Monkeys, Marriage, and Madness in Georgia

Two or three political items before I jump into a writing marathon: First, Michael Ledeen of National Review Online proposes that Zell Miller replace Colin Powell as Secretary of State. Yes this Zell Miller. And that one, too (thanks to Atrios). I have to admit that seeing Zell challenge one of those “pointy-headed” European leaders to a duel is rather intriguing. I don’t think there’s any real likelihood of Miller being appointed to this office, but the story (very loosely) fit today’s Georgia politics theme.

Now, for some good old Georgia politics. Cobb County seems determined to stage a remake of the Scopes Monkey Trial, right here in Georgia. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, parents have petitioned the schools to put stickers in high school textbooks (super-annoying registration required) stating that evolution is “just a theory.” Several parents have sued the administration, arguing that such a sticker blurs the boundary between church and state. Here are the story’s basics:

“You needed a sort of balance” for discussion, Betty Gray testified in the second day of arguments in a trial over whether the disclaimers should be removed. Gray described her own beliefs about evolution as “faith-based,” and said the board intended for students to feel “an openness to bring up what they needed to.”

Six parents have sued to remove the disclaimers, arguing that the stickers cross the assumed separation of church and state because they expose students to “alternatives” to evolution that are considered unscientific — andreligious — by most scientists.

“The main issue here is quality science education,” Carlos Moreno, an Emory University molecular biologist, testified Tuesday. He had urged the Cobb school board not to use the disclaimers. “What [the disclaimer] says to students is, ‘You don’t really have to buy into this.’ ”

Attorneys for the public school system over the last two days have argued in U.S. District Court that Cobb County was within its right to regulate classroom discussion on a controversial subject, and that included the use of disclaimers in textbooks.

The AJC’s Cynthia Tucker also has a solid editorial arguing against including the stickers. Another AJC editorial offers a fuller explanation for what scientists mean when they use the word theory.

Finally, Georgia’s anti-gay marriage amendment already faces a legal challenge based on the wording of the Amendment:

The lawsuit focuses on the language of the amendment, not whether gay couples should be allowed to marry.

It claims that the amendment violates the Georgia Constitution’s single-subject rule by pertaining to multiple issues. In addition to marriage, the amendment would affect civil unions and the ability of Georgia’s courts to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, the attorneys argue.

The lawyers also contend that the wording of the ballot question that voters saw on Election Day was misleading because it asked only about marriage and not about the other issues the amendment might affect.

“I am glad the courts will finally hear the merits of the case,” said state Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), the only openly gay member of the state Legislature.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and the Atlanta law firm of Alston and Bird in the Fulton County (Atlanta) Superior Court. Just wait until the Georgia state legislature goes back in session in Januray. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

18 Comments »

  1. Jim Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 10:39 am

    ok, and maybe we can place stickers on all the parents saying that these appear to be rational creatures–but they may be slack-jawed yokels.

  2. Dylan Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 1:25 pm

    This is the problem we Democrats face: We find ourselves in a country which is, since the election, telling us that the reason they turned to Bush was not because of Bush but more because they saw their way of life being made fun of and threatened by liberal elitist North-Easterners who think they are smarter than the rest of the country. So, Red America thinks the jury is still out on evolution, and we aren’t supposed to make comments about their reasonability or intelligence.

  3. chuck Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 3:29 pm

    Dylan, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I watched the movie, Saved, the other night, and while I enjoyed the satire quite a bit, I recognized that the film does little other than to make fun of evangelicals from a Hollywood-liberal-elite point of view. It’s one of those films where I think satire reaches a limit that prevents dialgoue. I especially found the Mandy Moore chracter cartoonishly bad. Whether that’s due to an over-the-top performance or a flat character, I can’t be sure. But I know that when I was a fundamentalist Christian, I would have been offended by teh film and would have seen it as a justification of withdrawing from the world rather than embracing it. That being said, I *still* believe that many of those critiques are necessary. I still want public education to be the best it can be and to teach a properly rigorous science curriculum that recognizes the crucial role that the theory of evolution plays in sceintific understanding.

  4. chuck Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 3:29 pm

    By the way, apologies to anyone who tried to comment this afternoon. Comments should now be working again.

  5. Jim Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 4:01 pm

    Chuck, like you I know what its like to share the views of the Christian fundamentalists, and the people who “saved” me–that is, those who helped me to see choose rationalism and humane ethics over inhumane prejudice always treated my views with the utmost respect. But I’m just one of a very few, unfortunately. What I mean is–we have mocked these people, but let’s not forget how academics are generally portrayed by the so-called liberal media as well. We’ve also been teaching children not to hate and how to think more carefully for years, and guess what, we’re failing. No easy answers here.

  6. Russell Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 4:32 pm

    WARNING: totally unrelated tangent

    You wrote, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s going to be a bumpy ride,” which reminded me…

    The day after the election, I spent most of the time locked in my bedroom watching DVDs (three to be precise). One of them was “All About Eve,” the source of the Bette Davis quote “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

    Somehow a drunken conversation with one of my friends the other night meandered back-and-forth between politics and Sophia Coppola’s performance in Godfather III. He was arguing since the character was supposed to be naive, it was okay to put an unpolished actress in the role. I made the more traditional argument that her performance was so bad it dragged everything around her down.

    Anyway, that’s only related because I told him he should watch All About Eve. Anne Baxter’s performance shows you don’t have to be a bad actress to portray an naif.

    Okay, I’m done. Carry on.

  7. chuck Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 5:35 pm

    Note: not sure where all of these thoughts came from. I *think* I’m cautiously ready, finally, to start talking about where we go from here, so forgive the long comment. I’m actually test-driving some ideas here, so hopefully this comment doesn’t come across as an “easy answer,” because it’s not intended that way at all.

    You’re right, Jim. I remember all of the anti-intellectualism that I encountered at my undergrad evangelical college and in my parents’ church. My cautiously optimistic take is that we’re actually *winning* to the degree that they’re digging their heels so deeply right now because they know this is their last chance, the last stand before younger voters who widely support gay rights step into office (while at the same time, I know that it’s *not* that easy).

    I definitely want to encourage students and people in general to become critical thinkers, and I agree that we need a new language for doing this (and even writing about critical thinking and measuring our success in teaching it) because things look bleak right now. One or two of the papers I heard this weekend at a conference discussed time scales, and I think that our time scales may be too brief, that the change we hope to see may not be visible anytime soon (just look how long the Christian Coalition has ben working on what happened this week). Also, it’s distinctly possible that the changes we provoke may not be visible during the courses that we teach, that when change is measurable in a student, it may be well after she graduates.

    Depressing? Perhaps, but I think some changes are measurable. Could we have even talked about gay marriage in the ’60s or ’70s? During the Reagan era? People are scared because we’re pushing against what has been possible in the past. They’re scared because BushCo has them thinking out of fear.

    I know that a lot of these gains (abortion, the environment, the possibility of peace, civil rights, the right to privacy, to name but a few) are endangered by this administration, so I don’t write these words with a great degree of comfort.

    I have no idea how to tie this back into “Saved,” other than to say that it doesn’t have a strongly utopian impulse other than the call for tolerance at the end of the film. Maybe that’s enough at this point. Maybe it doesn’t matter that some poeple find the film offensive. So maybe I’ll just end by saying that I’m glad you caught my “All About Eve” reference, Russell.

    Tomorrow, when I’m in a bad mood, I might change my mind about all of this….

    Comment update (first time I’ve done that): Just a few hours later, this comment now seems deliriously optimistic. When tanks are brought to an antiwar protest and when Social Security will almost certainly be destroyed by a foolhardy plan to “privatize” it (among many other things), there’s little reason to be optimistic.

  8. Scrivener Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 6:40 pm

    Since you mentioned the Zellraiser, didja see this gossip piece from the NYPost? Zell lays into that “highbrow hussy” Maureen Dowd.

    I put up a comment this afternoon, maybe I;ll swing back and rewrite it…

  9. Scrivener Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 6:40 pm

    Since you mentioned the Zellraiser, didja see this gossip piece from the NYPost? Zell lays into that “highbrow hussy” Maureen Dowd.

    I put up a comment this afternoon, maybe I’ll swing back and rewrite it…

  10. chuck Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 7:24 pm

    MoDo’s comeback was pretty sweet. And someone out there believes that the US would be more respected abroad with this guy as Secretary of State?

  11. Rusty Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 11:33 pm

    If Zell had already declared himself a Republican, I’d say by all means put him up there and let him do damage that no one but Bush could be blamed for.

  12. Dylan Said,

    November 11, 2004 @ 12:22 am

    Chuck, I’m torn by your arguments.

    On the one hand, I agree with you. It sounds like we came from similar backgrounds, and I was once a fundamentalist Christian school boy. At one point I even decided to go into the ministry. And I had a similar point of view about ‘Saved.’ While I thought it was funny, because I’d been there and back, it was shallow and narrow. And that doesn’t even include Moore’s performance.

    I had the chef at the restaurant I work at, who is a Desert Storm Vet and as big a neo-con as I am a liberal say after the election that “people are tired of being told that their kids can’t say ‘Under God’ in school but they can be taught about ‘Alice and her two Mommies.’” Before the election, I’d have said “but it is two different issues!” Now, I’m beginning to see the point. I don’t have to agree with it, but it is the fact that more Americans (apparantly 3.5 million more voters at least) feel this way, and that is a problem that MUST be addressed.

    At the same time, I’m not willing to bend on the issue of rational/critical thinking being a real and necessary part of our society.

    I’m not sure where in the middle the answer is, but I don’t like the looks of where this all heads from here.

    Sorry about the long post.

  13. chuck Said,

    November 11, 2004 @ 1:09 am

    Hmm…I don’t want to sound like I’m bending at all on critical thinking, and there were lots of things I enjoyed about Saved, so it’s probably unfair to pick on that film. In some ways, I’m not sure that I’m looking for a “middle ground,” either. I think that what I’m looking for is a new way to talk about critical thinking because the usual language seems to produce such defensiveness, including all the usual accusations of political correctness or Hollywood elites. That may be inevitable. Academics and chunky documentarians make easy targets.

    This goes back to Jim’s point (about seven comments ago) that there are no “easy answers.” I’m completely committed to rationalism and humane ethics. I just think we need to work on our arguments, but that’s the hard part, and I’m fading fast….

  14. Jim Said,

    November 11, 2004 @ 3:41 pm

    Yes, Chuck, the notion of a middleground scares me, too. When Barry Goldwater got his butt kicked in the 1964 election, he stuck by his guns, and when Reagan was denounced in ’76 as an extremist, he went right on calling liberals “the enemy.” The point is, these once extreme positions became the mainstream republican opinions at some point. We’ve been tacking to the right for 2 decades, and I don’t see it doing anything but eroding our identity. Why should people vote for democrats who act like republicans–why not just vote for the real thing. The answer does seem to lie in changing the language of politics and recognizing that change is slow. What we need is not to move to the center–but to find a way to make the center move towrads us for a change. If you really believe that your values are the correct ones for the country, then you should not give them up. The republicans certainly don’t.

  15. Jim Said,

    November 11, 2004 @ 4:01 pm

    Oh–one more thing. A colleague of mine just suggested a simple and problematic theory–but an intersting one. The more “masculine” presidential candidate, the one people say they’d more likely ‘drink with’–whatever that means–ususally wins. If we look over the last 30 years–with the exceptions of Carter after Watergate–the theory seems accurate. I can’t really accept it–as it has too many holes, but we should find some left-wing former pro-football players and test it out.

  16. chuck Said,

    November 11, 2004 @ 4:35 pm

    Re: “masculine candidates:” Purdue’s quarterback, Kyle Orton, is very public about being a Democrat. Unfortunately, he’s also 20 years too young to run for office. But I think that’s one of the lessons of “Journeys with George,” that GW Bush charmed the pants off of the reporters who were covering his election campaign, making it tougher for them to ask difficult questions.

    I’d add that by “changing the language” that’s what I’m talking about, reclaiming liberalism and bringing the center to the left.

  17. Dylan Said,

    November 11, 2004 @ 4:51 pm

    Perhaps it is semantics, but bringing the center to the left, at least in terms of the next election, seems too lofty a goal. Without changing the message, I think that perhaps the best course is “changing the language” do un-demonize (Hey! We are changing the language, so I can make up words) the central tenants of liberalism, communicating less of the elitism and more of the everyman quality (ie, welfare, civil rights, prejudice, etc). I don’t know… moving the masses to the left seems much more difficult than just merely making it accessible.

    I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth though, because the difficulty would be making it more accessible while not changing the message.

  18. Jim Said,

    November 11, 2004 @ 5:07 pm

    Yes, Dylan, I agree. We need to affect the same kind of reconsiliation that the repubs have. They see collectivity realized in the individual, but we should reclaim the individual–with all of his/her civil rights intact–for the left.

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