29 May 2008

Quotation of the Day

There's a lot to be said for being a lizard.

28 May 2008

Should a class focusing on the Bible be taught in public school?

The Roanoke Times asks this question in an online "poll" to which, as asked, the only correct answer is "no". Why do I say that--I, who am an advocate of teaching the Bible as one of the great classics of western civilization? I who believe that all our classics are being sadly neglected in an educational system intent on supplying factory workers for the gigantic assembly lines of yesteryear? Especially when the class in question is to be taught by a "20-year veteran, properly licensed, one of our most praised and most valued faculty members," according to school board chairman James Stephens. "She has the good judgment to make sure she does not get into proselytizing and keep it in an academic format," he claims.

The answer: This class is based on the course put out by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a known purveyor of fake history. Check out their website. Try the Founding Fathers page, for example. What do we find there? Well, first there's the bizarre assertion that "The Bible was the foundation and blueprint for our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, our educational system, and our entire history until the last 20 to 30 years." This is at the very least a considerable overstatement; in point of fact the Bible was neither the foundation or the blueprint for any of those things, ever. Not in the last twenty to thirty years, not in the last century, not at all. This is crazy talk--but not just crazy talk. It is far worse than that. It is Christian Nation talk.

Next we have a quotation attributed to Patrick Henry. No, it isn't the one I trashed the other day; this is a different one. "The Bible is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed," said Patrick Henry, according to this site. Well, not exactly. What Patrick Henry allegedly said of the Bible--and what we have is only a third-hand report--"Here is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed : yet it is my misfortune never to have found time to read it, with the proper attention and feeling, till lately. I trust in the mercy of Heaven, that it is not yet too late." This anecdote first appeared in William Wirt's Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (1818; p. 402); his source, apparently, was a letter from George Dabney. In other words what we have here is not something actually written by Patrick Henry, but only something that somebody else said he said--and lacking the letter, we don't even know if Dabney heard this himself, or only reported what somebody else had told him.

After this we come to a quotation attributed to, of all people, Horace Greeley. Apparently it has somehow escaped the NCBCPS's notice that Horace Greeley was not one of the Founding Fathers. He was a newspaper editor who belonged to the Civil War generation, an anti-slavery advocate, a contemporary of Lincoln, the Let The Erring Sisters Go Their Ways guy. Still, what is he supposed to have said? "It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom." Is this a genuine quotation? No source is given, either here, or in any of the other works quoting this that I could run down. It sounds like the sort of thing Greeley might have written. He liked the word groundwork and the expression human freedom. He was a Bible-reader from way back, having learned to read from it at the age of four. He was no doubt aware of the way the story of Moses was read by the slaves as a metaphor for their own liberation, and could well have had this in mind. But I couldn't find it, in spite of going through a number of Greeley's works. The oldest source I could locate (and this thanks to Google search) was an 1889 volume entitled Vital Questions: The Discussions of the General Christian Conference Held in Montreal, Que., Canada, October 22nd to 28th, 1888. On pp. 197-98 we read:

And so of our own and all other lands. Romish dogma we know to be a source of religious, social, and national peril. "But it is impossible," said one of the great leaders of public thought in America, " to mentally and socially enslave a Bible-reading people, for the principles of the Bible are the ground-work of human freedom."

The "great leader of public thought in America" isn't named, but Greeley would certainly qualify. However, neither this nor any other work that gave this alleged quotation gave any source, beyond attributing it to Horace Greeley. The burden of proof, remember, is on the person who would claim this as genuine.

Moving on, we have "I have always said, and will always say, that studious perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens." This is attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, at least, actually was a Founding Father, but the quotation isn't much to boast of. In this case the source is known, thanks to Chris Rodda, and it is both misquoted (surprise) and second-hand. It appears in a letter written by Daniel Webster describing a conversation he had had with Jefferson a quarter of a century earlier. Supposedly Jefferson told him, "I have always said, and always will say, that the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands." Unfortunately, that same letter shows Jefferson's opinion of church-state relations: he said that "Sunday schools ... presented the only legitimate means, under the constitution, of avoiding the rock upon which the French republic was wrecked." Not public schools, if you please, but Sunday schools.

Finally we have a few random assertions.

While President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was elected the first president of the Washington, D.C. public school board, which used the Bible as a reading text in the classroom.

I'll let Chris Rodda handle this one:

This myth about Jefferson and the Washington D.C. schools was created by combining two things. One is that, in 1805, Jefferson was elected president of the Washington City school board. The other is an 1813 report by the teacher of one of the city's early public schools, showing that the Bible and Watts's Hymns were used as reading texts in that school. The problem with the story is that the school that these books were used in didn't exist until several years after Jefferson left Washington and the school board.

In other words, this one is just a plain, or garden, lie. Next.

There was a secular study done by the American Political Science Review on the political documents of the Founding era, which was 1760-1805.
This study found that 94% of the documents that went into the Founding ERA were based on the Bible, and of that 34% of the contents were direct quotations from the Bible.

Why people pay attention to preposterous statistics would probably make a fascinating study for somebody to undertake, but I'm not going to worry about it right now. Ninety-four percent of Founding era documents are based on the Bible? Come on...that's just not credible. The fact is that the study says nothing about ninety-four percent of Founding Era documents being based on the Bible--nothing. What the study actually says is that thirty-four percent of the citations in Founding Era documents are from the Bible. The study also says that three quarters of these citations are from printed sermons; if we leave these out of the picture, then the figure for Biblical citations drops to eight and a half percent.

The thing is, why should we trust a curriculum designed by people who use dubious quotations (and then can't even get them right), who think that Horace Greeley was one of the Founding Fathers, who get even simple facts wrong, and who cite preposterous (and bogus) statistics without any sense of shame? These people are either blitheringly incompetent, or shameless liars. Either way they have no business putting together a course on anything whatsoever, and no teacher, no matter how well-intentioned, ought to have to use such a steaming pile of horse manure. Selah.

26 May 2008

Crazy People Got No Reason To Live

At least, that's the opinion apparently entertained by one Kristin Butler, a proud graduate of Duke University. Duke of course is known mainly for its outstanding work in the field of parapsychology, the science of matter over mind. According to Kristin Butler a "mentally unstable" person--or "loony" as she apparently prefers--has no business receiving a diploma, whether she has completed the requirements or not. This is an interesting attitude, and I would really like to know exactly why having bipolar disorder--that's the lunacy in question--disbars a student from receiving a degree. I got a degree, in spite of having undergone treatment for depression, and in spite of suffering from unreasonable fears and compulsions. And frankly, I take that kind of crack personally. I have a cousin with bipolar disorder, and while she's never received a degree from a prestigious university like Duke, she is in fact one of the most outstanding researchers I've ever met. I personally have respect for people who make it in spite of drawbacks and disadvantages over which they do not have control, and I am very much unimpressed when some scatter-brained young know-it-all sounds off with a moronic screed like Summa cum loony. Grow up, Kristin Butler.

[Thanks to Chronicle Column Damages NCCU/Duke Relations and "Summa cum loony" - the Duke lacrosse case lives on for alerting to this garbage.]

21 May 2008

This Great Nation Was Founded Not By Religionists

There are few people that I personally despise more than canonical critics, but Christian Nationites are almost certainly among them. David Barton and his gang of loony liars have done more than a small part in undermining American values and destroying the fabric of this once great nation--and continue to today, thanks to the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools, the late D. James Kennedy, and other unscrupulous types more concerned about making a buck off the gullible than about the survival of the nation that brought them up. One of the tricks of their nefarious trade is the invention of fake quotations from the Founding Fathers designed to make them look like modern Christian Nationites. Many of them have been discredited; others lurk in the limbo of the unknown.

It is not always appreciated that the Founding Fathers were a diverse lot with differing opinions on exactly how the new nation ought to be put together. Some of them favored having a state religion, as all respectable nations had in their time. Others--Jefferson, Washington, Madison, for example--favored keeping religion out of government altogether. This was the winning faction.

Among the famous Founding Fathers on the wrong side of that particular issue was Patrick Henry, slave-owner and the reputed author of the words "Give me liberty, or give me death." He undoubtedly did write some pretty crazy stuff about church-state relations, but--did he say, as the Christian Nationites claim:

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Okay, it's tripe, but that's not really the point. Some people are obviously impressed with it. A quick check of Google Books reveals its popularity. One book is listed as having this quotation in 1994, another in 1996, and still one more in 2000. Starting with 2002, however, it begins to take off. Three books quote it in 2002, four in 2003, six in 2004, and seventeen in 2005. While that was a high point, ten books quote it in 2006, eleven in 2007, and two this year.

Well, you can't argue with success, right? If so many authors use it, well, then Patrick Henry must have said it. The market has spoken, as Stephen Colbert would say.

Still, there is one oddity at least. Nobody seems to have heard of this saying before 1994. Now Google books is a neat little tool, but it is far from infallible. However, if Patrick Henry had really said, or written, or muttered this little piece of garbage, you'd think it would show up somewhere. And in fact Patrick Henry scholars have searched his recorded words, and found--nothing.

Even though it doesn't show up in the Google books search, the saying apparently first appeared (at least as Patrick Henry's) in The Myth of Separation by David Barton in 1988. Barton himself has since repudiated it, describing it as "unconfirmed" in his WallBuilder's website. He does hold out hope that it will turn out to be genuine, however, citing some absolutely irrelevant quotations by and about Patrick Henry, a cheesy trick that used to be exploited by the brave Cold War liars who promulgated fake quotations attributed to Lenin, Stalin, and other Communist leaders. (Anybody else remember Stormer's None Dare Call It Treason?) Humorously Barton goes on to make the suggestion (without giving the slightest evidence to support it) that "there is a possibility that the unconfirmed quote came from Henry's uncle, the Reverend Patrick Henry. We find no record of the Reverend's letters or writings. Therefore," he suggests, "until more definitive documentation can be presented, please avoid the words in question."

Need I remind the Myth of Separation author that the burden of proof is always on the person who puts forth a quotation as genuine? Cite your source, damn it--cite it. That's all you have to do. The works of the Founding Fathers are not even that hard come by, for the most part. You usually can find them in multi-volume sets of speeches and letters and publications and all like that there. If you got took by a bum secondary source--well, them are the breaks. At least if you've cited it, people will know who to blame.

In this case, however, it should have been clear that something was off in the brew. The word "religionists"--it ain't right. The word's been around since the seventeenth century, and our patriot could have used it--but not in the sense it's used here. That's pure twentieth-century, not Patrick Henry's era in the least. In his time a religionist was a fanatic, somebody obsessed with religion. The author of this quotation, however, is using it in a strange generic sense, meaning apparently people of different religions joined together, or something of that sort.

Of course the answer to this riddle is simple--these words were not written or spoken by Patrick Henry. Nor did they come from Patrick Henry's uncle (a ridiculous idea, by the way). Here is the quotation in context:

"I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that and I had not given them one shilling they would have been rich; and if they had not that and I had given them all the world, they would be poor."

Patrick Henry, Virginia,
His Will

"There is an insidious campaign of false propaganda being waged today, to the effect that our country is not a Christian country but a religious one--that it was not founded on Christianity but on freedom of religion.

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by 'religionists' but by Christians--not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here.

"In the spoken and written words of our noble founders and forefathers, we find symbolic expressions of their Christian faith. The above quotation from the will of Patrick Henry is a notable example."

I got this from the September 1956 issue of The American Mercury (p. 134) where it appears as a page filler. Their source: the April 1956 issue of The Virginian, a short-lived segregationist rag.

So dig this, all you dupes and pawns who mindlessly copied the crap that David Barton fed you. These jejune and insipid words you have enshrined in your books and on your websites are not pearls of great price delivered by one of America's patriots. They were written by some anonymous racist hack, the dregs of the era of McCarthy and George Wallace and the Ku Klux Klan. Enjoy the feast--and I hope you choke on it.

20 May 2008

Quotation of the Day

Teaching children bogus science isn't education, it's called lying.

18 May 2008

Letters to the Editor

My attention was caught by an exchange printed in the Naples Daily News. On the one hand, Ed Weilhoefer, possibly a retired professor of mathematics, wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the creationist propaganda film Expelled. On the other hand we have a "Guest Commentary" by V.J. Falcone, "an adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut," complaining that "Ed Weilhoefer’s letter the other day was beyond the pale". Adjunct Professor Falcone poses as the voice of reason and moderation, but--

Ed Weilhoefer wrote:

The fact of the matter is that “Expelled” is a propaganda film, produced under false pretenses by a radical front for creationism. Joseph Goebbels’ ghost must be gleeful that his villainous art is alive and flourishing in the United States.
V. J. Falcone's response:
Finally, after some unsubstantiated statements which he calls "the fact of the matter," he claims that "Joseph Goebbels’ ghost must be gleeful that his villainous art is alive and well in the United States." Have you counted the number of letter writers who inject the Nazis into their essays? It’s de rigueur: If you disagree with me you are a Nazi, Nazi-like, Nazi-leaning, Nazi-wannabe.

Please. No more Nazi comparisons except when dealing with political issues that justify the allusion.

Nice evasion, Adjunct Professor Falcone, but what about dealing with the actual issue? or is it possible that you really don't know exactly who Joseph Goebbels was? I see that you "[lecture] graduate students in education on the U.S. Constitution, teaching controversial issues, morals and values, and 'thinking about thinking,'" so you certainly ought to know. In case you don't, however, let me inform you that Herr Goebbels is generally regarded as the gold standard for propaganda efforts, whether fake documentaries, fake academic studies, or fake histories. (Although in my opinion, having actually seen some of Goebbels' efforts, they are crude hack-work compared to the work of the Discovery Institute, or other think-tanks I could mention.) If you really didn't know this, you should be ashamed of yourself. Ed Weilhoefer's use does indeed deal with a political issue that justifies the allusion. If you do know, then you, Adjunct Professor Falcone, have gone way beyond the pale in misrepresenting what Ed Weilhoefer actually wrote.

Ed Weilhoefer goes on to refer to the deceptive tactics used by the film-makers to get interviews, and notes that "[t]he film is a diatribe against the American university system and an attempt to undermine science." To this V. J. Falcone has nothing to say. Then comes this passage:

Let’s face it: Americans trail far behind other Western nations in science education and that is one reason why we have so many weird religious beliefs inconsistent with basic science.
Here V. J. Falcone has at least half a point. "Any first-year logic student" he writes, "would know that statement is a post hoc fallacy." The United States of course does in fact trail behind many other Western nations in science education and it does indeed have many weird religious beliefs incompatible with the most basic science, but which is cause, and which is effect--who knows? The American tradition of anti-intellectualism probably has a lot to do with both, actually, but the two certainly feed on one another. Anyone who's been involved with one of the brushfires of ignorance breaking out through the country when religious fanatics try to dictate what gets taught in science classes is aware of the negative effect that "weird religious beliefs" have on science education in this country. And most of us who have been through what pass for science courses in the United States know just how bad this alleged education can be and how much that contributes to the craziness of the American religious scene.

Unfortunately V. J. Falcone doesn't stop with that. He goes on to write "By the way, we are behind in math, engineering and a myriad of other disciplines which I think is the result of teaching for 'self esteem' rather than for understanding." That line was old in the fifties, and has virtually nothing to recommend it. Bromides are not a substitute for thought.

Ed Weilhoefer continues:

It is laughable but very sad that Americans believe that the age of our planet is somewhere around 10,000 years.

It is indeed. Recent polls show that Americans do indeed believe this, and in large numbers. This really sets V. J. Falcone off: "I have taught thousands of students," he claims, and "know hundreds of academics and have not met one human being that believes what Mr. Weilhoefer states as fact." I can only suppose that Adjunct Professor Falcone travels in very rarefied circles; perhaps he needs to mix more with ordinary Americans. I've never had any problem running into people who believe exactly that, more's the pity, and to be honest, I really don't believe V. J. Falcone's claim. Maybe he hasn't inquired all that deeply into the beliefs of those thousands of students. Or maybe he's been very lucky in his classes. Back to the original letter:

Creationism or intelligent design is a Christian fundamentalist doctrine.

It's difficult to see how anybody could take exception to this statement, but V. J. Falcone does:

Not so. Intelligent design has been debated from antiquity to the present day.
Plato and Aristotle thought that it was a valid doctrine. Plato calls that power, not God, but an artificer "which causes things to exist, not previously existing ..., not some spontaneous and unintelligent cause."
I, personally, don’t know how life began, and I don’t think anyone else knows to an absolute certainty either.
All this jibber-jabber is beneath contempt. If the adjunct professor has a point, he has concealed it to perfection. Plato and Aristotle were pre-scientific thinkers and have absolutely nothing to do with the modern Intelligent Design™ movement, which is a pseudo-scientific disguise for fundamentalist theology. Shifting definitions in mid-stream is an old rhetorical trick, as I'm sure he knows quite well. Oh, yeah, and by the way, the only people who claim to know to a certainty how life began are Creationists, or Intelligent Design Proponents, or whatever they want to call themselves today.

Why the Naples Daily News thought this sub-par composition was worth publishing is beyond me.

17 May 2008

New Frontiers in Bureaucracy

Hurricane evacuations will be delayed in the future for Federal authorities to make sure that all evacuees have their papers in order, border agents announced in McAllen, Texas. Immigration officials will be stationed at evacuation hubs in the Rio Grande Valley to prevent people without appropriate documentation from boarding buses.

A spokeswoman for the governor pointed out, "If there is any significant delay in having people move from harm's way, then that could run the risk of endangering lives." The governor wants the border patrol to put public safety first during an emergency.

A representative for the border patrol shrugged off such concerns. "Our local policy is checkpoints will not close, we will check for immigration status," he said. "We have to do our jobs." [Source]

14 May 2008

This Just In

On CNN I hear that John Edwards is endorsing Senator Obama in the Democratic race for President.

And (for anyone who's interested) I still have no idea who I'm going write in for the Republican candidate; even though McCain's a done deal, I'm not voting for him.

12 May 2008

Horror of the Day

I got this one from PZ Myers at Pharyngula (True Monsters): Abdel-Qader Ali, 46, vaguely described as a "government employee," a resident of Basra in Iraq, brutally killed his daughter, Rand Abdel-Qader, 17, a university student. He crushed her windpipe with his boot, strangled her, and then stabbed her, assisted by his two sons. His excuse for this unnatural act: she had become enamored of a British soldier. His punishment: he will flee to Jordan for a month or two to give himself some time for the news to die down. Oh, yes, also his wife left him. He broke her arm after she protested the killing of their daughter.

06 May 2008

Quotation of the Day

Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
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