Why we need objective redistricting laws

Every time a state legislative body finds itself redrawing districts, there is danger afoot. If the body is controlled heavily by one party or another, and if the governorship is held by a member of the same favored party, it is likely the districts will be redrawn to favor those in control. Prime examples include Massachusetts and Texas, the latter likely being the biggest redistricting problem in the nation. Republicans have ironclad control over the state despite the fact that whites are actually a minority and – let’s not be subtle or coy – blacks, Hispanics, and other national minorities tend to vote for Democrats.

As old people and those knowledgeable about history may remember/know, due to Texas’ past of horrific racism, it is one of a number of southern states that must seek federal approval before implementing changes to maps and voting practices. (See 1965 Voting Rights Act.) This makes sense. After all, sure, we can chalk some ultimately racist redistricting up to a simple desire to maintain power rather than racism, but let’s not be stupid. Southern states, including and perhaps especially Texas, have a high number of racist individuals. If left to their own devices, they absolutely would not be nearly as fair in the way they treat voters.

Recently federal judges in San Antonio redrew district maps for Texas. They had ruled that the GOP-drawn maps did not reflect ‘minority’ (i.e., not white) population growth in the state. A halt has been placed on that redrawing because there are issues which need to be reviewed, but there is a good chance the Republican-favoring maps will need to be fixed. This, I think, demonstrates the fundamental problem with arbitrary redistricting rules. This is a state issue, but there is also too much subjectivity present in the federal process.

What the U.S. needs in order to fix this gerrymandering is an objective set of rules. They may need to be complicated since populations do not spread evenly across a region, plus most states are not fit into any given geometric shape. However, this is the only reasonable way to ensure that one of two parties does not become too powerful in a single state or region (provided that that power is unrepresentative of population dynamics). After all, ever wonder why the U.S. is so absolutely polarized? There are probably a number of factors at play, but the biggest one is almost certainly the concentration of power had via redistricting. Barney Frank isn’t representative of a huge number of people, but his current district makes it seem as though he is. (And in 2012, reality will be more well represented, hence why he won’t run again.) Michele Bachmann is a crazy idiot who is only in power because the odd shape of her district. If all this strangeness and subjectivity were removed, the result would be far more moderate politicians; no one would need to appeal to the craziest of the crazy in order to get votes since the crazies wouldn’t appear to be the majority.

Gov. Perry says President Obama is ignoring Texas

The governor of Texas is complaining that President Obama is paying more attention to Alabama than Texas:

“You have to ask, ‘Why are you taking care of Alabama and other states?’ I know our letter didn’t get lost in the mail,” Perry, a Republican and frequent critic of the federal government, said after addressing a Texas emergency management conference.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for Alabama, where storms — including a tornado that ravaged Tuscaloosa on Wednesday — killed nearly 200 people this week.

Texas actually does get significant federal help in its fire fighting efforts, but I digress. The more interesting question here is, why is Perry only criticizing Obama for ignoring Texas? Shouldn’t he be criticizing God for not doing anything?

Gov. Rick Perry calls for magic

In an effort to contain wildfires that have already claimed 1.5 million acres across the state of Texas, Gov. Rick Perry called on his fellow Texans to seek out a magical remedy:

“Throughout our history, both as a state and as individuals, Texans have been strengthened, assured and lifted up through prayer,” Perry said in a statement.

“It is fitting that Texans should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this ongoing drought and these devastating wildfires.”

Doesn’t Perry’s particular, cultural god already have a plan in place, though? If prayer can change that plan, is it really a plan? And if prayer isn’t suppose to change the plan but only put Perry and others in line with his god’s magic, then isn’t this all a completely fruitless effort?

Texas, abortions, and bad arguments

Since I’m on an abortion kick lately, I’ve got to mention what Texas is doing.

The Texas Senate on Thursday approved a measure that would require women seeking an abortion to first get an ultrasound.

Women could choose not to view the sonogram image or listen to the heartbeat, but they would be required to listen to an explanation of the images, except in cases of rape or incest or if there are fetal abnormalities.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who had put the legislation on a fast track by declaring it an emergency priority, commended the bill’s advancement.

“Considering the magnitude of the decision to have an abortion, it is crucial that Texans understand what is truly at stake,” Perry said in a statement.

Because are making the decision with a light-heart, amirite? Come on. Dumb.

But I think there is a more interesting point to be made here. Perry and the others who are against abortion believe that conception is the beginning of life, right? Okay, so why are they always so willing to allow for exceptions in cases of rape and incest (and, in this case, abnormalities)? If it’s a life, it’s a life, it’s a life, it’s a life. I don’t see where the justification lies in saying something is human and thus protected…but only if it gets here in a good way. It’s a bad argument.

Thought of the day

Texas is the last place that ought to play a leadership role in education.

Evolution debate ends in compromise

Absolutely not.

For 20 years, Texas science teachers have been required to cover the strengths and weaknesses of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Two decades later, that rule has been changed. They traded the curriculum for a new set of standards.

Board of Education member Bob Craig said the new curriculum will require students to use critical thinking to discuss, analyze and evaluate the information for yourselves.

Lies. The new ‘standards’ will set science back.

For example, the revised biology standard (7B) reflects two discredited creationist ideas — that “sudden appearance” and “stasis” in the fossil record somehow disprove evolution. The new standard directs students to “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency of scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil records.” Other new standards include language such as “is thought to” or “proposed transitional fossils” to make evolutionary concepts seem more tentative.

These people are stupid. Straight up stupid. Not politically, of course. They are, naturally, quite coy in that respect – that is the second most notable characteristic of the creationist mind. The most notable, of course, is the ability to simply not understand a single, damn thing about science. These people hate science. It conflicts with the beliefs with which they grew up, so they act like little babies and fail to realize that they are wrong. They assume what they hear of science must be incorrect because it does not fit their fairy tale. It’s rather pathetic, really.

By making these changes, the board of education hopes students will use reasoning and experimental testing to examine all sides of scientific explanations, including evolution.

“You need to have that critical thinking by the student,” Craig said, “and you need to have a free discussion of any scientific explanation.”

The revisions apply to students in kindergarten through 12th grade who take the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or TEKS test. However, they focus primarily on high school students.

“Have that free discussion, analyze and evaluate,” Craig said. “Critique those scientific explanations, and encourage critical thinking because that’s what we want to do in all fields.”

Scientists have that free discussion. High school students are not qualified in the least bit to tackle any of the vague, coy-creationist, sneak-attack, trojan, flat-out-fucking-liar terms listed.

“Somebody’s got to stand up to experts!” cries board chair Don McLeroy.

Don McLeroy is the chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. He is also a dentist. Next time 9 out of 10 of his colleagues tell you to do this or that with your teeth, tell them they aren’t allowing you to freely discuss, analyze, or evaluate any of the evidence. Tell them it is YOU that should be critiquing the field of dentistry. Those arrogant experts have been holding down the ignorant layman for far too long, I say!

Stop it, Texas

From having a creationist-dentist on the Board of Education to churning out the likes of Dubya* (a prime example of why abortion should be legal) to being an all-around bag of assholes, Texas has a lot against it. State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) is just another mook on the merry-go-round.

A Texas legislator is waging a war of biblical proportions against the science and education communities in the Lone Star State as he fights for a bill that would allow a private school that teaches creationism to grant a Master of Science degree in the subject.

State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) proposed House Bill 2800 when he learned that The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), a private institution that specializes in the education and research of biblical creationism, was not able to receive a certificate of authority from Texas’ Higher Education Coordinating Board to grant Master of Science degrees.

Berman’s bill would allow private, non-profit educational institutions to be exempt from the board’s authority.

That’s exactly what creationists need to do. It’s sad, really. In order to grant their pretend-science degrees, they need to be exempt from any standards or realities. It’s the entire basis of the creationist life.

“I don’t believe I came from a salamander that crawled out of a swamp millions of years ago,” Berman told FOXNews.com. “I do believe in creationism. I do believe there are gaps in evolution.

Good, Leo. I don’t believe I came from a salamander either. But the reason – and it’s a real kicker – I don’t believe that is because I’m not fucking stupid.

“But when you ask someone who believes in evolution, if you ask one of the elitists who believes in evolution about the gaps, they’ll tell you that the debate is over, that there is no debate, evolution is the thing, it’s the only way to go.”

Still with this “elitist” stuff? It seems like that’s just code for “people who aren’t as dumb as Sarah Palin”. But ya know, maybe those silly conservatives are on to something. Who wants “elitists” around anyway? They make us feel inferior and force us to appreciate that there are people better at things and more knowledgable than we are. I say do away with all the elitists. The NBA? Get rid of Paul Pierce. The NHL? Get rid of Zdeno Chara. The NFL? Screw Tom Brady. The MLB doesn’t need David Ortiz. Do away with them all.** And in the colleges and universities? Same policy. I want my education to be as good as an over-40 league game of softball played on a rocky, unpainted field that has a ratty glove standing in for third base.

The ICR issued a statement affirming that it is a legitimate educational institute that employs credentialed Ph.D. scientists from around the country. It insisted that the “THECB [Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board] has acted discriminatorily against the ICR’s application both in process and in the substance of fact,” and it said “THECB allowed influence of evolution-biased lobbying efforts to influence process and outcome.”

Good. I like my education biased toward reality.

Berman sees the board’s decision to deny ICR certification as a double standard.

“If a school’s teaching all evolution, would that be a balanced education?” he asked. “So it’s the same thing on both ends of the stick.”

This presumes that teaching creationism qualifies as education. If it does, teaching Alice in Wonderland as fact qualifies as well.

_____

*Yes, he was born in Connecticut.
**Yes, I have a Boston sports bias.

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