The Fish Walks
Who knows what they might try to shove down students' throats in public schools these days? Tailpipe has been worried that the Broward County school system might try to teach his little Pipette -- despite a mountain of scientific evidence to the contrary -- that the world and all its creatures were created 6,000 years ago in six days of divine juju. It's happening in other states, of course. The fundamentalist Christian "creationist" lobby is muscling school boards and teachers to get them to give equal time to a religious myth, and it's probably only a matter of time, Tailpipe thinks, before it happens here.
So last week, the 'Pipe dropped in on an advanced-placement biology class at Ely High School in Pompano Beach where the subject was (scary sound effects here): ev-o-luuu-tion.
In a third-floor laboratory, a diverse group of 20 students was engaged in a lively reconstruction of the way Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, one of the pillars of modern science, developed and continues to be refined. "Science as process," biology teach Myra Frank called it. Each student played a historic theorist, from Plato and Aristotle in Ancient Greece to Darwin himself in mid-19th-century England to such modern scientists as Stephen Jay Gould (who died in 2002) and Ernst Mayr (who died last month) in America.
The notion of "natural selection" as a guiding principle in evolution clearly didn't just pop into Darwin's mind like a light bulb lighting up. There were earlier thinkers who laid the groundwork, challenging superstitions, finding evidence of prehistoric species, studying the Earth's geology, drawing conclusions from new discoveries.
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One of Darwin's precursors was Jean-Louis Lamarck. "Time and favorable conditions are the two principal means which nature has employed in giving existence to all her productions," said student Yarlie Nicolas, portraying the 17th-century French botanist. Nicolas gave it the full treatment, complete with French accent and hand-waving Gallic attitude. What she was talking about were the conditions for a species to evolve -- say, from a horse-like quadruped with toes to a modern horse with hooves. It takes time, a lot more than the paltry 6,000 years allotted to our world by the creationists.
"All my work shows that the world is very old," added old Darwin himself, portrayed by Christal Carson. (It's actually 4.6 billion years old, molecular geologists have since found.)
Because of the students' sheer energy and absorption in their subject, the class was riveting, something like a theater piece. Frank is one of those rare teachers who, when things are churning along in the classroom, can hold back, letting the kids discover things on their own.
No matter the teaching style, though, the study of evolution is the same in high schools across the county, insists J.P. Keener, who's in charge of the high school science curriculum for the Broward County School District. Evolution is a longstanding part of the Broward County curriculum. What about creationism? Beside the point, Keener says. "It's not a state standard on which students are tested," he said. "That doesn't mean you can't have a lively discussion about it."
Tailpipe heaved a sigh of relief.
There were a few troubling moments in the wide-open discussion at the end, though. Frank says she rarely gets complaints from parents who object to the teaching of evolution, but some students are obviously feeling the pressure from religious dogma. Amir Valliani, a thoughtful young Plato, raised the specter of the 1925 Scopes trial, in which a Tennessee teacher was prosecuted for teaching about evolution. "If it creates so much controversy," Valliani said, "my feeling is: Just leave it alone."
This didn't sit well with Nicolas, who, despite being a committed Christian, wanted all the facts. "If you don't know your history," she said, "you don't know where you're going." Amen.
Battle of the Frankensteins
You mentioned evolution? How about the new political beasts created in the thunder and lightning of the slot machine ballot initiative, which comes to a vote next week in Broward and Miami-Dade counties?
In this corner, the stitched-together creature from the anti-slots lagoon: animal-rights activists, the Seminole Tribe, the City of Hollywood, Gov. Jeb Bush, and the Christian Coalition! Yikes.
Wearing the purple trunks, the pro-slots humanoid: horse- and dog-track owners, the Broward Police Benevolent Association, the teachers unions!
May the best monster win.
In its February issue, OUTLOUD, a free monthly newspaper written mostly by teens and distributed at more than 100 high schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, printed an editorial titled "OUTLOUD Trumps Viacom." According to the story, Viacom alleged the monthly's name infringed upon the corporation's trademark for a block of films, shorts, and other programming on the Sundance Channel.
This past December, the two-year "David and Goliath battle" (as the OUTLOUD editorial puts it) ended when Viacom summarily withdrew its lawsuit. "We weren't surprised so much as relieved," Judy Lefton, chairwoman of Talk Teens Inc., which publishes OUTLOUD, told New Times.
Lefton says she applied for a trademark for OUTLOUD in June 1999, more than a year before the newspaper's first issue was published in September 2000. Then, in August 2002, Viacom sent her a cease-and-desist letter.
The two companies traded legal paperwork for the next two years, and OUTLOUD filed suit against Viacom in 2004 to win back rights to the trademark. Viacom eventually gave up. "They had to remove any of their OUTLOUD [logos] from existing materials and pulled their application from the mark and gave up the mark to us," she says.
Viacom media spokesperson Christi Gorman declined to comment, passing the hot potato to a representative at the Sundance Channel who, alas, had not returned our phone calls by press time.
Attorneys for Oviedo-based tech company Yang Enterprises were quick to label Clint Curtis a "crackpot" when he talked about how, when he worked for the company, he was asked to create a software program that could rig electronic-voting machines in heavily Democratic South Florida. Two months ago, Curtis said in a sworn affidavit to U.S. Congress that in late 2000, he had been present when U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney -- then a powerful Republican state representative who would soon be named speaker of the state House -- asked company President Li-Woan Yang to find a way to foil a Democratic victory.
The troubling charge of vote tampering has yet to be proved, of course, but almost everything else Curtis said about his former employer has been. Curtis charged that Yang Enterprises engaged in a pattern of dirty dealing, including intentionally overbilling the state on the company's contract with the Florida Department of Transportation. Curtis said that he had heard Feeney, who was Yang's former lawyer and lobbyist, airily tell Yang, "Bill them [FDOT] anything you like." And Yang Enterprises did. A report by FDOT Investigations Manager Michael K. Bowen, released earlier this month, found $248,255 in questionable charges, and the state wants a refund.
Bowen also discovered that Curtis was correct when he told state authorities that Yang employed a Chinese spy who was given access to state and NASA data. A former consultant for Yang, Hai Lin "Henry" Nee pleaded guilty in federal court last year after trying to ship Hellfire missile technology to China.
Curtis, a computer programmer, said he had concocted the vote-manipulating program, which could finagle with a vote tally to ensure that a losing candidate was shown to have drawn 51 percent of the vote, thinking it was a test of the electronic voting system. But he subsequently learned from his boss that it was to be used in the 2004 presidential election "to control the vote in South Florida."
Though no major South Florida news organizations have reported on Curtis' charges, Tailpipe has an eerie feeling that we haven't heard the last of them.
The Loneliness of the
A Palm Beach County jury last month acquitted Rob Probert, former enforcer for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, of assaulting Delray Beach police officers last summer. It was a rare triumph over the criminal justice system for the beefy Canadian, who sported a bad haircut and an expensive suit in the witness chair, looking worn and whipped for his 39 years.
A hockey muscleman is bound to deteriorate after a couple of decades, what with all the head-bouncing on the ice and the face-mashing against the glass. But Probert's destruction has been largely self-inflicted -- though the jury never got to hear about the lifelong saga of drinking, drugging, and fighting that eventually led him to a Delray Beach convenience store, where things got ugly after he allegedly called a black man nigger. The ex-hockey thug, who lives in Canada, was apparently just passing through Delray Beach.
Probert has the proverbial record as long as your arm. Check the clips. In early 1986, the 20-year-old Probert, then with the Red Wings, was arrested for drunken driving and speeding in Windsor, Ontario. He refused to take a Breathalyzer test, and police had to forcibly restrain him at the station. Then he assaulted a police officer during a bar scuffle; he entered an alcohol treatment center three weeks later only to split a few days later. He crashed his car into a concrete utility pole after leaving a tavern. At the insistence of the Red Wings team, he underwent treatment for alcohol in early 1987.
In March 1989, Probert was arrested at the Canadian border when U.S. customs agents found 14.3 grams of cocaine hidden in his underwear. The agents' suspicions were aroused by his disorientation and the empty beer and liquor containers swimming about in his truck. He did three months in jail on that one.
In 1993, he was charged with assaulting a woman at a bar in Dallas and resisting arrest. A year later, in Michigan, on a night he reportedly had cocaine in his system and a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit, he drove his Harley-Davidson into a car. In 1994, the Wings finally released Probert, who, despite the wide wake of self-destruction, was picked up by the Hawks. The next year, he was forcibly arrested after assaulting a bouncer at another Dallas bar. Last summer, a few years after retiring from professional hockey, Delray Beach cops had to Taser Probert three times to subdue him before taking him to jail.
Tailpipe says forget about trying to put Probert in jail. Just make him wear a big red X on his shirt, so when he enters a bar, the peaceable patrons will have time to make it out the door.
-- As told to Edmund Newton
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