Could Thursday be D-Day for McLeroy?

Texas’ official State Embarrassment Don McLeroy will find out tomorrow, hints the TFN, whether or not his appointment as chair of the universally derided State Board of Education will stand or fall. The Democrats claim to have all the votes they need to block his approval, but one should never underestimate the underhanded dealings and shenanigans of far-right Christian ideologues in Texas.

McLeroy has to go. This should be a no-brainer. But there are plenty of people in this state with no brains actively bucking for him. Why, apart from the fact he’s subjected the state to nationwide ridicule and overtly based his policymaking on his far-right religious ideals, has he been such a disaster heading up the SBOE? Well, you see, chairing the SBOE isn’t exactly the kind of place where one expects showboating political ideologues to make waves. It ought to be a non-partisan, administrative position focused on doing whatever it takes to improve the quality of education for the state’s schoolchildren, full stop, whatever this or that lobbying group with an agenda demands. Those inclined to defend Mac by saying “The Texas Freedom Network is a lobbying group too!” should extricate their craniums from their rectums long enough to note that had right-wing Christians on the SBOE not actively engaged such groups as the Discovery Institute in formulating state science education policies, the TFN could well have stayed home.

Apart from the coordinated gang-rape of science education that Mac has led at the Board, he has…

  • …also injected extremist right-wing ideology into social studies curricula, by appointing outright cranks to review panels to judge social studies standards. Among these are Christian Reconstructionist quote fabricator David Barton of Wallbuilders, whose agenda is promoting the theocratic “Christian Nation” myth; Bill Ames, a “textbook reviewer” for ultra-right harpy Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum; Peter Marshall, a four-alarm wackaloon of the Fred Phelps school, who has described Hurricane Katrina as God’s punishment for teh gayz, and demanding Christian parents pull their kids out of public school; and sexist creationist clod Allen Quist. Yeah, that’s the kind of review panel Texas education needs: a bunch of lying education haters.
  • …summarily rejected a set of recommendations, put together by experts and educators over a three-year period, for English and language arts standards, in favor of an 11th-hour quickie set of standards drafted in one night by Mac’s fellow ideologues, and rushed into a vote without adequate time for review.

Hopefully, our senators will do the right thing and, in one very small way (after all, Mac won’t be removed from the SBOE if his chairmanship is not approved, he just won’t be chair), we will begin to turn the tide and push back against the despicable, mortifying, and contemptible ignorance and arrogance that has poisoned not only education in Texas, but the reputation of the state as a whole.

Fundies rally behind McLeroy, give a big thumbs up to teen pregnancy

Time to get on the horn to your state senators, people. I’ll just link to the relevant TFN piece. You know where to take this from there.

In similar Christian War on Education news, the Texas house today voted down a bill that would require medically accurate sex education in the state. Bring on the teen pregnancies! Nice one, godbots.

Not even pretending anymore

As most of you probably are aware, the confirmation (or not) of Don McLeroy as chair of the Texas SBOE is pending. The SBOE is now officially a nationwide laughingstock, first with Conan O’Brien and then Bill Maher finding plenty of fodder for humor in the board’s idiocy ever since it’s been a country club for fundagelical numbskulls who believe the Earth was created more recently than dogs were domesticated.

Once the comedy gets all the way around to the likes of Dane Cook, you’ll know Texas’ reputation has bottomed out.

The Texas Freedom Network is urging every Texas resident to contact their state senators to urge them to vote against McLeroy’s confirmation. I’m nervous about this, particularly as my state senator here in Austin is loyal Republican Jeff Wentworth. But I plan to contact him anyway. You should do the same if you’re a rational Texan. Find out who represents you here.

In the meantime, fellow SBOE member Ken Mercer — the guy who keeps bringing up things like Piltdown Man — has rallied to his buddy’s defense. And sure enough, he’s playing the good old Christian Persecution Card. I mean, what else would Mercer be doing when his column has such a whiny title as “Christians Need Not Apply.” Seriously, that little card is starting to look more than a little worn and dog-eared, isn’t it?

By now, reading the angsty rants of fundamentalists scorned is a thoroughly tiresome exercise, inspiring little more than a bemused shaking of the head. But it’s worth noting that guys like Mercer are no longer even pretending not to be hypocrites any more. As the TFN blog points out, they want it both ways. They repeatedly claim (blatantly lying, of course) that their positions as board members are not in any way motivated by their religious beliefs, or the desire to pander to voters that share them. But in the same breath, if their policies and activities as board members are criticized at all, then it’s back to the old “Oh noes I is pursekuted becos I haz the Krischianity!!!!1!one!” So suddenly, the reason to support and defend McLeroy has everything to do with this…

“I wanted to write to you [McLeroy] and express my sincerest appreciation to you for having the courage to stand by your convictions during your recent hearing. It is unfortunately rare, today, to see anyone willing to clearly and calmly state and stand by their Christian beliefs, particularly in the face of abuse such as what you took.”

…even though we’re expected to go on believing that those Christian beliefs Mac boldly stands by do not in any way influence his work as chairman of the SBOE. As cons go, that ain’t very smooth, fundies.

The voting on this issue will be extremely partisan, people. Today the House voted down HB 710, which would have subjected the SBOE to periodic review by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. All but one Republican voted against this common-sense bill, which would not have stripped any authority from the SBOE at all. Even simple oversight strikes fear into the hearts of the Republicans and their Christian Right masters, it would seem.

Finally, I love this little quip from the TFN blog, in response to Mercer’s comparing McLeroy’s “persecution” to that we’re supposed to think is being suffered by homophobic pageant queen Carrie Prejean.

…Mercer deserves credit for coming up with the most apt comparison to date for the level of intellectual debate at the Texas SBOE — a beauty pageant. The uninformed, vapid discourse at the board resembles nothing so much as a room full of beauty pageant contestants confidently asserting opinions on politics or world affairs. And both ellicit similar snickers and groans from the audience.

Ouch! Come on, no need to harsh on the pageant girls! They’re a MENSA gathering compared to the SBOE. And cuter too!

Patriotic irony

A few recent commenters asked what we thought about our idiot governor deciding that it’s okay to threaten to remove our state from the United States.

In case the adjective immediately preceding “governor” didn’t clue you in, let me elaborate. I may not speak for everyone here, but I think it’s ridiculously ironic. For most of the last administration, atheists, war dissidents, and other groups to which I do or don’t belong, have been casually tarred with epithets like “unAmerican” and “traitors” for criticizing a political administration, organizing protests, and mocking the president.

Yet now what have we got? We’ve had a new president for all of four months, and an extremely high profile Republican threatens an obviously, literally treasonous act, and tries to incite a do-over for the Civil War.

Ron Paul also also weighed in with his own inane contribution. Paul says:

“Well, they don’t know their history very well, because if they think about it… it is very American to talk about secession. That’s how we came in being. Thirteen colonies seceded from the British and established a new country. So secession is a very much American principle.”

Um, yeah. You know what? When America “seceded” from their status as a colony, it was because they hated Great Britain. In starting a revolution, they were most definitely committing treason against that country. They were traitors to Great Britain.

That’s not to say that I disagree with their actions, that’s just a fact. They made a political calculation that they could spit in the eye of their political leaders and win, and they did win.

But come on, let’s call a spade a spade. When a small minority of my state’s leadership declares that they want to leave America, they are actually, explicitly saying that they hate America, and they would like to commit treason against this country, in exactly the same manner as the founding fathers committed treason against King George.

And hey, if that’s what floats your boat, go ahead and hate America. Unlike some pundits, I’m not calling for anybody’s execution. I’m just saying, FUCK all of you people who ever accused some group or another of hating America and are now calling for a revolution against my country. Hypocrites.

Anyway, the governor of Texas doesn’t even have the authority to make us leave. The governor doesn’t have unilateral powers to decide what the state will do. So when the legislature starts passing stuff other than finger-wagging, then we’ll worry.

No, we haven’t all died

I know, a week and a half without a new post is a long time for any blog to go, especially one with a pretty strong readership we’d like to keep. (Hugs!) It’s just one of those times when real life intrudes, I suppose, and none of us has found the time to work blogging into our schedules. I’ll do my best to improve that situation for my own part. Everyone else, well, they post rarely enough as it is, so they’ll drop by when they see fit, I’m sure. (Condescending snicker.)

I must say, it has been kind of nice to take a breather, away from the daily cataloguing of the absurdities of the righteous. Still, there are some things going on, and so it’s a good time to haul my fat ass back up into the saddle and get this old nag back on the road again.

The biggest news down Austin way has been the confirmation hearings for that assrocket Dan “Stand Up To The Experts” McLeroy. Our bold and equally rebellion-minded governer Rick “Secede!” Perry reappointed McLeroy to chair the Texas State Board of Education in 2007, but his reappointment requires the Senate Nomination Committee’s approval, apparently, and today, his confirmation hearing was held. The Texas Freedom Network liveblogged it, and they have a high old time unpacking all of Mac’s prevarications as he was up at the mic defending himself and the SBOE. It sounds as if McLeroy did an absolutely awesome job of digging his own grave today. I hope the Committee realizes that statements like this…

5:37 -McLeroy says almost everyone in his church rejects evolution and supports creationism. He describes himself as a young Earth creationist. He says he tells reporters that he wants to be up front and honest about his beliefs. “I think it’s a pretty rational view.”

…are tantamount to the man just standing up and shouting “Disqualify me!” I mean, cripes, this is like asking General Motors shareholders and board of directors to appoint as CEO of the company a man who says, “Well, I’m pretty sure that cars are powered by a combination of giant wound-up rubber bands and a couple dozen hamsters on treadmills concealed within the engine block. I think that’s a pretty rational view.”

I mean, here’s a man boasting of how totally uneducated he is, and he’s expecting Senate confirmation?

McLeroy really does appear to have been grilled. At least one senator has stated his intention to oppose Mac’s confirmation, and other senators on the committee don’t sound terribly sympathetic to him. Let us hope that the vote goes the right way, and Texas will finally start back on the proper path in how it educates its students, without extremist religious ideology and the personal beliefs of SBOE members constantly setting up roadblocks that unnecessarily impede the whole process, solely for the gratification of the egos of McLeroy and his idiot YEC posse.

Can the SBOE be abused enough? No

Another brutal editorial excoriating the Texas State Board of Miseducation appears in today’s Statesman. Now that they’ve voted to undermine evolution, the next target of the theocratic ideologues is climate change. And this is take to task by Jim Marston of Texas’ Environmental Defense Fund. Again, he exposes that the board’s seemingly reasonable “teach the controversy” position is really designed solely to allow politically motivated and ideological objections to science to be introduced into curricula as if those objections were equally scientifically sound simply by virtue of being voiced.

On its face, the board’s requirement that Texas science textbooks “analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming” seems reasonable. It’s not. Just because you can find a handful of “experts” who disagree with thousands of climate scientists doesn’t mean our children should be taught that the science is still up in the air….

But besides tainting the reputation of our children’s science education in the eyes of the world, the board’s mandate has other ramifications: It suggests to our children that their economic and lifestyle choices might have no effect on global warming, thus eroding many parents’ efforts to instill in their children the ethic that they must be responsible for their own actions.

Hasn’t Marston been paying attention to fundie rhetoric? We don’t need to protect the environment, or be responsible stewards of the Earth at all. Jeebis is coming! (Or at least, that’s what they keep saying. It looks like the right’s getting a little worried about that, actually.)

Democrats wake up and take the SBOE debacle seriously

The first step in de-moronizing the Texas State Board of Education has begun. In past years the Democrats have ill-advisedly ignored the SBOE, preferring more high-profile races in Texas politics. But with the current board overrun by anti-science creationist wackaloons who are turning the entire state into fodder for late-night comedians, the Dems are finally extracting craniums from rectums and realizing that the neocon theocrats cannot be allowed to gang-rape the education of an entire generation of Texas students.

And so the first challengers have been announced for the 2010 elections. Democratic activist Susan Shelton has announced she will challenge walking joke Cynthia “Obama Is a Terrorist” Dunbar, and that “as many as a dozen” other Democrats are considering a run. It’s about frickin’ time.

Meanwhile, the recent, second hearing on January 21 was evidently no less packed with stupid than the first. (Note to Clare Wuellner, who emailed me urging me to participate this time: I did try to call the number you gave me, but got nothing but a dispatcher who sounded like she couldn’t hear me and kept saying, “Hello, go ahead!” until I hung up. Weird.) You know, it’s just so tiresome the way these people try to pretend, with all of their “strengths and weaknesses” code words and what have you, that their opposition to evolution education isn’t about promoting their religious agendas. And then when these hearings are held, the fools speaking out for their side put the lie to that the instant they open their idiot gobs.

Folks, we got change in 2008. Let’s get some more in ’10. Vote!

Can’t we kick Cynthia Dunbar to the curb yet?

Good grief. If it weren’t bad enough that this woman is a far-right wing space muffin who actually thinks Barack Obama is in league with terrorists, now we find out that this person who sits on the Texas State Board of Education, for fuck’s sake, has actually written a book (I hope she got a lot of use out of her Speak & Spell) excoriating the very concept of public schools as “unconstitutional,” “tyrannical,” and “a subtly deceptive tool of perversion.”

If this isn’t putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, I don’t know what is!

I’ve always been both amused and bemused by the way in which right-wing Christian fundagelicals not only actively resist knowledge and education, but take bizarre pride in their own intellectual and educational deficits. Fine, let them live out their lives as clueless idiots. But when they have the power to influence the educations of an entire generation of students, potentially derailing the future of the entire country as a consequence, that’s going just the teensiest bit too far, is it not?

Please, write the governor. This cannot stand.

You asked for it

Here’s a distant shot of Clare Wuellner of CFI-Austin in The Dress, giving testimony at Wednesday’s SBOE hearings. This comes from Steve Schafersman’s own blog. If you’d prefer a more journalistic, detailed, play-by-play account of the day’s events — you know, who spoke and what they said — and not just my indignant ranting, Steve’s got it. Tons of photos, too. He stayed all day, like a true battle-hardened veteran.

I’ll see if Clare can’t send along an even better picture of herself.

Crippled dogs and one-trick ponies

I’ve just returned from the Texas SBOE hearings on Science TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) standards, and I’m so full of disgust and dismay that I’m at a loss for words to express it with enough rancor. You can, however, expect me to go on at length anyway. The whole thing was such a goddamn farce from the outset that I’d had more than enough after only one hour, at which point I could only roll my eyes and walk out the door. If you haven’t encountered the gall and dishonesty of creationists on their own turf before, and even if you have many times, it’s always the kind of experience that leaves you feeling worse about humanity in general.

As I write this, people are still speaking, and will be for a few hours yet. I saw no point in sticking around, but for all I know there could be, at any time, a real first-rate speaker who could get across the points that needed to be gotten across, and who would call out the creos on the disingenuous rhetoric they repeatedly spewed. As it is, I left the whole charade with two key observations: 1) That the big pitch the creationists are using isn’t merely the weasel phrase “strengths and weaknesses,” but their defense of that phrase as an expression of support for “academic freedom” that the scientific community apparently opposes; and 2) that the pro-science side, at least as I saw it today, is singly unaware of how to respond to that rhetoric properly and forcefully.

This cannot be understated: Just as the anti-gay contingent of the Christian right sells its opposition to gay marriage as a “defense” of “traditional” marriage that can in no way be compared to opposition to interracial marriage or anything of that sort, so too are the creationists now abandoning the overt, lawsuit-bait language of “intelligent design” for “academic freedom” language that makes them seem like the ones encouraging students to use their minds to think about and evaluate ideas that are presented to them in class on their merits. Conversely, the pro-science side wants to shut this kind of inquiry down, and just require students to be obedient little sponges soaking up whatever the textbooks say.

Why this is a misrepresentation and gross misunderstanding of the opposition to such terms as “strengths and weaknesses” was, to his credit, appropriately explained by Texas Citizens for Science spokesman Steve Schafersman. But he didn’t make the point forcefully enough, and even he seemed taken aback when challenged by one of the creationist board members after giving his alloted three-minute address. I’ll discuss that last, because it was after Schafersman spoke that I ducked out. After all, if a veteran front-line soldier in the science education wars like Schafersman falters when some creationist puts him in the hot seat, it’s clearly time for the pro-science side to step back and understand just how dishonest the rhetoric is, and how it has to be addressed in a no-nonsense manner, calling bullshit bullshit, and stating the pro-science position with sufficient force and clarity that no sleazy creationist ideologue can sit there lying about it and sounding smug and reasonable while doing so. I don’t see that the pro-science speakers today fully appreciated the ideological scrimmage line they were going up against, nor the fact that the game plan was going to be offense all the way.

A quick rundown of some of the speakers I did see.

As I had a number of errands to run early in the day, I was worried that I may have missed a lot of the good stuff. I didn’t end up getting downtown to the Travis State Office Building until about 3:30. But as the TFN announced that the hearing itself wouldn’t start until likely after lunch, and as I recall the last set of hearings I attended in the same building five years ago went on until well into the night, I figured I hadn’t missed too much.

Turned out my timing was excellent. The hearings on the science standards started right around 3:55. That must have been some sheer pain for those folks who’d been there since 9:00 AM.

As the title of the post indicates, what ensued was the kind of dog-and-pony show where the dog has only three legs and all the pony knows how to do is turn in a circle. The first speaker was a dignified and well spoken older gentleman named Dr. Joe Bernal, who was himself an SBOE member in the 1990’s, and who spoke eloquently on the need to keep science scientific and avoid the pitfalls of allowing room for non-scientific ideas. He stated that it was the duty of parents, not schools, to determine a student’s religious instruction. He also reiterated the support among the scientific community for evolutionary theory.

Now, after a speaker has done his three minutes, board members can ask questions of that speaker if they wish. I saw it coming even before it started. The instant the bell chimed on Dr. Bernal’s address, creationist board member Terri Leo leapt out of the phone booth with her Supergirl costume on and hit the ground faster than a speeding bullet.

Her first agenda: discredit the recent survey, cited by Dr. Bernal, that showed 98% of biologists and science educators in Texas support evolution. “Who funded that study? Wasn’t that study funded by the Texas Freedom Network?” Dr. Bernal admitted it was, but stated calmly that whoever funded the study was beside the point. He actually got in a good comeback to Leo, noting that even the science teachers selected by the SBOE to review the science standards voted in the majority. But Leo wasn’t finished. “I always thought that taking polls wasn’t how you do science.” Well, of course not, and the poll wasn’t an exercise in doing science. The science is already done. The point of the poll was simply to get a show of hands among professionals in the relevant fields as to what theory is appropriate to teach in classrooms. But this is the kind of dishonest rhetoric that creationists will throw out there to get the pro-science side on the defensive.

The thing about Terri Leo is, she’s so dumb and sleazy that she cannot resist overplaying her hand. And she did it right away by using shameless creationist language while simultaneously denying any creationist agenda on her or the SBOE’s part. Note that Dr. Bernal only brought up religion in passing in his speech, pointing out that it’s a private family matter and not fit for science class. Leo leapt on this like a hungry tiger, railing that the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” was not religious language, and that the only people making a big deal about religion supposedly being shoehorned into science curricula are “militant Darwinists.”

I am not shitting you. She actually used that term, out loud, in front of a packed room, in her questioning of the very first speaker of the day.

I couldn’t stop myself. I laughed out loud, loud enough for her to hear. (“Hey…sorry, but…”) That was when I knew that the whole day was going to be a complete joke.

Dr. Bernal responded quite impressively by bringing up — and I’m so glad he was the first speaker, which is when it needed to be brought up — that the SBOE had themselves enlisted known anti-evolutionists affiliated with the Discovery Institute, who have not exactly been secretive about their own religious and creationist agendas, to be among those assigned to review science standards. Specifically he asked (to the delight of the crowd), “Why is someone from an institute in Seattle being asked to review Texas science education standards?”

And here we saw, for the first time, the depth of the SBOE’s egregious dishonesty they were going to display today. The presence of the DI’s Stephen Meyer, and creationist textbook writers Charles Garner and Ralph Seelke was brought up many time by many speakers, and no one on the board would defend or even address it. They simply were not going to justify their actions in this regard to the public, or at least, they didn’t in the hour I was there. If anyone reading this stayed through to the end, and he
ard anything from Dan McLeroy or Terri Leo about why these men, with their overt ID affiliations, were asked to review the Science TEKS standards for Texas, do let us all know in the comments.

Unlike 2003, when Terri Leo (working hand in hand with the Discotute) front-loaded that day’s speakers with creationists, I only heard one creationist speak today, some idiot who sleazily brought up the DI’s long-ridiculed “list of 700 dissenting scientists” as if it represented some kind of major controversy within science over Darwinian evolution. (As Ken Miller pointed out hilariously in his talk back in the spring at UT, this number represents barely a single-digit percentage of the total number of professionals in the relevant fields, and the list includes a number of names of non-biologists and similarly unqualified people who happen to have Ph.D.’s.) This guy then shamelessly rushed headlong into Godwin’s Law while the audience groaned, averring (after supposedly having watched Expelled too many times) that by refusing to allow ideas to be questioned in class, we were doomed to be heading down the same path those poor misguided Germans went down.

This inspired such derision from the crowd that Terri Leo — shocked, shocked at just how “rude” people were being in response to the entirely reasonable comparison that had just been drawn between themselves and Nazis — exhorted everyone to be more “respectful” of this poor man, who had taken valuable time out of his day to come down here to call everyone Nazis, and would the board please be more diligent about controlling such inconsiderate and shocking outbursts.

I can’t really put into words the atmosphere of disbelief that circulated around the room at this point. People were being calm, but among the audience and people waiting for their turn to speak (and I saw a very reassuring majority wearing “Stand Up for Science” stickers on their lapels), there was a definite vibe of “Just how much bullshit are we expected to endure?” Well, people, that’s what we all have to remember about creationists and religious ideologues: they are a Perpetual Motion Machine and Bullshit Factory all rolled into one, unleashing an unstoppable deluge of bovine feces that would even make Noah throw up his hands and say, “Fuck it, no ark is gonna save us from this one.”

Finally I come to Steven Shafersman, a man I admire and whose work in battling creationism over the years and fronting Texas Citizens for Science is unimpeachable. I had already made up my mind to disembark this ship of fools, but when I heard Shafersman’s name announced I stuck around, deciding he’d be the last guy I’d hear.

Shafersman did well, but unfortunately his talk left an opening for one of the creationist board members (a portly man whose name I didn’t catch, but who’s been identified by a commenter as Ken Mercer) to pounce on. See, Shafersman’s main point was that the reason it was inappropriate to have language like “evaluate strengths and weaknesses” in scholastic standards is that it requires activity on the part of the students they haven’t got the expertise for. Mercer tried to obfuscate this by making it seem as if Shafersman and the pro-science side didn’t even want students to be allowed to raise their hands and ask questions in class. This is emphatically not the case, of course, and Schafersman explained that, going on to say that in science, theories are critically evaluated in the field by working professionals, not by students hearing the theories for the first time and lacking the proper expertise and frame of reference to do a “critical evaluation” in the first place.

But Mercer kept hammering the false point repeatedly. What about errors and hoaxes in the past? What about Piltdown Man? What about Haeckel’s inaccurate embryo drawings, that were in textbooks for years? If people weren’t allowed to question these things, wouldn’t these errors and hoaxes have gone unexposed, and wouldn’t students be learning misinformation today? Why try to stifle the sort of open inquiry that led to these very necessary corrections?

Here is where Shafersman fumbled the ball, because there was such an easy and obvious response to this that it was all I could do to hold my tongue and not blurt it out as loudly as I could shout. I just wanted Shafersman to say one simple thing, and he never said it, because I think he was so flummoxed by the aggressiveness of Mercer’s questioning that he allowed himself to fall into the trap that had been set for him, forcing him to go on the defensive. (“Why, as a matter of fact I was one of the scientists instrumental in getting Haeckel’s drawings out of textbooks!” To which Mercer simply replied, “Right! So why then…”)

Here’s what I think Shafersman should have said in reply to Mercer:

“Sir, your examples support my point. The Piltdown Man hoax and Haeckel’s drawings were both shown to be false by working scientists, not students. It wasn’t as if some 14 year old in 9th grade biology class pointed to those drawings and said, ‘I don’t know, teacher, those just don’t look right to me.’ Because that student could not have done that. He would not have had the knowledge and expertise. And that is why requiring the analysis of ‘strengths and weaknesses’ is inappropriate language, as it requires students to do something they’re not equipped to do. Imagine a history class where you’re teaching about Alexander the Great. Then you say to your students, ‘Okay, kids, write a critical analysis of Alexander’s battle plans against the Thracians.’ How can they do this? They aren’t generals, they’re teenagers. They aren’t qualified. First, you have to teach them the facts. Then, later on, if they pursue this field as a vocation they may gain the expertise to critique ‘strengths and weaknesses.’ But for now, they just need facts. And that’s why we’re opposed to this language in the TEKS. Our opposition is not a synonym for stifling all academic inquiry or even simple questions, and to claim that it is is an extremely dishonest red herring.”

That’s how he should have shut Mercer down. And to his credit, he did make some of these points. But Shafersman was never as forceful as Mercer was. The best Shafersman could do, it seemed, was feebly try to regain control of the questioning with very weak-sounding responses (to the effect of “We don’t really need to go into the details of Haeckel right now…”, which embarrassingly sounds like an attempt at dodging the issue).

I simply could not handle any more. I bolted.

It was clear that the creationist contingent knew that the pro-science side was going to show up in force at these hearings, and they came loaded for bear with every bit of disingenuous rhetoric in their how-to-play-dirty playbook. You’ll recall in Kazim’s recent critique of the “rumble in Sydney,” in which Alan Conradi debated a minister, that Kazim made a very important point: ultimately, public debates are a matter of the performance, not the content. While these hearings were not a debate in the formal, forensic sense, they were an informal public “debate” not unlike that which goes on in The Atheist Experience and similar live venues, where topics are argued, often skillfully and often not, in an off-the-cuff manner with minimal prep.

The hearings today were that kind of thing, just an extremely farcicial parody of it. In one corner, a sincere collection of educators and science activists simply trying to ensure that the state’s educational standards aren’t diluted by trojan-horse language that, while non-inflammatory on its face, still leaves room for religious teaching to be slipped into classrooms by unscrupulous teachers (like, oh, John Freshwater); in the other, a board dominated by ideologues who aren’t the least bit interested in understanding the views presented to them (all the while hypocritically claiming to promote freedom of inquiry), and who made every effort to obfuscate, mi
srepresent, and lie about those views.

In other words, a joke. A complete and utter joke.

And they wonder why people say Texas is a laughingstock.

Two more observations before I sign off (and remember, this whole epic-length post was simply my report on viewing one hour of this rubbish today):

  1. I would have liked to have stuck around to hear the woman speak who showed up dressed (quite attractively) as if she’d stepped off the set of Little House on the Prairie. I imagine she was going to make some point about 19th century education being unsuited for a 21st century world, but there’s no way I could have endured more of Terri Leo and Ken Mercer’s verbal diarrhea while waiting. If any of you did hear her, tell us what she said, please.
  2. The pro-science side does seem to have one solid ally on the SBOE, in the person of Mary Helen Berlanga. Ms. Berlanga was very polite and thanked all of the pro-science speakers, including Steve Shafersman, for their hard work and efforts. But that just made me want to hear more from her. Why not be as aggressive with the questioning in the way Bradley and Leo were? Why not be the one to answer the repeated queries about why known ID-supporters and anti-evolutionists were allowed to review the Science TEKS this year?

Addendum: Made corrections once Ken Mercer was identified in the comments.