the most recognisable architectural icons in Port of Spain.  And sadly, they may soon stand alone.  Nicholas Laughlin writes about the loss of the city’s architectural gems:

We’ve seen this happen so many times before. Just in recent years we’ve lost the Lee House on St. Clair Avenue, Bagshot House in Maraval, the Union Club on Independence Square, Coblentz House in St. Ann’s, and numerous smaller gingerbread houses all over the city. Just a couple months ago, the big orange Pierre house on the Roxy roundabout disappeared, after years of neglect. The Trestrail Building on Broadway, with its cool, understated Corinthian columns, was bulldozed to build another yet office tower.

boissiere-1.jpgStanding just south of the Magnificent Seven is another house of comparable grandeur.  Built in 1904 for C.E.H. Boissiere, the Boissiere House stands is an architectural gem.  From saveboissierehouse.org:

The house at 12 Queen’s Park West is a particularly fine example of late Victorian creole “gingerbread” architecture, with elaborate wooden fretwork and a beautifully proportioned “Chinese pavilion” with a pagoda-style roof and painted glass windows. Inside, the main rooms have gesso-work ceilings and fine wood panelling. Though it is a relatively small house, it has a wealth of detail typical of far more elaborate mansions.

The house is also remarkably intact. The family that has owned it for 104 years has made very few modifications to the structure or to its main outbuildings. The degree of preservation is rare, and the layout of the house tells us a great deal about domestic life circa 1904.

Finally, because of its prominent position on Queen’s Park West, the Boissiere House is a major Port of Spain landmark, familiar to hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors. It is a crucial part of the urban landscape.

After being kept in the family for 104 years, the house is now up for sale.  The asking price is $10 million US.  Given its prime location, it’s likely that anyone who buys the house will be interested not in the house, but in the property upon which it stands.  While the current owners do not want to see the house destroyed, they are unable to continue to preserve it.  The National Trust has produced a listing of 25 buildings that will be legally protected from destruction (a list that includes the Boissiere house), and the list has been approved by Cabinet, but it has not cleared all the bureaucratic and legal hurdles.  So for now, the house has no protection.

A website has been set up to save the Boissiere house, and two Facebooks groups have been started for that purpose.  An online petition has been set up, calling on the government to do something to save the house.  Calling on the government to “save” the house is rather nebulous; the website offers a range of possible solutions:

Cabinet approval of the National Heritage List would be a major step, since the house would enjoy immediate legal protection. In the longer term, if the house passes into the hands of another private owner, it must be with the understanding that any commercial use will not damage its fabric. It could be bought and restored by a generous corporate citizen, or pass into public hands via a non-profit trust. There are many tried and tested models for preserving historic structures while generating income from them. If the right agreement could be made between the present owners and future buyer, overseen by the National Trust, the Boissiere House could serve as an example of how to preserve Trinidad and Tobago’s architectural legacy for the future.

The image copyright Nicholas Laughlin and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 generic license.  The original image.