Molly Ivins and the argument for an immortal soul

November 29, 2008

It struck me today:  Don’t the political events of the past year make a powerful argument that there is an afterlife, and that Molly Ivins is finally taking control of some of the supernatural strings?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pamela Bumsted for sending the link to the Righteous Mothers singing the tribute to Molly Ivins:

The Righteous Mothers, \”Missing Molly Ivins\”

We’ll fight for truth and justice, and have fun.

Cover of Texas Observer Tribute to Molly Ivins edition

Cover of Texas Observer "Tribute to Molly Ivins" edition; click to purchase a copy for your library and edification.


“See ya Red States,” and a paean to Texas

October 16, 2008

You’ve seen it before — the letter saying toodle-oo to the red states, as the blue states muster the courage to let them go.  Somebody passed it along, I forwarded it to a few people I thought hadn’t seen it.

A discussion broke out.  Part of the discussion centered on Texas’s second secession from the U.S., and how nasty things can be in Texas (“It’s not the heat and humidity; it’s the hate and stupidity”).

A couple of exchanges in, I started to wince.  God knows Texas has its problems.  I haven’t even started in on the latest three months of lunacy at the State Board of Education where Creationist-in-Chief Don McLeroy is loosening his belt to drop his pants (figuratively, of course) and moon every kid in Texas before he eviscerates science education.

But — you know? — Texas has a couple of things going for it, reasons to smile while you’re stuck here.

Below the fold, the “So long, Red States” letter — but before that, a modest defense of Texas, as I wrote back:

I do regret that [y’all have] had such a difficult and unhappy time in Texas.  Texas is far from my ideal place, especially for the weather and lack of mountains (I appear to be losing the retirement fight – I wanted Jackson Hole, Kathryn wants Kanab.  Red rock wins with the family.)

And Yellowstone is a part of my soul, especially after we (probably illegally) scattered my brother’s ashes there in the last great family reunion before this past summer.

But, you know, Texas has some fine points that shouldn’t get overlooked. Especially, it doesn’t deserve to get every redneck.

Here are some of the great things about Texas:

It’s been a rather miserable 21 years in Texas for us, for a lot of reasons.  There are good things and good people in Texas.  It ain’t all gloomy.

Wildflowers not only do blossom where they grow:  They must blossom there.

Which reminds me, there are a dozen other wildflowers better than bluebonnets, and we haven’t even started on the magnificent grasses like big bluestem, little bluestem and side-oats grama.

(More humor below the fold.)

Read the rest of this entry »


Good teachers make the difference

May 19, 2008

A New York Times editorial last week came very close to getting it right on teachers, teacher hiring, teacher retention, and teacher pay.

To maintain its standing as an economic power, the United States must encourage programs that help students achieve the highest levels in math and science, especially in poor communities where the teacher corps is typically weak.

The National Academies, the country’s leading science advisory group, has called for an ambitious program to retrain current teachers in these disciplines and attract 10,000 new ones each year for the foreseeable future. These are worthy goals. But a new study from a federal research center based at the Urban Institute in Washington suggests that the country might raise student performance through programs like Teach for America, a nonprofit group that places high-achieving college graduates in schools that are hard to staff.

Recruiting high-achievers, across the board and not just with the help of a flagship do-gooder program, will require that starting salaries be competitive with those jobs where people of high caliber flock.  Education competes with accounting, law, medicine and other high-paying professions for the best people. 

If Milton Friedman and Adam Smith were right, that most people act rather rationally in their own interests, economically, which jobs will get the best people?

Teaching is the only profession I can think of where the administrators and other leaders threaten to fire the current teachers, work to keep working conditions low and unsatisfactory, and say that more money will come only after championship performance. 

There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t cursed George Steinbrenner and said that he or she could run the Yankees better.  Whenever he opens his checkbook, the nation howls.  And yet, year in an year out, the Yankees win. 

Is there any fool alive who thinks Steinbrenner could do what he does by cutting pay, not cleaning the locker room, and drafting the cheapest players he could find?  Were we to assume Steinbrenner the world’s most famous lousy boss, there are a million education administrators who would need to step it up to get to Steinbrenner’s level.

As Utah Phillips famously said, graduates are about to be told they are the nation’s greatest natural resource — but have you seen how this nation treats its natural resources?

Oh, I miss Molly Ivins.


A Warren Chisum special: Bill gives Texas kids “right” to Bible classes

January 8, 2008

Cleaning up the mess left by the Texas Lege: Texas kids need help on history, Texas history, math, English and science, according to test scores. Texas colleges are fighting a wave of kids who graduate high school and head off to college without the key tools they need in writing and calculating.Texas Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa

But Republican state Rep. Warren Chisum has awarded them a “right” to get a Bible class, the better to avoid preparation for college, I suppose. No kidding.

Molly Ivins’ Ghost is pounding on your door trying to get your attention. From the San Antonio Express:

A new law soon will require all Texas public school districts to offer a Bible as Literature course if 15 or more students express interest, but one San Antonio public school has been offering such a course for more than 30 years.

Churchill High School in the North East Independent School District has offered the Bible as Literature since the 1970s, when English teacher Frances Everidge pioneered the course. Last year, Reagan High School, also in the NEISD, added one. New Braunfels High School has offered the course for a year, and Seguin High School will begin offering it in the fall.

Last spring, the Legislature passed House Bill 1287, along with two other bills regarding religion in public schools. HB 1287, which Gov. Rick Perry signed into law last summer, states that all school districts must offer the course as an elective at the high school level by the 2009-10 school year.

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee the bill’s author, said that if 15 or more students express interest in the Bible as Literature course, districts must offer it.

School districts may not be able to provide the mathematics instruction kids need, but — By God! — they must provide instruction in the Bible.

If Warren Chisum were not real, Norman Lear, William Faulkner, the Coen brothers and the screenwriters for “Deliverance” couldn’t dream him up.

Chisum is at least up front about his bigotry against science, math, literature and other faiths:

Because the law requires a school district to offer the Bible as literature course if 15 or more students express interest, what if 15 or more students express interest in the Koran or any other religious text?

“The bill applies to the Bible as a text that has historical and literary value,” Chisum said. “It can’t go off into other religious philosophies because then it would be teaching religion, when the course is meant to teach literature. Koran is a religious philosophy, not of historical or literary value, which is what the Bible is being taught for.”

One marvels at the coincidence that Chisum never had to take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) — with history chops like that, it’s unlikely he could pass the test every high school kid must. (There is neither an education nor intelligence requirement to serve in the Texas legislature.)

I was unaware of the mandatory nature happy to hear the mandatory part had been stripped from of Chisum’s Folly. Nothing like a drunken-sailor-spending unfunded mandate from the legislature. Charles Darwin at least supported Sunday school classes with his personal fortune. Warren Chisum doesn’t have such ethics — he’s stealing the money from your property tax contributions to do it, while stealing education from the kids.

We need one of those New Yorker cartoons with some sage carrying a sign, “The End is Near.”

Cynical tip of the old scrub brush to Texas Ed Spectator (the blog formerly known as TexasEd, now in a new home)


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