A day without abusing the Texas SBOE is like a day without sunshine

What never ceases to amaze me about the Texas State Board of Education is the dazzling arrogance with which they blindly soldier on in the face of almost total loathing from everyone in the state who isn’t a rabid fundagelical teabagger. This is a pretty conservative state, gang, but when you get an editorial like this from the newspaper in Denton — just a short drive north from the DFW Metroplex, so it’s not exactly the tree-hugging lefty Sodom that is Austin — you know you’ve gone so far over the top in your demagoguery that you’ve literally lapped yourself and gotten jammed up your own ass. The lead to this piece is pure win, and the rest ain’t bad at all. All you have to do to show how dire things are at the SBOE is simply to describe what they do.

Being ignorant is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is nothing to be particularly proud of either. A large and disruptive segment of the Texas State Board of Education is not only ignorant — a state that we all share at various times and on various subjects — it is proudly and aggressively ignorant, which goes beyond simple ignorance and ventures into the territory of malignant stupidity.

Gold. Of course, the defining characteristic of the extremist ideologue is to take the fact that everybody hates you as validation of your perfect and utter rightness in all things. After all, as Dan McLeroy has so bravely said, somebody’s gotta stand up to alla dem expertses!

This just in: Dunbar not running for another SBOE term

From a TFN email I just got:

We wanted TFN members and supporters to be among the first to learn about developing news at the State Board of Education. News reports today revealed that Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, has decided not to run for re-election to her seat on the Texas State Board of Education. As TFN members know full well, Dunbar has been an outspoken leader of the far-right faction on the board, repeatedly using the state’s public school classrooms to wage her own personal culture war.

While Dunbar has not yet revealed the reason for her decision, her extremist track record has clearly made her a damaged brand in next year’s election — and TFN has been the leader in exposing that record.

  • TFN introduced the world to Dunbar’s 2008 book, One Nation Under God, in which she called public education a “tool of perversion,” “tyrannical” and unconstitutional.
  • TFN broke the story about Dunbar’s attacks against then-candidate Barack Obama, authoring an opinion column that labeled him a terrorist sympathizer who wanted another attack on America so that he could declare martial law and throw out the Constitution.
  • TFN exposed her efforts to politicize our children’s social studies classrooms and to promote creationist arguments against evolution in science classrooms.

Unfortunately, the candidate Dunbar has handpicked to be her successor shares many of her anti-science and extremist views. A blog post today at TFN Insider reveals some troubling information about Brian Russell, whom Dunbar has apparently recruited to fill her shoes on the board. So our work is not done.

Dealing with right-wing creationist d-bags is like playing Whack-A-Mole. But you gotta keep whacking.

No! Not Sarah too!

For those of you who don’t keep up with Ed Brayton’s enjoyable blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, he has a funny post today featuring an excerpt from Sarah Palin’s new book that does a pretty fair job of illustrating why the lady hasn’t got what it takes to be elected dogcatcher let alone leader of the free world, followed by some hearty criticisms. Go read and enjoy. But I thought I’d just mention that I couldn’t help being struck by one passage from the book in particular. Here’s Sarah kvetching about how incredibly controlling Nicolle Wallace, Sarah’s official minder on the McCain campaign, supposedly was.

But something always struck me as peculiar about the way [Wallace] recalled her days in the White House, when she was speaking on behalf of President George W. Bush. She didn’t have much to say that was positive about her former boss or the job in general. Whenever I wanted to give a shout-out to the White House’s homeland security efforts after 9/11, we were told we couldn’t do it.

ZOMG! Oh noes! Did Sarah actually use the phrase…shudder…”shout-out”!?!? Dear Lord in Hebbin, she must be an inner-city gangbanger! Somebody quick…alert Brannon Howse!


PS: I never cease to be amazed at the way the GOP continues to elevate Sarah Palin to rockstar status despite her consistent ineptitude and penchant for whining and casting blame on others for her shortcomings. I have a little hypothesis as to why this is so, and it goes like this (ahem): Take a look at the kinds of people who make up arch-conservatism and the radical right in America these days — you know, the teabaggers, the Glenn Beck zombies, etc. — and you’ll see, in the phrasing of vintage Mad magazine, the usual gang of idiots. To wit, fundamentalist Christians whose favorite sport is their strident denial of anything in the world of politics and science that contradicts their cherished beliefs and ideologies. In their world, intellectualism, education and expertise are all bugs rather than features. They love Sarah because she represents them to a tee in her combination of intellectual mediocrity, hubris, and embarrassing lack of self-awareness or any sense of irony. Sarah famously could not name the three countries covered by NAFTA, and yet she’s seriously being pushed as the Republican front-runner to challenge Obama in 2012. She’s so clueless that she can actually write this in her book, about her respect for Hillary Clinton…

Compared to the guys [Clinton] squared off against, a lot of her supporters think she proved what Margaret Thatcher proclaimed, ‘If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.’

…and her fans will be so clueless that they’ll read this and not immediately roll their eyes that such a remark came from the keypad of a woman who couldn’t be bothered to finish out even her first term as governor. Way to get it done, Sarah!

Well, every political party gets the candidate it deserves. And the rise of Sarah Palin’s superstardom, at a point in her career when she should be treated as little more than a joke whose fifteen minutes were up long ago, demonstrates just how low the formerly Grand Old Party has sunk. Yes, there are plenty of moderates in the GOP outside of the “base” who are groaning in dismay that Sarah has become the party’s glamour girl and hope for the future. Heck, the rising schism has me heating up the popcorn…

E. J. Dionne report

As promised, I attended a lecture by E. J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist, at a Baptist church tonight. Dionne was there under the auspices of the Texas Freedom Network, promoting his new book, Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right. Here’s what the incredibly gaudy church background looked like.


Everything Else Atheist was also with me, and she might write up her own reactions later.

The lecture was about what I expected, which is to say, promising but ultimately disappointing. Dionne believes that religion has a solid place in public discourse, and it has been shanghai’d by the religious right unfairly. He told a joke in which a Republican asks a Democrat what the Democrat would do if Jesus ran as a Republican. The Democrat replies “Why would Jesus change his affiliation after all these years?”

Dionne was full of praise for the importance of religion in people’s lives, saying that religion grapples with mysteries that science and politics cannot address. (Well yes, in the first place, many of those issues are addressed by science and politics; in the second place, just because religion grapples with them does not mean that it successfully addresses any of them.) He also leveled a great deal of criticism against what he perceives as the unfairly dismissive attitude toward religion by many liberals, saying liberals assume that all religious people are “busybodies obsessed with sex” based on the prevailing opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

Dionne did make a good point about the way that “moral values” tend to be framed in politics. He cited a clearly slanted 2004 exit poll which asked voters what issues most strongly influenced their vote. The options included such things as “moral values,” “education,” “the Iraq war,” etc. Dionne rightly pointed out that if you describe either of the latter two as your most important concerns, then you are implicitly agreeing that moral values are less important to you. In reality, as he then pointed out, if neither education nor war is regarded as a moral concern, then there is something seriously wrong with our thinking. On the other hand, I of course believe that it is a mistake to attempt to unduly equate moral values with religious beliefs.

In the end Dionne suggests that it’s important for Americans on both sides of the political spectrum to embrace their faith and accept it in public life.

There was a Q&A period where people walked up to microphones. Unfortunately I was not very nimble and wound up sixth in line, with answers to the first five questions taking up a good 5-10 minutes or so each. Luckily he still had time to answer my question, but after I went up he asked the remaining people in line to limit themselves to a brief, unanswered comment. I will try to reconstruct my statement/question from memory, and then summarize his response.

“Mr. Dionne, thank you for coming here tonight. My name is Russell Glasser, my father and I are long time fans of your column. I am also a member of the Atheist Community of Austin.” [Dionne jokingly interjected “God bless you” to which I simply replied “Thank you.”]

“Speaking as someone from the 15% of voters who do not claim any personal god, I feel that unbelievers are often caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to selecting a political party. I believe that somewhere around 80% of us voted for both Kerry and Obama. [Dionne nodded, indicating he was familiar with this.] Many atheists might be there by default, because frankly the Republican party is full of lunatics. I personally know only one atheist Republican, while most atheists who lean conservative gravitate toward the libertarian party.

“I think the reason separation of church and state is so important is not simply because it panders to people like me, but because religion is a deeply personal issue to many people. When political figures interject a religion into the dialogue, they are implicitly excluding other religions. As you pointed out, the religious right say that religious values are focused around gay marriage and abortion, which is different from the beliefs of many of the people in this church now.

“What I’m wondering is: Aren’t you concerned that by encouraging politicians on the left to use more religious language, you are buying in to the notion that this sort of exclusion has a place in politics? It seems to me that even this much is conceding too much to the right regarding their perspective about the appropriate role of religion?”

I got a smattering of applause for this remark. Dionne answered that he understands my concerns, and mentions that he always says to believers that they ought to seek out conversations with atheists, because they should be prepared to defend their beliefs. Not quite the answer I was looking for, since I am more interested in wanting to engage with atheists at least partly out of recognition that there is no need to believe in God as a prerequisite to work towards shared social goals.

He then went on to say that it is possible to talk about religion without being disrespectful to nonbelievers, and it is important to do so. Finally, he added encouragingly that he would bet atheists are probably under reported by polling, since fewer people will admit to it.

After talk I saw a few familiar faces. Dr. James Dee popped up in the last set of people interjecting comments and made a comment about needing to read the Bible in the original languages. A regular commenter on this blog came up to me in the lobby and introduced himself, adding that he’ll be joining us on the bat cruise this weekend.

In conclusion, I understand what Dionne is trying to do, but I still come away deeply unconvinced by the argument that the solution to religion in politics is more religion in politics. While I agree that it would be a mistake to ignore the role of religion in history, I see no compelling reason to believe that religion is a necessary or sufficient motivator to bring about positive changes. To give credit to God for human achievements is, in my opinion, an insult to human spirit. And considering the potential that religion always has to divide people, I really feel like Democrats should be especially wary of trying to use it for short term gain.

The dark, frightening abyss that is Brannon Howse’s world

It always helps to be reminded of a salient fact when dealing with the fundamentalist extremist: literally every single aspect of their lives is governed by fear. It is a dark and frightening world in which they live, made all the more grim by the way the dark fearfulness of it is so easily embraced by the believer, who disguises it under a thin veneer of righteousness and the sense of empowerment that comes from believing one is part of an oppressed minority.

I have brought up Brannon Howse and his personal neurosis factory, the Christian Worldview Network, for mockery here many times. I regularly get their email newsletters, and believe me, this guy has never met an over-the-top paranoid Obama conspiracy theory he didn’t like. His contributors are a rogue’s gallery of the spiritually psychotic: David Noebel, Ray Comfort, Phyllis Schlafly, David Barton, Kan Ham.

Howse’s latest ridiculous rant is one of those revealing moments in fundie bloviation that serves to remind those of us in the reality-based community just what this country has to deal with. It has the ominous title “Is America at a Dangerous Tipping Point for Receiving God’s Judgment?”, which is entirely in character, as Howse only does ominous titles. Remember when I said that every aspect of the extremist’s life is governed by fear? Well, that doesn’t just apply to Obama, teh gayz, libruls, evilutionists, or (Howse’s favorite villain-of-the-week) “Fabian Socialists.” There’s one thing the Howses of the world are even more scared of than all those things: their God. This week, Howse cannot stop wringing his hands (mostly in fear, but one detects a hint of sadistic glee as well) over the destruction he is sure God is about to wreak upon America, because, apparently…

…our nation has murdered nearly 50 million unborn children, states are rushing toward homosexual marriage, God is outlawed in our nation’s public schools, the criminalization of Christianity is greatly increasing, only 1% of adults have a Christian worldview and false-teaching and pagan spirituality has become mainstream.

I must say I found a lot of that surprising. Only 1% of American adults are Christians? If only! Of course, Howse really means that, by his estimation (and it’s one that lets him play the “me so persecuted” card with shameless impunity), only 1% of Americans are True Christians™ like him. The others are all misled fools who’ve embraced false teachings and “pagan spirituality.” Hmm. Okay. Though I must admit, this imaginary Scary America that exists between Howse’s ears is one I wouldn’t mind living in.

And what’s all this about the “criminalization of Christianity”? Seriously? You’d think if this were the case, then law enforcement would have a hard time overlooking all these hundreds of churches that appear on every fucking block in every town in the country, and be about raiding them Waco-style with greater efficiency than they seem to be employing at present. I mean, let’s look at something in our country that is criminalized, like drugs. So if we lived in some bizarro parallel universe in which drugs were “criminalized” to the same degree Howse thinks Christianity is, then this would be a parallel universe in which meth labs operated on every street corner like drive-in burger joints, vending machines sold both Coke and…coke, and you could pick up Master Kush and Purple Haze marijuana buds at your local nursery or Home Depot.

Truly, Howse is a silly, silly man. But the kind of fear he spouts — an all-consuming, comprehensive existential terror in which you are literally never safe from anything, including the God you profess to love — somehow hits huge numbers of people where they live. It speaks to them. And that, more than anything, is the tragedy of the religious mind. The brighter the beliefs look to the believer, the darker the abyss they actually inhabit.


PS: I just remembered…Howse did one of his Code Blue rallies here in Austin two days ago. No idea how it went yet. I’ll do some digging.

TFN Political event alert

I’m planning to attend this event hosted by the Texas Freedom Network.

From my inbox:


Could the religious right really be on the decline in America?

Come hear E.J. Dionne, the award-winning columnist for The Washington Post and author of the best-selling book Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right, at a Faith and Freedom Speaker Series event on September 24 in Austin. Dionne is one of the nation’s most respected voices on the intersection of faith and politics in America today.

As a liberal, I enjoy EJ Dionne’s column in the Washington Post and appreciate any opportunity to tweak the religious right. On the other hand, as an atheist I have serious misgivings about any efforts by the left to “reclaim” faith and politics. I am not particularly concerned by candidates who mention their own religious beliefs as a personal matter — frankly I appreciate the opportunity to find out who to be wary of — but I think religion has no place ever being an explicit part of politics.

In any case, I’m certainly interested in going to see what Dionne has to say, perhaps armed with a few pointed questions at the end. If anyone wants to join me, click on the link at the top. It is free to the public, but you are advised to reserve your spot as seating will be limited.

Texas SBOE: The beatings continue

Don McLeroy may no longer be in charge, but the State Board of Education in our poor beleaguered state is no less risible and contemptible. Just how many scathing editorials must these idiots receive before they start getting the message? That’s a rhetorical question, so don’t bother answering it, because it answers itself: They will never be humbled, because it is in the nature of fundamentalist ideologues to embrace the martyrdom of criticism, and the more abuse they take from the fallen secular world, the more proof that is to them that they’re doing right by their Lord. These are people who take Jesus’s line that “if the world hates you, remember it hated me first” to heart, and no mistake.

Anyway, the latest thrashing has been administered by the Corpus Christi Caller:

…The State Board of Education has rarely failed in its efforts to look ridiculous, as when it voted, some time back, not to require biology textbooks to include the theory of evolution. Or, more recently, when a panel of “experts” chosen by Republican members of the board urged the removal from the standards of [Cesar] Chávez, who greatly improved conditions for Hispanic farm workers, and [Thurgood] Marshall, who argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education that resulted in racial desegregation.

The state board is an embarrassment and will continue to be an embarrassment so long as narrow-minded ideologues and culture warriors dominate the agenda. You can argue that “education” is the least of their priorities.

That’ll leave a mark! Or it would, if these people had any sense of humility or decency whatsoever.

Hey, wasn’t the Institute for Creation “Research” suing Texas or something?

Yeah, they were, weren’t they? So what’s become of that? Well, it would appear that, like all lawsuits, it’s becoming the usual drawn-out exercise in paperwork-generating tedium. But the ICR did, amusingly, recently file a motion for summary judgment, before the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board even managed to complete discovery for their defense. Basically the ICR’s argument is a variant on the tried-and-true “Waah we’re Christians and rules don’t apply to us!” whine creationists typically rely on. You can read the motion, the burden of which is that, because the ICR doesn’t take state money, the THECB has no jurisdiction over them. The THECB responds by saying, well, yes we do. Ah, it’s never a dull moment dealing with entitled creationists who feel they can “educate” without any oversight.

Wait, what am I saying? It’s nothing but dull moments! Criminy.


From the ICR motion:

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (“THECB”), to the extent that it claims any jurisdictional or regulatory authority over ICRGS’s academic liberties under the Texas Education Code (e.g., under its Chapter 61 or otherwise), does so improperly, because ICRGS is statutorily exempt from the Texas Education Code’s application, as the fairly simple text of said §1.001(a) clearly shows.

From the THECB’s response:

Plaintiff’s contention purposefully and improperly ignores the remainder of the Texas Education Code…. Chapter 61 of the Texas Education Code — the Higher Education Coordinating Act of 1965 — includes a subchapter which expressly authorizes the Higher Education Coordinating Board to regulate private postsecondary educational institutions.

Wow. Quote-mining the law now? How very creationist of them.

Come on, John Ensign…you’re not trying!

The latest hilarious story of a politician with a roving willy is that of Nevada Republican senator John Ensign, who has shamefacedly confessed to an extramarital affair. Like the disgraced Democratic New York governor Eliot Spitzer, Ensign is your garden variety moral hypocrite, with an extra special twist that makes the schadenfreude at his downfall especially delightful. Because, being a Republican, Ensign’s big bugaboo was the “threat” of gay marriage, and how it threatened to “weaken” traditional marriages like the one he was betraying. Among other things, Ensign was very vocal in his calling for Larry “Wide Stance” Craig to resign. Here’s Ensign on marriage catching teh gay.

“The effort to pass a constitutional amendment reaffirming marriage as being between a man and a woman only is being undertaken strictly as a defense of marriage against the attempt to redefine it and, in the process, weaken it,” Ensign said. “Marriage is an extremely important institution in this country and protecting it is, in my mind, worth the extraordinary step of amending our constitution.” [Emphasis added.]

Seems to me Ensign isn’t spinning this with the kind of gusto one expects from the right. I mean, hasn’t it occurred to him that he could parlay his philandering ways into proof of his anti-gay marriage thesis?

Clearly, what happened was that, when all these rainbow-flag waving liberals and spearchucking lesbians began demanding marriage equality, Ensign’s marriage was so “weakened,” that he just couldn’t stop himself from having an extramarital affair! If only gay marriage hadn’t become a political hot button topic, the marriages of healthy straight Christians like John Ensign, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, and so very many others, would have been as towering in their strength as a Himalayan peak! Right. Right? So what more proof do you people need that we must stand unwavering against the threat of gay marriage, lest more heterosexuals fall victim to the monogamy-dampening effects of their gay rays.

What…you’re saying no one would buy it? Well, no, they wouldn’t, except for the inmates over at WorldNutDaily and the Christian Worldview Network. But my point is, heck, he could have at least tried, you know. Jeez, even Bill Clinton had the stones to come up with such artistically inventive rhetorical interpretive dance as “That depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.” So come on, Sen. Ensign, step up! Haven’t we earned the right to expect at least that from our politicians?

Toodles, Mac!

From a TFN email alert:

Senate Sends Message to State Board of Education: No More Culture Wars

Moments ago, the Texas Senate voted to reject Don McLeroy as chairman of the State Board of Education. The 19-11 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for confirmation. Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller is releasing the following statement:

“Watching the state board the last two years has been like watching one train wreck after another. We had hoped that the Legislature would take more action to put this train back on the tracks, but clearly new leadership on the board was a needed first step. The governor should know that parents will be watching closely to see whether he chooses a new chairman who puts the education of their children ahead of personal and political agendas.”

Thanks to all of you who made calls and wrote letters about this important nomination. The Senate clearly heard your demands for responsible, common-sense leadership on the state board.

Regardless of the governor’s selection for the next chair of the board, our work is not done. With your support, TFN will continue leading the charge for sound education standards, ideology-free textbooks and the best interests of Texas school children.

Whew.

Now watch. Perry will get his revenge and appoint Cynthia Dunbar now.