Blog Against Theocracy 2013

Its been a long time dear readers. One of my earliest posts took part in the 2007 blog against theocracy. When I saw there was no organized blog against theocracy this year, I felt called to write. There is a great need to address this topic.

This past week has seen a historic awakening – a cultural awareness of the validity and importance of recognizing gay rights. It is a big moment, but underneath it an even bigger moment waits to be discovered: Religious belief alone is not a valid source of law. If your belief in the unity of all beings or the importance of love for they neighbor drives you to do good work – that is a beautiful blessing. But when your beliefs force those who do not share them to act as if they do: you cross a line. We see this play out in the absurd arguments against gay marriage. We see it in the obsessive drive to control and repress female sexuality. Increasingly though, we see it burrowing into harder to reach places. As America becomes less religious, as America pushes back on church incursions into state, we are going to see religious influence look for other ways to retain (and expand) power.

That is at play in this effort to push Bibles into public schools.

The foundations of knowledge of the ancient world—which informs the understanding of the modern world—are biblical in origin.

A statement like that ignores the prolific writings of ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian sources. It ignores the musings and discoveries of the Islamic Golden Age. The thoughts of Chinese writers are also missing. It also ignores the more interesting contributions of Christian thinkers like St Augustine and St Anselm. I speak from experience when I say you can understand their wonderful and engaging philosophical musings without having read the bible.

If you really want to expose the underbelly of the effort to bring bibles into the classroom, ask if they think students should study the koran. After all, the koran is foundational to much of modern society (just not in the US). Better yet, see if Roma Downy and Mark Burnett would support including critical views of the bible. Is it to be read as is, without the criticism found in English or History classes? Or do they imagine students free to dissect the many logical errors and contradictions found within? More than likely not, since that would defeat the purpose of their effort, similar in spirit and aim to efforts to install the ten commandments at courthouses.

The highest promise of religious thought is to inspire acts of great compassion and vision. When it is instead used as an aggressive evangelical power grab, its value is demeaned and lessened. The strongest and most vocal ally in the fight against theocracy should always be the religious believer. For religion is worth far more than its current use – as a tool for social control.


Why Do We Have Zoos Still?

Chooseyourownfoodchain’s thoughtful post on Zoo’s really got me thinking, why do we even have Zoo’s?

Zoos are intended to provide entertainment and sometimes, education, to the general public (who are paying for this, either in the form of a ticket or, I assume, through taxes).

When it comes to conservation,  a nature preserve seems far wiser and infinitely more humane.

This historical observation really struck me hard:

Here’s a thought: DID YOU KNOW THAT HUMAN BEINGS USED TO BE DISPLAYED IN SOME ZOOS**!??? That’s right. In both America and western Europe, people who were considered “different,” namely those of non-European descent, were kept in small areas for the paying public to watch.

Why the hell do we perpetuate that kind of legacy on animals?  So bored parents have someplace to take their kids on a Saturday?  For educational purposes?  Let’s put an end to zoos.  We can encourage parents to be active with their kids on Saturdays, and watch nature specials that are far more informative than staring at caged animals.

We can do better, for ourselves and for animals.

Indentured Students

Everything old is new again at the Boston Globe.   Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow writes:

The next thing in student loans: Investors pay your bills. You give them a share of your future:

The result is an innovative way to think about paying for higher education. The idea, sometimes called human capital contracts, is that investors agree to cover the costs of college or graduate school in return for a percentage of the students’ future earnings over a fixed period of time. Since payments are scaled to wages, the odds of default – and of financial hardship for the graduate – are greatly reduced. This scheme transfers much of the risk from students to investors. But if the students earn handsomely, the investors stand to gain more than they would under a traditional loan.

This forms a relationship of debt between the student and the investor, allowing investors to profit off the labor of several students in exchange for giving them access to higher education.  Rather than an innovative stroke of economic genius, it is an odious jerry-rigging of a broken education system to further cement the idea that education, a public service, is in fact a private commodity.

The contracts could offer a new way for students and their families to handle the burden of postsecondary education bills. In recent years, rising tuition costs, combined with limits on federal loans, have increasingly forced students to resort to private loans, which have markedly higher interest rates. The challenges of paying for college promise to intensify during the economic downturn. Disruptions in the credit market have caused turmoil for student borrowers, while diminished endowments may force many colleges to jack up tuition rates even higher. Constraints on the federal budget will limit the options of President-elect Obama and the next Congress, regardless of their plans to aid students.

What we should question is why higher education isn’t provided to the public like k-12.  Now that would be an innovative investment.

Expelled Intelligence

Following the painful trend of painting right-wing conservative Christianity as persecuted in the face of the oh so evil elitist secular scientists, Expelled is … specialOvercompensating:

The purpose of this here comic is to warn you in case you’re the kind of person who goes to watch movies on a whim based on the poster, and think to youself “Man it seems like a movie with Ben Stein dressed as a schoolboy would be pretty good!” They you would get in and be all mad because it’s actually a movie about how it isn’t fair that Intelligent Design is a roundly rejected notion by all them hoighty-toighty science types that ain’t open to new ideas man and oh also they are not unlike Nazis.

Let’s take a look:

Where to start?

  • “smart new ideas”.  Last I checked, creationism isn’t exactly new.
  • Rebel“.  Is it possible for a defender of the Republican status quo like Ben Stein to be a rebel?  Who is he rebelling against?  What strange power?
  • “Big Science”.  Trying to position science, a way of understanding the world through repeatable experimentation and testable theories, as equivalent to corporate lobbyists is puzzling.  Perhaps the abuse of monetary power is the only kind Conservatives like Ben Stein understand?
  • Suppression“.  No one is talking about suppressing attempts to teach creationism.  What secularists don’t like is false advertising.  Intelligent Design, for all its straining, is not science.  It does not offer up testable theories.  Its perfectly welcome in classes on religion or philosophy.

Looking beyond Ben Stein to the people behind the movie (its a flash site, click through to “principal bios”.) reveals a range of big business and Christian movers and shakers, notably Paul Lauer, who has been involved with marketing for “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicle of Narnia”.

Their goal is to fool us into seeing the creationists as the noble underdog in a struggle for academic freedom.  The truth is that creationists are trying to erase the boundaries between Church and State to spread their beliefs under demonstrably false pretenses.

Insight Into UMass Amherst’s Struggles

Over at GradNews, you can get an in depth look at the battles still being fought at my almer mater over matters of diversity and student power.  Of particular interest is Uri’s freedom of information act lawsuit against UMass and the administrations efforts to undermine the student research and advocacy group SCERA.  It does not look like the blog is being actively updated, but I hope Jeff and Uri continue to write about the absurdity that is the University’s actions against its own student body.

Looking back at my old school, I am reminded of a teacher who used to joke that every year he watched the value of his degree plummet (he was referring to us).  But as I watch my old school I can’t help but wonder what it will mean to say “I graduated from UMass” 10, 20 years from now.   While I was there Massachusetts made it clear that between the state college system and the private universities, there wasn’t a place for a robust yet affordable higher education.  My school underwent severe budget cuts, losing or crippling entire departments, all while fees and tuition skyrocketed.  Yet at the same time there was a vital, powerful current of political activism and study at the university, one that powered many actions to protect and preserve the excellence of the institution and its value to students and the larger community.

So it is with increasing sadness that I watch the administration continue to attack and weaken the greatest asset it has, and its strongest chance of surviving in a meaningful way: A diverse and politically active student body.

Texas: Making Education a Joke

These days we expect the anti-intellectual movement known as creationism to rear its head wearing “Intelligent Design” as a flimsy disguise.  Not in Texas!  Tony’s curricublog:

Would Texas state approval of the creationists’ masters degree program in “Science Education” jeopardize its satisfaction of the NCLB requirement for a “Highly Qualified Teacher” in every classroom, and its reciprocity arrangements for teacher qualification in other states?

In an editorial for the Edmond (OK) Sun, with the headline Knowing difference between science, religion important in schools, Dennis Weigand warns against the danger of Oklahoma being plagued by the kind of anti-science-education efforts seen now and recently in the neighboring states of Kansas and Texas.

This will have serious and lasting impact on Texans, and unfortunately, the rest of us when they move to other states and start doing things like voting or speaking out loud.

what if it’s not just Texas students, but the science teachers in that state who are not well enough educated in the sciences that they can tell the “the difference between science and religion”?

What we have here is an attempt to kill the ability of some students to reason.  Reason, in the view of some religious proponents, must be restricted so as not to approach the pearly gates of faith.  “Keep your Reason off my Bible” might as well become the new slogan for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.  To see specifically what the approved program will be:

to get a good overview of the program without clicking through the pages on their site, you can visit this post on Ed Darrell’s blog.

This is ridiculous.  It is an assault on the quality of education provided by the state, separation of church and state, and the ability of Texas students to live and flourish in a world that runs on science.

I wonder what Mike Huckabee’s or Ron Paul’s take on this would be?  (For more on creationism, evolution, and the candidates: the Carpetbagger Report).

The Decisive Do Not Vote Ron Paul Guide

What is the decisive do not vote for Ron Paul voting guide? His voting record (David, Orcinus):

In the comments thread to my previous post on Ron Paul, the indispensable Trefayne compiled a series of posts on Paul’s track record as a congressman, particularly those bills he sponsored or co-sponsored.

Here’s Trefayne:

What’s more, consider Ron Paul’s record in Congress. Not that he’ll ever occupy the Oval Office, but what would he do after pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq? His past legislative proposals will provide some clues, and they are not friendly to progressive ideas. Here are some bills that Ron Paul has proposed, not merely voted on, but sponsored. And you can see that he tries repeatedly on certain issues, which suggests they are important to him.

So what are Ron Paul’s positions?

  • Anti Choice
  • Anti Gay
  • Anti Worker
  • Anti-Democracy
  • Anti-Environment
  • Pro Corporation
  • Pro Discrimination/Racism
  • Against the International Criminal Court
  • Anti-Government Education

Ron Paul provides liberals, progressive, and classical Republicans with their own reasons for utterly rejecting his candidacy. For some his opposition to a federal minimum wage, safety standards, and anti-union policies might be enough. For others, his continued attempts to weaken and eliminate public education. I think we can all agree Paul’s support of the electoral college is bullshit. The positions he takes are those of a man who opposes any sort of government regulation, be it anti-trust, pro-environment, or anti-discrimination. Ron Paul is a schizophrenic anarchist/totalitarian, who wants complete power to regulate abortion, sexuality and other religious matters, but wants to essentially eliminate federal government, taxes, environmental protection, public education, regulation of corporations, and participation in any international bodies.

Beyond all of this, Ron Paul is a marketing home run for the far right extremist crowd:

Because as I’ve been explaining in some detail (along with Sara), Paul has so far managed to pull off something of a neat trick: Appearing thoughtful and principled, even though his beliefs and principles are largely derived from the extremist far right — a fact that he’s wisely muted in the campaign.

Ron Paul is more than just an outlet for the radical right. He is a successful re-branding for the hate/conspiracy theory branch of the Republican party. And as for the common view that the extremists he attracts are not his fault (Orcinus, emphasis mine):

Paul himself doesn’t necessarily believe these things — but the theories themselves are so thoroughly rooted in racial and anti-Semitic animus, often playing the role of providing a thoughtful “academic” face to smooth-talking racists like David Duke, that it’s hard not to hear Ron Paul holding forth on them now and understand perfectly well where those ideas are coming from, even if it’s never acknowledged. Though having seen Paul work the militia circuit in the 1990s certainly gave me a good idea.

It’s quite clear who these theories are speaking to, as well. It’s odd that a normally sharp-eyed reporter like Edsall can’t see that. Evidently, he’s fallen for the “libertarian” cover schtick without looking further to see what that really entails.

It’s “not Ron Paul’s fault” he attracts extremists only if the positions he’s staked out, and the beliefs he advocates, aren’t his fault either.

Ron Paul is an extremist in mainstream clothing, a radical Republican hiding behind a independent/libertarian stage mask. His voting record and his rhetoric say otherwise. Are we listening?

(image source: this guy’s awesome forum sig)