Stories I saw this morning in the news just depressed me. Some days you really do feel like the age of empiricism is over and we are returning to the dark ages. Jonathan Turley reported the story that the New York Department of Education has banned the use of the word dinosaur because it might insult creationists. The story is also covered in the Huffington Post, the New York Post, CBS, and many other places. I mention that only because the story is so insane I had to check to make sure it was real. It’s not just dinosaurs. There are a whole host of words that can no longer be used. Birthday may offend Jehovah’s Witnesses, since they don’t celebrate birthdays, so it is out. Halloween could suggest paganism, and we wouldn’t want that to infect students, so it is out. (This isn’t all new. Fifteen years ago when I was in the high school textbook industry, we couldn’t use the word Halloween in textbooks because Texas didn’t want it there, and since they have state wide approval of textbooks and are one of the biggest states, they get what they want. And it must have worked, right; cause no kid in Texas has ever heard of Halloween. Jim, can you confirm that success story?) Perhaps most bizarrely, Huff Post reports, “CBS New York reports the word “poverty” is also not allowed, as “words that suggest wealth” might cause some students to feel excluded.” Cause you know, if you don’t know you’re poor you’ll never feel hungry. You almost think the whole thing must have somehow been engineered by ALEC and the big money of the one percent. They want to go back into hiding and be invisible. They really don’t like the light of day that is starting to shine on them the last six months. I have a suggestion for the New York Department of Education. In the interests of accuracy, change your name. Remove the word Education, as it is pretty clear you are no longer interested in that. Maybe the New York Department of Closed Minds. Or the New York Department of No Offense. The department said they were doing this because they wanted to be sensitive to a diverse student population. Evidently they don’t mind offending those students who are sensitive to ignorance.
And this wasn’t the only story that depressed me. Turley also points to several stories about cities and states selling parks, government buildings, and other sites because they need the money. All while we continue to spend billions on wars. Cliff Stearns, a Republican congressman from Florida, wants to go further. He wants to sell our national parks. That ought to fund another war. It’s just sad.
We’ve discussed a lot about the Republican mind and why when presented with counter evidence (on climate change or anything else) it actually makes them double down in their skepticism, and more so the better educated they are. Chris Mooney addresses that in detail in his forthcoming book The Republican Brain. I get that the research shows that it is true, and we have to accept it and all. And my question is why did it come to this? Republicans weren’t like this in Eisenhower’s day. It was possible then to be a moderate Republican who actually believed facts. And bipartisanship existed and the gulf between the parties wasn’t what it is today. All the research I’ve seen, like Mooney’s book, address the situation as it is today, where we have come to a point where we are willfully trying to return to the dark ages, to ignorance of science, to ignorance that there are people who think differently than we do. How did we get here? I think we need to figure that out, rather than simply identify the problem, before we can begin to figure out an answer. And we had better do it fast, while Yellowstone National Park and the Old Faithful geyser can still accurately be called national treasures that belong to all of us rather than to Microsoft or Coke or BP.
Not wanting to end on despair, there is hopeful news today. News of action based on empiricism, on research, on facts. News of action to try and help Americans, to make us healthier and safer. The Republicans will fight it tooth and nail like they always do, and maybe it has a chance. The EPA has announced the first ever limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from U.S. power plants. (The Obama administration continues to be a bit of a roller coaster on environmental issues, and this is certainly one of the high points.)
I’ve written on all of this today as it likely will be completely ignored by most of the media, which will spend virtually all of their time on the Supreme Court consideration of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. An important story, sure, and one where there won’t be real news until the court issues its decision in June. And hey, when has our media ever waited until there was actual news to report on something.