Today is an opportune moment to revisit a story that got lost in the hub-bub over biology cirriculum and campaign ads. Certainly a tale that's all trick and no treat.
Today is an opportune moment to revisit a story that got lost in the hub-bub over biology cirriculum and campaign ads. Certainly a tale that's all trick and no treat.
... you'd think he would lose his job. After all, is it too much to ask that police officers comply with the laws they are sworn to enforce? It's bad enough that Michigan state troopers gratuitously bust the speed limits on our highways while on patrol, we now learn from this evening's Grand Rapids Press that a trooper now can be convicted of drunken driving, filing a false police report, and other offenses and still keep his badge.
Twelve years ago Trooper David Meder was convicted of drunken driving after crashing his truck on the way home from a state police meeting. His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. Nevertheless he was transferred to a new post in Traverse City, keeping his badge and his job as a highway patrolman. Earlier this year, Meder left a Traverse City bar, apparently drunk, in his Chevy Suburban and then plowed it into a utility pole. He fled the scene and on the next day reported to the police that his vehicle had been stolen.
The investigation revealed that Meder had lied, and so he pled guilty to a couple of misdemeanors related to the accident. However, he didn't get nabbed for drunken driving, because the only evidence of his intoxication was a statement by a bartender that Meder appeared drunk when he left the bar. Of course, because he ran away from the crash and hid out at home until the next morning, there was no chance of the police getting a timely blood test from him. But then, Meder is a cop and knows better than John Q. Public what his responsibilities are at the scene of an accident he caused. Even if evading those responsibilities allowed him to escape a drunken driving charge, surely that means a two-time loser like him lost his job as trooper, right?
Well, no. Apparently his gross violation of his oath to uphold the law is no big deal with the Michigan State Police. They have transferred Meder to a post in South Haven where he has been assigned, incredibly, road patrol duty. The poor excuse that the top cop shop has given for not firing Meder is that he is protected by his union and can be terminated in only "very, very, very extreme circumstances". Like what? Killing someone while driving drunk?
This is an Alice-in-Wonderland world, folks. How is it that a twice-convicted cop has a greater claim on the public purse than the public has on him to conduct himself lawfully and honorably?
Last night I caught on t.v. an ad supporting Governor Granholm's re-election. Like the ad I saw last week, it was a little slick with the truth. Looks like Guv Jen and her gang want to make it clear, as challenger Dick DeVos and his crew have done, that the truth is no obstacle to electoral success this fall.
In the ad the announcer declared that DeVos wants to ban stem cell research and that Granholm supports it and the cures that research has provided for disease. The ad is dishonest, because:  What DeVos opposes is public funding of embryonic stem cell research, and  only adult and umbilical chord stem cell research, which DeVos supports, has yielded treatments for disease so far. Thus, the ad smears DeVos (doesn't he do a good enough job of smearing himself?) while obscuring an important campaign issue: Whether or not taxpayer dollars should finance embryonic stem cell research. Granholm thinks so and DeVos doesn't.
You see, there are three sources of stem cells. Embryos, umbilical chords, and adults. Opposition to embryonic stem cell research, or at least public funding of it, is premised on the fact that an embryo is killed when its stem cells are extracted from it. No one is killed by harvesting stem cells from umbilical chords or adults. So the moral issue surrouding embryonic stem cell research is hardly frivolous and merits better than the ad's demogoguery implying that DeVos wants people to suffer by blocking research into a breakthrough medical technology.
Beyond that, there is the practical matter of requiring the taxpayers to finance embryonic stem cell research. After decades of research, it still offers no promise of any treatment for disease, let alone a cure. However, adult stem cell research has produced about seventy different therapies actually helping sufferers of disease right now. So adult stem cell research is real, while embryonic stem cell research remains pie in the sky. Little wonder the latter doesn't attract the investment of private capital like the former. In that case, why should the taxpayers step up to the plate to finance embryonic stem cell research when private investors won't?
Granholm says the taxpayers should. But don't they deserve a better argument from her than dishonesty about what DeVos opposes and promises of cures that embryonic stem cell research has yet to keep?
Last week the Grand Rapids Press ran an editorial opposing Proposal 2, the November referendum to end race- and sex-based preferences in college admissions, state jobs, and government contracts. Yesterday it ran a story announcing that a white supremacist group, the Michigan chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, supports Proposal 2. Below the headline "Photo shows Proposal 2's extremist ties, say critics", the Press displayed a photograph of the CCC's chairman, John Raterink, shaking the hand of Ward Connerly, the leader of a state-by-state anti-racial preference campaign that put Proposal 2 on the ballot.
Whatever ones thinks of Proposal 2, the article is a cheap shot against it and the founder of the movement behind it that hardly amounts to news. The basis for the story is nothing more than the waving of the bloody shirt by a local opponent of Proposal 2 who found the photograph of Raterink and Connerly on the CCC's website. As it turns out, Connerly was shaking hands of supporters of Proposal 2 at a public event, one of whom was Raterink who asked to have his picture taken with Connerly. Connerly states that he didn't know who Raterink was or his association with the CCC at the time the photograph was taken. Anyone familiar with politics knows these sort of embarrassing photos pop up all the time, because politicians shake hands with everyone.
It hardly amounts to "extremist ties", as the Press declared, between the campaign to pass Proposal 2 and some pathetic bigots who happen to support it. Moreover, absent from the Press has been coverage of the radical group "By Any Means Necessary" that has used racial intimidation, state agencies, and the courts to try to deny Michiganders even the opportunity to vote for or against Proposal 2. Having failed to stop Proposal 2 from getting on the ballot, the group has resorted to hooliganism at debates on the measure to silence its proponents.
That's actually news. It's serious when a group like "By Any Means Necessary" employs brown-shirt tactics to derail an election. As loathsome as Raterink and his crew of racists are, at least none of them are trying to monkey-wrench the democratic process. Yet, there's no similar story in the Press about how opponents to Proposal 2 have "extremist ties". It appears that the Press is not able to contain its opposition to Proposal 2 to the editorial page and has let it spill into the news section by acts of both commission and omission.
As many of you know, Michigan State University is moving its medical school to Grand Rapids. The school will need a new building in the vicinity of Spectrum Health, the DeVos-Cook Center, and the Van Andel Institute. The university's board of trustees have approved the expenditure of $70 million for the construction of that building, and Spectrum Health has agreed to pony up $55 million toward that cost. And that's only the start. So far $100 million has been committed to the project by MSU, Spectrum, and the VAI.
Well, folks, just taking account of nothing more than the money put up for bricks and mortar, there's a lot of public money from taxpayers and health-care ratepayers sloshing around. So who's the contractor who'll get his hands on all that dough? Is it really any surprise that it will be Amway co-founder Rich DeVos? The university trustees favor building the medical school at the Michigan Hill medical complex that DeVos's RDV Corp. is currently developing in conjunction with Christman Co. of Lansing. It's no coincidence that the Michigan Hill location found that favor after Spectrum Health, of which DeVos is a current board member, past chairman, and high profile benefactor, announced that it will cover most of the cost of construction plus another $30 million for operations.
(And I'm sure it didn't hurt when the other Amway clan, the Van Andels, committed $16 million over the next eight years from the Van Andel Institute to finance research at the new medical school. Then again, maybe it didn't make much of a difference. If you think about it, for the scale of the medical school project, what the Van Andels promised is a paltry sum -- two million bucks a year -- compared to Spectrum Health's gift of $85 million up front. But then the $16 million is coming out the pockets of the Van Andels, whereas the $85 million is ultimately coming from you, Mr. & Mrs. John Q. Public, as health-care consumers. Little wonder then that DeVos's Spectrum Health is more generous with your money than the Van Andels are with their own.)
Mind you, the Michigan Hill medical complex is probably a good spot for the MSU medical school. I should certainly think so, because I own a home in Heritage Hill only a couple of blocks away. All this development will only increase its value. Yet, precisely what is the value that the taxpayers and health-care ratepayers will realize from this expensive project? We know how the DeVoses will benefit from the construction of the medical school and how the Van Andels will benefit from a research alliance between the VAI and MSU. But what does the public get from the expenditure of all this public money? Many grand promises so far about a bio-tech boom in River City, but so far no particulars about how ordinary people paying the bill reap any benefit from that.
Apparently the budget, crime, and infrastructure problems of River City aren't enough to keep Big Sister, a.k.a. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, busy. So he wandered over to Spring Lake last week to complain to the U.S. Coast Guard about its plan to designate practice firing ranges on the Great Lakes.
The purpose of the new ranges is provide machine gun training to crews of Coast Guard vessels that patrol the boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada to deter jihadists from entering the country via the Great Lakes. Apparently border security isn't high on Big Sister's list of concerns, because he demanded that the Coast Guard cease weapons training on the Great Lakes. He claimed that he was gravely concerned about how the lead from spent ammunition could poison our water quality.
Interesting, because Big Sister doesn't have this concern about the thirteen tons of lead (along with a 26,000-ton potpourri of soil contaminated with arsenic, mercury, and other poisons) that the Boardwalk developers dumped into the abandoned underground tanks of the old Monroe Avenue water filtration plant back in 2000. In fact, this self-proclaimed guardian of our water quality has had nothing to say about this egregious violation of state and federal environmental statutes. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that, as a city commissioner, Heartwell supported the city's sale of the filtration plant to one of the Boardwalk developers to "store" soil in the abandoned tanks.
Or maybe it has to do with then-City staffer Corky Overmeyer (and now Big Sister's $150,000-a-year "environmental sustainability" manager) ordering the developers to punch huge holes into the bottoms of those tanks, which has allowed over the past six years all that lead, arsenic, and mercury to leach into the groundwater below and migrate into the Grand River only one hundred yards away.
Whatever his excuse, is it really too much to ask of Big Sister to pick the poison that matters to the residents of Grand Rapids? Probably. Just one more example of Heartwell's sanctimony about every topic under the sun except the ones he has responsibility for and can fix.
At the beginning of the week L.A.W. posted the article “Darwinism Isn’t Science”, in which I criticized the Michigan State Board of Education for mandating the teaching of Darwinism in biology classes as fact rather than conjecture as to how life evolved on Earth. The board was plainspoken about the impetus for this decision. They did not want Intelligent Design to also be taught as a competing explanation for evolution. In fact, the board wanted to stamp out completely any possibility that children learn in public schools that Darwinism is not fact. Hence they ruled, for example, that the Darwinian principle of natural selection is, rather than may be, the primary mechanism of evolution.
Of course, the members of the state board of education are political creatures and so politics influences policy. They were certainly reacting to the atrocious intrusion of federal power into local school curriculum by U.S. District Court John Jones who declared by judicial fiat in last year’s Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District decision that Intelligent Design is not science and so is banned from public school science classes. Without regard to the merits of his lengthy opinion about the status of Intelligent Design as science, Jones’s ruling assaults the First Amendment and the sovereignty of the states. It stinks of Lysenkoism, in which the government dictates what will and will not be permitted in public discourse about science.
So, one might argue that it was politically prudent of the state board of education to scrub Intelligent Design from the biology curriculum in light of the expansive power of federal courts today. No doubt the defense of a state’s sovereignty to sort out its own affairs, such as public education, is a lost cause in the current judicial environmental. Yet, the board did not merely do that. They went beyond Kitzmiller to enshrine Darwinism as the one and only explanation for how evolution occurred. The problem is that as a matter of science it is not*, and so the board members who backed this decision in a unanimous vote are as much Lysenkoists as Judge Jones is. They let politics and ideology dictate what constitutes science rather than sound broadly-accepted philosophical principles.
THE FLYING MONKEY BRIGADE
If there is any doubt that Darwinism has been wrapped into a particular ideology, consider what happened here at L.A.W. this week. The flying monkey brigade of one such ideologue was loosed upon us and invaded the comment section of the “Darwinism Isn’t Science” article, because we had the temerity to question the exclusivity of Darwinism as the scientific explanation for evolution. The ideologue is Ed Brayton, host of a ScienceBlogs website called “Dispatches from the Culture Wars”. Much of the squawking of the flying monkeys was nothing but the recycling of jabs Brayton took at us at his website. A cursory perusal of his website will clarify their agenda behind Darwinism. For example, Brayton had this to say the other day: “No, not every [Intelligent Design] advocate is also an anti-gay bigot, but there certainly is a great deal of overlap there. While there is no necessary relationship between the two positions, they do tend to appeal to the same audience of protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals. But the battle against both goes hand in hand for me.”
So it is this political animus against Christians that set the tone of Brayton’s minions in their comments here at L.A.W. It is an irrational animus that blinds both Brayton and them to any reasonable distinctions that might be made by those who disagree with their agenda. Case in point, L.A.W.’s criticism of the recent decision of the Michigan State Board of Education to mandate Darwinism as fact in public schools. They do not grasp the possibility that a person can demur from teaching Darwinian natural selection as the mechanism of evolution in biology classes for rational reasons that have nothing to do with Intelligent Design, the supernatural, or religion. Hence, the repeated refrain by Brayton at his website and his cohorts in L.A.W.’s comment section that I am stumping for Intelligent Design when I did nothing more than report what the state board of education was opposing. For them the world is black and white. Either you are a rational man of science, liberal politics, and secular culture or you are a hateful Bible-thumping wretch salivating to extinguish the flame of the Enlightenment.
While Brayton and his gang are extreme, their intolerance of a theistic worldview infects mainstream science, politics, and culture. It manifests itself in the mainstream with a low-grade paranoia that any challenge to a secularized public square must entail a theocratic impulse to regiment society to the will of pastors and priests. It justifies itself in the mainstream as a noble and enlightened defense of the wall separating church and state (which in fact our Constitution never built). And so a panel of education officials in Lansing declares that Darwinism is the theory of evolution in our public schools to keep religion out of them, with a Lysenkoist ignorance of the actual grounding of the claims of Darwinism in science, a slavish abdication of independent thought to academic authorities jealous of their prerogative to dictate what constitutes science, and an obliviousness to a First Amendment that strips the government of the power to impede free speech and the free exercise of religion.
They do so, contrary to reason and law, because they are on a crusade to cleanse the public square of religion. The members of the state board of education are not the shock troops, that’s the mission of the likes of Brayton and his flying monkey brigade to intimidate laymen from voicing their doubts about what some try to traffic as science. Instead their fellow-traveling board members hold the ground so yielded by the general public and secure it with the bulwark of bureaucracy. Therefore, what they do is more enduring and so more corrosive of our liberties. That is why it is important to examine the state school board’s seemingly routine policy decisions, like this one. It is Lysenkoism. It falsely mandates Darwinism as the only explanation for evolution. Thus, it prohibits within the public square of the classroom free inquiry as to how evolution transpired. And so the state school board’s decision undermines the tolerance of divergent worldviews vital to sustaining a genuinely liberal society.
* Darwinism isn’t science. At least it is not a scientific theory of evolution, despite all of the howling to the contrary by Brayton’s boys here at L.A.W. (See the footnote of our previous article on this subject for the distinction science makes between theory, hypothesis, and conjecture.) One might say that the theory of evolution is the scientific explanation for the fossil record – i.e., the fossil record is the result of the descent of all organisms from a common ancestor through modification of form. It is a sound explanation and no facts exist to refute it. I will say however that it is not theory, in the sense that general relativity is a scientific theory, but it is a complex of hypotheses, in the sense that the standard model of the Big Bang is.
That said, Darwinism and its progeny are sets of conjectures as to the mechanism for evolution – in other words, what caused organisms to change form over time. The only hard facts of evolution are the fossil record of past organisms and the biology of present ones. These facts, at least our present understanding of them, do not let us draw any firm conclusions as to how organisms evolved over the past four billion years. This is not say that evolutionary biologists are full of nonsense or that none of the conjectures they have put forth make any sense. It is nothing more than the recognition of the gap between an explanation and its verification through observation or experimentation.
For example, the Galapagos finches are cited as verification of the Darwinian claim of evolution through natural selection. We have indeed observed within historical time variation in those finches, especially their beaks in response to environmental pressures. However, all this really tells is something already known. Many species of organism are elastic within certain boundaries as to form, as the beaks of Galapagos finches have changed back and forth depending upon the available food source. What we have not observed is a finch’s beak turning into a set of teeth so that it can start chewing, let’s say, grass and leaves. In short, we have not seen a species “jumping” the boundaries of its form’s elasticity. The fossil record certainly shows us it must have happened, but we have no theory as to how. Only conjecture.
This is why mandating the teaching of Darwinism as the theory of evolution, rather as a conjecture as to how it might have occurred, is a gross scientific error on the part of the Michigan State Board of Education.
We have, of course, taken Dick DeVos to task for his slippery rhetoric and dishonesty in his campaign for governor. Governor Jennifer Granholm hasn't been much better. Today she ran a campaign ad on t.v. declaring that she would never take money from our public schools to give tax breaks to "rich corporations".
Oh really? And what is her economic plan founded upon other than tax breaks to select companies? According to the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, in April Guv Jen doled out $40 million in tax breaks to General Motors to retool a couple of its plants. In September she gave away $28 million in tax breaks to Ford to overhaul its powertrain plant in Flint. The month before she told Ford she is ready to "invest" $151 million in the company to retain 50,000 jobs in Michigan. That figure would be in addition to the $315 million in tax breaks and loans that the good governor showered upon favored businesses in just August and September this year as the campaign heated up.
No doubt Guv Jen has a slick answer about how all these giveaways don't contradict her campaign ad, just don't believe it.
GUV JEN HASN'T A CLUE ...
The governor's race has focused upon what policies will best generate jobs in Michigan. Governor Jennifer Granholm's campaign has skewered her opponent Dick DeVos, because his family's company, Amway Corporation, took $965,000 in corporate welfare from the state in the early '90s to keep from moving a distribution center to Georgia. However, corporate welfare is the key to Guv Jen's economic program to create new jobs in Michigan. So far her administration has handed out $315 million in tax breaks and government loans to Michigan businesses, and she is trying to give even more taxpayer dollars away to flailing automakers General Motors and Ford.
Thus, Amway sucked up the taxpayers' cash just like she wants any business to do that she picks out as recipient for corporate welfare. So Guv Jen's criticism of Dick Jr. is in fact an indictment of her own plan for revitalizing the state's economy -- and a somewhat incoherent one at that. But then, when it comes to business, Granholm hasn't a clue. There is nothing she, or any public official, can do to sort out the mess the big automakers are in. Automaking is going through a revolution in technology and international trade, and General Motors and Ford are on the skids today, because they didn't prepare for the future. Guv Jen forking over our tax dollars to the companies in the vain hope of job creation by them is no better than setting fire to the money.
If Granholm can't figure out the fundamental problems with two large and very well-covered companies like GM and Ford, then why should we have any comfort in her decision to pour more than a hundred million taxpayer dollars into small "high-tech" businesses? If the pros on Wall Street were blind to pumping billions of dollars of capital into a dead-end high-tech sector just before it collapsed half a decade ago, who in his right mind thinks the governor, beauty queen/lawyer/politician, is going to place smarter bets on high-tech? It's just another rathole for the taxpayers.
What's particular disgusting about Guv Jen's whole approach to the economy during this campaign is that she indulges in business-bashing to appease her union contributors while stumping for more and more corporate welfare. It would appear that Granholm thinks a business is respectable only if it takes a hand-out from the state. So why Amway, Dick Jr., and his family don't shine in her eyes, I just don't know. After all, none of them have been shy about taking millions of taxpayer dollars to fund their business ventures.
... BUT THEN DOES DICK?
And that now brings us to DeVos's promise to revitalize the Michigan economy. Actually he's been short on specifics. Of course, he says that the hated Single Business Tax (which is an insane way to raise revenues) must go. Even Guv Jen sees the sense in that. But he says in a vague way that Michigan businesses will have to replace the two billion dollars that the tax collects annually by paying some other sorts of taxes, while not promising to put an end to Guv Jen's corporate welfare programs. That still boils down to the same old pipe-dream of the government boosting the economy by collecting taxes from most businesses and then forking over the largesse to favored businesses supposedly incentivized to create new jobs.
What DeVos really expects voters to do is rely upon his claimed business acumen to finesse better than Granholm this old and discredited redistribution plan. Setting aside the fact that these redistribution plans have never worked to the benefit of taxpayers (only to politicians who make themselves look good by handing out the cash), let's take a look at whether or not Dick Jr. has the savvy to make it work somehow.
We can start with his corporate experience. He landed a job as Amway's chief executive from 1993 to 2002 because -- well, because he was the owner's son. DeVos boasts that as the boss he pulled the company out of the dumper. Keeping in mind that Amway was fishing around for chump-change corporate welfare checks before he took over, and it is now apparently profitable, let's take him at his word. But he didn't improve the performance of Amway so well that it became a bigger employer in Michigan. In fact, it is now a smaller employer, and part of that is because under DeVos the company lacked the clout to tell the Chinese that Amway will supply products to that country from its factory in Michigan.
Now Dick Jr. is chief executive of Windquest, a small closet-organizer company. That wasn't the case in 1989 when he founded the company as a venure capital firm. One of the big opportunities Windquest passed up was buying Prince Corporation, a successful automotive component supplier owned by his wife's father. Her father died intestate, which meant estate taxes had to be paid on it. What a chance for Dick Jr. running a venture capital firm to pick up a large and profitable manufacturer -- you know, a REAL business. He passed. Instead Windquest went downmarket, closed its doors to the venture capital trade, and bought a small outfit making trays and shelves for storing the clutter in closets.
By criticizing DeVos on this score, I do not mean to denigrate small businessmen. It takes a solid set of skills most people lack to keep a company running, big or small. But let's face it. If you have a lot of capital to throw at a small business to keep it going, you haven't done anything special. And that brings us to how well Dick Jr. does picking business investments. We need look no further than the Alterra fiasco, in which Dick Jr., his family, and their associated ventures flushed away $173 million over the course of a few years. That is sufficient evidence that we cannot trust DeVos to pick the right businesses to invest our tax dollars in.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
So neither candidate has given us good reasons to trust their plans for rejuvenating the Michigan economy. Governor Granholm doesn't understand business. She thinks that corporate welfare is the way to make a business successful. What eludes her is why a business needs the hand-out in the first place. If private capital isn't willing to take the risk to invest in a business, what in heaven makes Granholm think that the taxpayers should then step up to the plate? It is one thing to reduce the overall tax and regulatory burdens the state places upon business, so that start-ups have lower hurdles to clear on their way to becoming successful businesses and already-successful businesses are attracted to the state's friendly climate. It's another to tax one business to give that money to another. It doesn't work, plain and simple.
And Dick DeVos isn't going to make the unworkable work because of his self-proclaimed business acumen. If he indeed had that acumen, he could make a persuasive case to the voters as to how lessened burdens upon business actually increase jobs and the taxbase in Michigan instead of vaguely arguing he will make things work better than Granholm has. In any event, it just isn't clear from his record that DeVos has the business acumen he says he does. So the bottom line when it comes to the state's economy, the voters have a choice in the governor's race between Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.
Doug Hoogerland, the principal of Crestwood Elementary School in Rockford, has yanked from the school the traditonal Halloween party, with the kids wearing spooky costumes and exchanging candy with one another, and replaced it with a "Fall into Fitness" campaign. Hmm. Sounds drearily puritan to me, though dumping Halloween tricks and treats for an endorsement of athletic vigor is certainly within Hoogerland's authority. And it's good that he has that authority, because a principal should be free to make most of the decisions regarding his school.
However, I find it interesting why Hoogerland chose to eliminate the school's Halloween party. He was concerned that the Halloween theme alienated some of the students and their families. No doubt that it does, particularly among some Christians who think Halloween is nothing but a celebration of very un-Christian ideas. Though I think an elementary school Halloween party is nothing but good ol' fashioned fun, I will not belittle those who find the holiday offensive to their religious beliefs.
What I will question is why the public square, in this instance a public school, must be sterilized of ideas and activities offensive to some who enter into it? After all, isn't one of the supposed benefits of public schools, as the educrats keep telling us, that it provides children with the experience of encountering those who are different from them so that they learn the give-and-take essential to a tolerant, peaceful, and prosperous society? How healthy a lesson is it for a kid to learn that what he deems offensive will be banned? Isn't it a better lesson for him to learn how to deal with the offensive beliefs of others instead of enforcing silence upon them?
Well, of course, it is. The same goes for those secularists who cringe at encountering any evidence of religious belief in a public school. Their sensitivities do not deserve to be spared from offense any more than the handful of Christians who object to Halloween parties. The sooner kids learn that there's a great big world out there with lots of ideas they don't agree with, the better citizens they will be. Not because they will become conditioned to compromising their beliefs, but because they will acquire the skills to hold to what they believe is true while tolerating those who believe otherwise. Therefore, Hoogerland's decision to ban Halloween is a failure on this score.
I find it interesting how a group can dump into the news media its propoganda in the form of a scientific-sounding "study" or "paper", which the media then uncritically regurgitates to the public as fact. That happened yesterday on the front page of the Grand Rapids Press.
Under the headline "Report puts violent deaths in Iraq at 600,000", the Press recycled a short article from the Los Angeles Times that a "team of researchers" published an estimate that 601,027 Iraqis have died violent deaths since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Setting aside how the number 601,027 seems rather precise for an estimate, the article makes no mention of the methodology of these researchers. Nor does it state the estimates of this figure from other sources. Moreover, the article does not report the relationship of the researchers with anti-war organizations.
Finally, there is no attempt in the article to make this estimate comprehensible to the reader. For example, 601,027 violent deaths since March 2003 means 470 Iraqis have been killed EVERY single day. That is not a level of carnage that news media, even as lazy and sloppy as I think most in the business are, would have missed. Yet the Press passes along the figure as front-page news because some professor says it's so. This is not news and does not belong in the newspaper.
Yesterday the Michigan Board of Education voted 8-0 to mandate the teaching of Darwinism in science classes to the exclusion of all other hypotheses or conjectures about evolution, namely Intelligent Design. The educrats piously committed themselves to ensuring that only science is taught in science classes. Well, that's good. The problem is that Darwinism isn't science.
There is a great deal confusion about evolution. For instance, what does the word mean? If evolution means that organisms have changed form over the billions of years since life originated on Earth, who can seriously dispute that? Sure, there are the Young-Earthers who misread Genesis as a science text to draw the factually unfounded conclusion that our planet is only 6,000 years old. The Board of Education rightly excludes from the classroom their psuedo-science which is refuted by the well-established facts of paleontology.
But if evolution is synonymous with Darwinism, then evolution is not science and should no more be taught in science classes than the creationism of the Young-Earthers. Darwinism is a conjecture (not a scientific theory as it is commonly mislabeled) as to HOW living organisms first originated on Earth and then changed into other organisms over time. As to origins, the Darwinist conjecture is that non-living matter combined in some manner to become living creatures. As to evolution, the Darwinist conjecture is that natural selection, sometimes called "survival of the fittest", is the mechanism that forced organisms to change form over the eons.
As to whether or not these conjectures are correct, we simply don't know. There is no evidence as to HOW life originated or HOW it later evolved into the plants and animals that now inhabit the Earth. Indeed, the persistent failure of scientists over the past 150 years since Charles Darwin first published his conjectures to establish any scientific foundation for them suggests that Darwinism probably should be consigned to the same dustbin as phlogiston, phrenology, and the steady-state universe.
Nevertheless, the Michigan Board of Education yesterday ordered the teaching of Darwinism as scientific fact in our public classrooms. The basis for doing so was taking testimony from experts who are professed Darwinists that Darwinism is science. They get away with this by conflating Darwinism with evolution. Nobody seriously disputes the facts of evolution. There is, after all, an extensive fossil record that different creatures have existed on Earth at different times. The Darwinists then smuggle in with this undisputed record their idea of HOW these observed differences in the fossil record occurred. In doing so, they give their conjectures as to the origin of life and its evolution the same gloss of solidity as the facts of the fossil record.
However, what the fossil record is and what explains it are two separate subjects. The first is science and clearly suitable for instruction in public classrooms. The second is hotly contested and no scientific theory exists regarding it, only a lot of conjectures and a few hypotheses.* To teach that Darwinism is the only scientifically valid explanation of the origin of life and evolution is to seriously misinform students. Whatever one thinks of Intelligent Design (which if nothing else is asking fundamental questions that Darwinism has not answered) it is not the only challenge to the dogma of Darwinism. Even if the American academy is strait-jacketed by Darwinism, this not so in Europe and Asia where scientists are exploiting discoveries in genetics and molecular biology to develop alternatives to the Darwinist account of evolution. Even Lamarckianism, of all things, has gotten a new scientific respectability.
Suffice it to say that in our public schools science classes should teach science, and that science should only be that which is well-established and not seriously disputed. Paleontology, the geological and fossil record of our planet's history, covers the basic facts of evolution and is suitable for public school students. Darwinism and all the other competing explanations for evolution are not, at least not at the introductory level. There is great scientific debate as to how life arose and evolution occurred, and if Darwinism is to be taught, it must be taught in its proper context: One conjecture along with the other conjectures as to what accounts for the origin of life and its evolution.
* In science, a theory is an explanation for a phenomenon that has been validated by observation or experimentation, such as Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. A hypothesis is a proposed explanation that makes claims that are testable by observation or experimentation. The standard model of the Big Bang is a hypothesis that could be reduced to a theory once there is sufficient astronomical observation of its claims. A conjecture is another proposed explanation, uncontradicted by any known fact, that is not presently testable by any practical means. So-called string theory is such a conjecture. It is a fascinating explanation of what the fundamental bits and pieces of our universe may be, but it makes no claims right now that can be tested.
Darwinism is a conjecture in this sense, because we cannot devise any experiment that would prove life could never arise from non-life (you can't prove a negative), nor can we as a practical matter sit around for a few million years to observe whether or not natural selection causes current organisms to evolve into other ones. Interestingly, Intelligent Design (which is whole 'nother kettle of fish from the creationism of the Young-Earthers) is more scientific than Darwinism in this regard. It puts forth the hypothesis of irreducible complexity: The idea that the basic component of life, the cell, could not originate from the blind forces of physics and chemistry bringing together non-living matter to produce it or any predecessor to it. If scientists ever do create life from non-life, that would go a long way to shooting down irreducible complexity and so Intelligent Design.
Perhaps if Intelligent Design marketed itself as "irreducible complexity", like Darwinism markets itself as "natural selection", maybe the educrats could judge these matters more objectively as to their scientific validity (instead of mooning over Spencer Tracy playing Clarence Darrow in "Inherit the Wind" and then fretting that Intelligent Design is a Trojan horse for all those backwoods Bible-beating stump-toothed rubes who want to extinguish the flame of the Enlightenment). Then again, maybe those responsible for setting standards for public school cirriculum should just try to get straight the difference scientists make between conjecture, hypothesis, and theory -- and then decide whether anything more than scientific theory should be taught.
Periodically agribusiness manages to get the politicians and the bureaucrats excited about throwing your tax dollars down a deep dark hole called "alternative fuels", ethanol in particular. The latest ethanol craze comes from the hysteria over this summer's spike in gasoline prices (and hysteria is the word, seeing that last summer's spike was in fact higher and in any event prices have already dropped by almost a third).
Ethanol is an alternative to gasoline made from corn. You can pump it into your car just like gasoline, which will run fine on it. So ethanol is an alternative fuel that is practical for ordinary people to use without much fuss. Plus, people like the idea of growing "gas" right here in our own backyard instead of importing petroleum from all those foreign hotspots. So why not use the stuff?
No reason, except that ethanol is competitive with gasoline only because your tax dollars are subsidizing well-heeled corporations to distill corn into ethanol -- and increased production of this fuel is predicated upon public funding of new ethanol plants. Now, some might say that this tax subsidy is good policy, because it will reduce our dependency upon foreign oil. No, it won't. The prospect of bio-fuels substantially displacing fossil fuels like petroleum is a myth. This is because, as I have noted elsewhere, there is not enough land in this country to grow the biomass needed to dispense with petroleum, let alone coal and natural gas.
But you don't have to take my word for it. On Saturday the Grand Rapids Press ran an opinion piece by Kenneth Piers, a professor of chemistry at Calvin College. Prof. Piers noted that:  Michiganders consume about 5 billion gallons of gasoline annually;  if EVERY bushel of corn grown in Michigan were distilled into ethanol that would produce only 617 million gallons of ethanol;  a gallon of ethanol provides only 65% of the energy of a gallon of gasoline; and finally -- this is the kicker --  the production of 1 unit of ethanol energy requires 3/4 of a unit of petroleum energy (to plant, fertilize, harvest, dry, transport, and distill corn into ethanol among other things).
According to Prof. Piers the bottom line is that ethanol would replace at most 100 million of the 5 billion gallons of gasoline Michiganders use every year, or two percent, and only if the state's entire corn crop went into the production of ethanol. That means no corn for food, including feed for animals we use for food. In other words, ethanol replacing gasoline -- it ain't gonna happen. So, Prof. Piers's closing remark should give us pause about feeding the taxman any more of our dollars for the ethanol boondoggle: "Before we rush into large investments in corn-to-ethanol plants with publicly-funded incentives, we should ponder the realities ..."
On the Tuesday before last, Mayor Heartwell and all six of the Grand Rapids city commissioners gathered on Calder Plaza to endorse a Democratic candidate for one of the seats on the Kent County Board of Commissioners. Unlike their recent endorsements of ballot proposals, the city solons were careful not to make their collective pronouncement from City Hall. Thus, they skirted the city charter's prohibition on party affiliation on the basis that their endorsement was not an official act but seven separate and personal ones.
Yeah, right. ... But then what's so good about the pretense of non-partisanship? Politicians endorse candidates all of the time. There is nothing inherently corrupt about the practice. In fact, I think it's good that Heartwell and the gang showed their true partisan colors to the public, even if the way they did so was shabby. (Nothing stopped each of them from making genuinely personal endorsements in the county commissioner race instead of as a herd corralled for the news media. In short, the collective endorsement was a stunt calculated to exploit the dignity of their public offices.) Why not know who rides a donkey and who rides an elephant?
If nothing else, we now clearly see that we have a mayor and a city commission who are not representative of the voters in the City of Grand Rapids. Unlike them, the voters are roughly split down the middle between the Democratic and Republican parties. This is not to say that party affiliation is definitive as to the policies a politician will support, and a voter is foolish to vote on that basis alone. However, party affiliation isn't meaningless either. It does say a great deal about the general point-of-view of a politician when he publicly stands with a party (or, in the occasional case, when he refuses to do so).
In other words, party affiliation is an important piece of information about a politician, maybe the most important single fact in our two-party system. I cannot think of any good reason why the voters should be denied this information about the men and women who hold the city's elective offices.
On Sunday the Grand Rapids Press ran an interview of Dave Van Andel, one of the Amway heirs who is now running the Van Andel Institute downtown (while selling pills and potions on the side in a non-Amway venture). There was nothing new in news about the institute, and we have already had plenty to say about the Van Andel Institute, including the absence of Jay's fortune in funding the institute and its relationship to the biotech boondoggle. So, I no remarks today about that article.
What caught my eye was a tidbit in a sidebar to the Press article, in which Van Andel was on the defensive regarding the "tools and functions" racket that Amway/Quixtar kingpin distributors operate to fleece the flock fooled into thinking they'll get rich selling soap, vitamins, and doo-dads to friends and relatives. A year ago we ran a three-part series on this scandal within the scandal that is Amway/Quixtar: "The Pyramid is Crumbling", "The River City Kingpins", and "The Illusion of Wealth". Read these articles for the full story behind Amway's Mexican stand-off with its key distributors.
Here is what Van Andel had to say to the Press about Amway/Quixtar's failure to rein in the tools scam:
"(Tools) don't have anything to do with us. That's the frustrating part. You talk about a tools business, that's a distributor who started that. They don't have anything to do with us, and we don't, effectively, have any control over that. You say, 'Well, why don't you do something about it?' Well, I don'ty have any legal right to do anything about it. ... Unless they break a law or a rule that we have control over, you don't have the power to do anything about it. That's the frustrating thing. We're getting beat up for something we really don't have any control over."
Yeah, just like Dick DeVos and his family had no control over Alterra.
What I find noteworthy is that Van Andel does not defend the "tools and functions" trade -- i.e., the fiercely defended monopoly that kingpin Amway/Quixtar distributors hold over the sale of largely worthless motivational materials and seminars to sub-distributors on the pretext that these "tools" will help them get rich selling Amway stuff. In fact, Van Andel appears to recognize that it is a vile business.
I also find it noteworthy Van Andel's lament that there is nothing he and Amway/Quixtar can do about it. He says, "They [i.e., the kingpin distributors] don't have anything to do with us." They don't? His company's top distributors have nothing to do with the company? That's a curious view of things. Don't these distributors have to buy from Amway/Quixtar all the stuff they distribute? Could not Van Andel demand that Amway/Quixtar refuse to sell to those kingpin distributors they believe are exploiting smaller distributors with the tools racket?
Of course, Van Andel could do that, except ... Well, you see Amway/Quixtar needs the kingpins more than the kingpins need them. If Amway/Quixtar won't sell the kingpins the stuff that serves as the pretext to con their sub-distributors into buying their "tools" (the big money-maker for the kingpins), then the kingpins will replacy Amway/Quixtar with another multi-level marketing firm and set up a new pretext for peddling their "tools". So Amway/Quixtar loses a major chunk of business while the kingpins relabel all their motivational tools and seminars and go on their merry way. That is what Van Andel means when he says Amway/Quixtar has no power over them and their rotten trade.
So who's the real tool in this deal?
Gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos and his dad, Amway co-founder Rich DeVos, have been busy trying to douse the fire Guv Jen lit in Monday's debate regarding the DeVos family's investment in Alterra Health Care, a chain of old-age homes. Jen asked Dick why he hadn't publicly disclosed his interest in Alterra, which collapsed in bankruptcy after several government investigations into charges that its staff was abusing residents. Dick replied that he no longer had any holdings in the defunct company and that when he did he was nothing but a passive investor owning less than one percent of the company's stock.
Immediately after Monday's debate the facts began coming out about the true relationship between the DeVoses and Alterra. Although the DeVoses, including Dick, didn't have direct ownership of a significant number of shares of Alterra, they held bonds convertible into 40% of the company's stock. The Securities & Exchange Commission defines the ownership of such an option as having control over the company. Nevertheless, both DeVos Jr. and Sr. disputed that definition in the media this week insisting that they had no control of Alterra. So let's give them the benefit of the doubt on that one. That still leaves unexplained by the doubletalking duo the fact that the DeVoses appointed four of the directors of Alterra's corporate board who had the right to veto any decision made by the other directors. Plus the chairman of Alterra's board was the same fella who runs RDV Corp., the DeVos family's investment management company.
However, you slice it, Dick wasn't straight with the voters in Monday's debate when he passed off his holdings in Alterra as a tiny fraction of the company's stock. That was an omission of fact that amounted to a lie. The follow-up statements by Dick and his dad are no better. They claim that their family had no control over Alterra to correct the abuses at its old-age homes, because they only had an option to convert their bonds into stock and didn't have actual ownership of it. Well, folks, what is left unsaid by the doubletalking duo is that they chose not to exercise that option to take direct control and stop the abuse that was occurring. Of course, that assumes they even had to exercise it to have effective control of Alterra, and remember their control of four veto-empowered directors plus the chairman of the board.
So these half-truths don't give me a lot of confidence that Dick is telling us everything when he said he never knew about the abuse at Alterra until recently. But maybe that's true. I find it difficult to believe that even a family that made its fortune conning ordinary people into a Ponzi scheme would be so heartless as to make money off of a company whose employees were physically and sexually abusing helpless old men and women suffering dementia. Furthermore, the various state investigations into the abuse at Alterra old-age homes concluded that the knowledge of abuse had not been communicated to corporate headquarters. Yet, that really doesn't let Dick off the hook, because those investigations were wrapped up while the DeVoses held their controlling stake in Alterra -- not afterwards.
So, either Dick hadn't a clue about a MAJOR scandal in Alterra's operations that prompted government investigations in at least four different states or he lied about his knowledge of it because he and his family chose not to act while in the position to do so to fix the scandal. At the very least Dick is a lousy businessman who couldn't keep safe an important investment his family had made (after all, every dime they had in it got flushed in Alterra's bankrupcty). Worse, he is a liar covering up his heartless pursuit of a buck at the expense of abused elders -- and still a lousy businessman because he lost everything anyway.
Either way, it doesn't speak well of Dick's self-proclaimed business acumen to pull Michigan out of its economic funk.
Monday night Bridget and I watched the first debate of the governor's race. Both Gov. Jennifer Granholm and challenger Dick DeVos were disappointing. When they weren't shoehorning preprogrammed talking points into their answers like the robotic political hacks they are, they let the panel of reporters bait them into slinging mud at each other. Mind you, I'm not prissy about politics. There's nothing wrong in principle with so-called negative campaigning or raising issues of character. But that doesn't mean tarring your opponent can't be pointless, which most of Monday's attacks were.
However, Guv Jen did launch one attack that revealed a lack of character in Dick. She asked him why he failed to report on his public disclosure of assets an investment in Alterra Healthcare Corp. Alterra operated a chain of nursing homes in the U.S., including Michigan, until it collapsed into bankruptcy in 2003 amid allegations of patient abuse. Dick retorted that Alterra was a publicly traded company in which he and his wife made an investment and had no control of it because they owned less than one percent of the company's stock. In fact, Dick stressed the sub-one-percent figure twice. In doing so, he characterized his investment as akin to owning some shares in GM or Microsoft or any other ordinary investment in a public company. Befuddled by this, Guv Jen retreated.
Although Granholm's attack didn't work the way she had expected -- did she really think that DeVos somehow OK'ed the abuse of patients at Alterra nursing homes? -- DeVos's response showed us something we should know about his character. He lied. If not blatantly, he did so in fine Clintonian fashion, which is just as reprehensible for its deliberate slipperiness.
DeVos's characterization of his investment in Alterra was dishonest. In 2000 Jerry Tubergen -- at the time president of RDV Corp., the DeVos family asset management firm -- was a member of Alterra's board. He persuaded the DeVos family, including Dick and his wife Betsy, to collectively invest $173 million into Alterra to bail out the financially troubled company. The investment purchased only a small amount of the company's stock. Most of the investment was in the form of Alterra bonds (i.e., unsecured loans to the company) that were convertible into stock. If the DeVos family had exercised their option to convert their bonds into stock, they would have owned 40% of Alterra's stock, including 90% of its Class A stock. Control of that stock controls the company's board of directors.
So DeVos and his family were in fact THE major players in the financing of Alterra. Their bonds allowed them to take that control of the company whenever they wanted, and so gave them a great deal of informal influence over Alterra if not direct control -- and that assumes none of the Alterra boardmembers other than Tubergen answered to the DeVos family. That situation is rather different from how DeVos described it in the debate. He and his family had rather more influence over Alterra than owning less than one percent of the stock in a publicly traded company would suggest. While DeVos's statement about ownership of stock in Alterra was technically true, it was so incomplete as to the real stake he and his family had in the company that it was a deception.