I Sing The Body Electric: Program Notes — this afternoon at 5 EST 2 PST

It is once more that time of the month:  I’ll be doing another of my interviews on Virtually Speaking Science, live from the Exploratorium’s hall in Second Life!

My guest this month is Cynthia Graber.  Cynthia is a double-threat science journalist, working in both print and radio; she’s currently at MIT, as it happens, as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow.

Most recently, Cynthia’s been blazing trail in what is rapidly becoming a new genre for nonfiction — what I’ve been calling in my head the non-fiction novella, stories that explode the seams of even length-happy magazines like The New Yorker or The Atlantic, but that do not require a full book’s level of engagement.  These e-book shorts appear now as Kindle Singles, TED books, Byliner projects and more. Perhaps the most discussed in the community I hang with has been the approach pioneered by The Atavist, which adds a fair amount of computing to the text in books sold both as e-texts and as apps.  The other eye-catcher in this domain recently has been the Matter project — a Kickstarter-funded start-up dedicated to original reported and investigative stories centered on science.

Cynthia wrote what became Matter’s second publication, Electric Shock: How Electricity Could Be The Key To Human RegenerationIt’s a story of a Tufts University researcher named Michael Levin, who believes he is on track to work out pathways through which humans could emulate the salamander and regenerate damaged or lost body parts0.


His approach is out of the mainstream for what begins as a kind of out-there body of research, as he focuses not on genetics or stem cell research, but on the electrical signalling functions of our biology.

It’s a wild subject, meticulously and carefully handled.  We’ll be talking about that — and about the perils of reporting on science when the line between the daring and the too-far-out-there isn’t always that easy to discern. That’ll cover most of the hour, but we will also save some time to talk about this brave new world of forms and genres emerging in the context of the new media ecosystem.  Should be fun; stop by if you have a chance.

Listen here.  The program will be available later as a podcast at that link to Blog Talk Radio and on iTunes — look for us under Virtually Speaking Science.

If you’re a virtual world type, you can join the live Second Life audience here.

Again timing:  5 p.m. today Eastern time; 10 p.m. in London; 2 p.m. in the land of my youth over there on the left coast.

Image: Hans Canon,  The Salamander, 1863.

Open Minds, Closed Hearts

Ahh Kentucky.  And people wonder why the state’s aggregate IQ drops by a measurable amount when I cross the Ohio River to go to work in the mornings.  Stories like this just depress me.

Kentucky’s Senate Republicans pushed successfully in 2009 to tie the state’s testing program to national education standards, but three years later, they’re questioning the results.

Several GOP lawmakers questioned new proposed student standards and tests that delve deeply into biological evolution during a Monday meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education.

In an exchange with officials from ACT, the company that prepares Kentucky’s new state testing program, those lawmakers discussed whether evolution was a fact and whether the biblical account of creationism also should be taught in Kentucky classrooms.

“I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution,” Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, said Tuesday in an interview.

To recap:  Republicans insisted the state meet new national education testing guidelines to comply with NCLB.  The state hired a company to write the tests specifically to improve education to make the state’s students better educated and more competitive in the global marketplace.  Three years later, Republicans are horrified to find out the tests teach evolution.

The GOP response is pathetic.

Givens said he and other legislators have been contacted by a number of educators with concerns about Kentucky’s proposed new science standards, which are tied to ACT testing and are scheduled to be adopted this fall.

“I think we are very committed to being able to take Kentucky students and put them on a report card beside students across the nation,” Givens said. “We’re simply saying to the ACT people we don’t want what is a theory to be taught as a fact in such a way it may damage students’ ability to do critical thinking.”

Yes, because if you don’t also teach the “theory” that invisible bearded floaty guy built the Earth on a giant Sims program 6,000 years ago, you’re a close minded bigot.  I demand Catholic schools teach Islam, Daoism, Shintoism, Judaism, Pastafarianism, and Pagan studies in science class or they’re close minded bigots too.  See how this works?

Last time I checked, biology was a science, not a comparative religion course.

Oh, but it gets worse.

Another committee member, Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said he had a problem with evolution being an important part of biology standards.

The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up,” Waide said. “My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.”

You sir are the dumbest mofo on Earth, and I am offended that you are an elected lawmaker in the Commonwealth.  Your ignorance is so astounding that I have to believe you actually don’t exist, because nobody can be this stupid and survive without collapsing under the density of their own idiocy.

Seriously, evolution has “never stood up to scientific scrutiny”?  When you refuse to get involved in elections and local politics and the world around you, these are the people that get elected, Kentucky. My job is to fix that.  I have a lot of work to do, of course.

“Sí Se Puede” On POTUS’s DREAM Deferral

So yes, it turns out that President Obama can do something about deportation, the DREAM act, and undocumented students.

President Obama will announce a new immigration policy this morning that will allow some undocumented students to avoid deportation and receive work authorization.

Under the president’s “deferred action” executive order, students in the U.S. who are already in deportation proceedings or those who qualify for the DREAM Act and have yet to come forward to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, will not be deported and will be allowed to work in the United States.

An estimated 1 million young people could benefit from the deferral. To be eligible, applicants have to be between 15 and 30 years old, live in the U.S. for five years, and maintain continuous U.S. residency. People who have one felony, one serious misdemeanor, or three minor misdemeanors will be ineligible to apply. “Deferred action” will last for two years and can be renewed.

Obama is expected to speak about this new policy later today.

The Associated Press is already using terms like “immunity” and “amnesty”.  Republicans are expected to explode in 5…4…3…

[UPDATE Yep, Malkin and Co. throwing a fit according to Memeorandum.  And yes, the downside of executive branch action?  This program dies screaming the instant Mitt Romney should take office.  Might want to keep this in mind.

[UPDATE 2]  More on the announcement from MSNBC:

The Department of Homeland Security said that, effective immediately, the government would no longer seek the deportation of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, and would allow them to apply for work permits if they meet certain criteria.

“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in a statement Friday.

A senior administration official said in a conference call with reporters that as many as 800,000 undocumented immigrants stand to benefit from this change. Napolitano said that the shift represented neither immunity nor amnesty — buzzwords for conservatives who oppose illegal immigration — but instead represented an instance of “prosecutorial discretion” in which the government had re-evaluated its priorities in enforcing the law.

Echoing the comments of several in this thread, “Your move, Mittens”.

Quaint Island Customs

I picked up this coaster at a bar last night and I have no idea what the flip side means (click to embiggen).  Can someone more familiar with the Island code clue me in?

Here’s today’s Netroots schedule for those of you playing along at home.  K-thug is on at 9.

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WONKETTE EXCLUSIVE: Breitbart Was A Pimp; O’Keefe Just a Whore

For serious. Hat tip to commentor Egg Berry, and much applause for Wonketteers Matthew Phelan and Liz Farkas:

… Very independent citizen-journalist James O’Keefe and his equally self-funded co-star in the ACORN stings, Hannah Giles, got real paid shortly after finishing their videos in the early fall of 2009, according to depositions taken three weeks ago. The pair admitted under oath to signing contracts with (the now recently deceased) Andrew Breitbart and his business partner, attorney Larry Solov, for the sum total of $120,000. Pretty shocking, right? You could buy a fairly high-end sex boat with that kind of cash. Or, one could, anyway…
Studious observers of the ACORN video controversies may recall that Vera was the ACORN employee who called local police to report on James O’Keefe’s and Hannah Giles’ pimp/boyfriend and prostitute characters just hours after speaking with them. Really abnormally obsessive observers might also recall that the full transcript of the hidden-camera video concludes with O’Keefe and Giles debating with each other over why exactly Vera is photographing their license plate from across the parking lot. The two would ultimately tell the media that Vera had agreed to help them smuggle underage prostitutes through Tijuana and that he wanted to solicit the services of Giles’ prostitute character.
According to his recent testimony, O’Keefe ultimately received $65,000 for his “life rights” from Breitbart in $5000/month installments from September 2009 until September 2010 (terminating roughly around the time that O’Keefe’s failed sex boating of a CNN reporter started to make headlines). Giles, who testified the day after O’Keefe, was also supposed to receive $60,000 per year (or $5,000 per month) but was only compensated $32,000 over the course of ten months from December 2009 to September 2010. Breitbart had reduced her monthly salary to $3,000 beginning around April 2010 and terminated Giles that summer. (There may be a Lily Ledbetter Act lawsuit in Ms. Giles’s future.)…
The new details brought out by the recent depositions have done much to complicate the carefully crafted public narrative of the videos’ development. Breitbart and several others had been involved in the planning stages beginning in July 2009, following a period wherein O’Keefe and Giles had shopped around their East Coast ACORN videos basically like a pilot. “They discussed ACORN during their [Breitbart and O’Keefe’s] first phone conversation,” Iredale tells us. “Andrew Breitbart knew about Mr. O’Keefe’s plans before the West Coast videos were made, and he was aware they were recording people without their knowledge or consent.” During his deposition, O’Keefe refused to provide any details from those early discussions that did not directly pertain to the making of the San Diego video, as per the instruction of his attorney, Mike Madigan….

Much more detail at the link. Be nice if Mr. Vera could get his reputation restored, even though it’s too late to save ACORN from being (further) codified by Wingnut Wurlitzer slander. Given past performance, I assume that O’Keefe has already attempted to pin everything on his dead capo… in the best Breitbart/Drudge tradition, perhaps a chainmail rumor will be mounted that St. Andrew the Angry was murdered by his treacherous underling(s) in an attempt to shift the limelight? Be interesting to see whether O’Keefe’s d/b/a Project VeritasMyAss rates go up or down as a result of this.