Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

December 2nd, 2007:

Intelligent design and the TEA

Missed this from last week:

The state’s director of science curriculum has resigned after being accused of creating the appearance of bias against teaching intelligent design.

Chris Comer, who has been the Texas Education Agency’s director of science curriculum for more than nine years, offered her resignation this month.

In documents obtained Wednesday through the Texas Public Information Act, agency officials said they recommended firing Comer for repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination. But Comer said she thinks political concerns about the teaching of creationism in schools were behind what she describes as a forced resignation.

Agency officials declined to comment, saying it was a personnel issue.

Comer was put on 30 days paid administrative leave shortly after she forwarded an e-mail in late October announcing a presentation being given by Barbara Forrest, author of “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse,” a book that says creationist politics are behind the movement to get intelligent design theory taught in public schools. Forrest was also a key witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case concerning the introduction of intelligent design in a Pennsylvania school district. Comer sent the e-mail to several individuals and a few online communities, saying, “FYI.”

Agency officials cited the e-mail in a memo recommending her termination. They said forwarding the e-mail not only violated a directive for her not to communicate in writing or otherwise with anyone outside the agency regarding an upcoming science curriculum review, “it directly conflicts with her responsibilities as the Director of Science.”

The memo adds, “Ms. Comer’s e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.”

I dunno, I guess if you take a really hard-line view of whatever appropriate-use email policy the TEA may have in place, this could be construed as a violation. I daresay under those conditions, you’d have to fire everybody else as well, but hey, rules are rules. What confuses me, as it also confuses The Scientific Activist (link via School Zone) is why wouldn’t this be considered a normal part of her job? Does the TEA not take any position on any scientific “controversy” – would she have been fired for notifying folks about a speech by Bob Park on the subject of perpetual motion machines – or is it just “intelligent design” that’s off limits?

I doubt it. This is pure politics, and the Statesman is right to call a spade a spade:

The education agency, of course, portrays the problem as one of insubordination and misconduct. But from all appearances, Comer was pushed out because the agency is enforcing a political doctrine of strict conservatism that allows no criticism of creationism.

This state has struggled for years with the ideological bent of the state school board, but lawmakers took away most of its power to infect education some years ago. Politicizing the Texas Education Agency, which oversees the education of children in public schools, would be a monumental mistake.

This isn’t the space to explore the debate over creationism, intelligent design and evolution. Each approach should be fair game for critical analysis, so terminating someone for just mentioning a critic of intelligent design smacks of the dogma and purges in the Soviet era.

But then, this is a new and more political time at the state’s education agency.

Can we please leave the scientists and not the hacks in charge of the science curriculum? I mean, what’s the point of spending money to cure cancer if we’re not teaching our kids real science in school? Vince, Hal, Lightseeker, and Easter Lemming have more.

Walle will file for HD140 on Monday

After you’ve had breakfast with Rick Noriega on Monday, you can head north to HCDP headquarters and wish Armando Walle well as he officially files for HD140. Here’s the press release:

Armando L. Walle, Democratic candidate, will file for District 140 at the Harris County Democratic Party Headquarters Monday, December 3, 2007 at 10:00 A.M.

Armando Walle decided to run after witnessing the immense need for effective representation in Texas House District 140. Walle stated, “There are issues of great importance to parents, students, businesses and neighborhoods that continue to be neglected. District 140 deserves a State Representative that will fervently fight for better schools, access to affordable healthcare, flood prevention and public safety. I have the leadership skills, experience and education to hit the ground running and deliver for our community.”

Armando, the oldest of five children, is a native Houstonian. Armando grew up in Northeast Houston and graduated with Honors from MacArthur High School in the Aldine Independent School District. Armando was the first in his family to pursue higher education and proudly graduated from the University of Houston, earning a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and a Minor in Sociology. Armando began his career in public service by participating in the Texas Legislative Internship Program, sponsored by State Senator Rodney Ellis.

Armando went on to work for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Soon after, he was brought on staff to the Office of Congressman Gene Green and was employed with Congressman Green for over six years. During that time, Armando led and worked on several community projects such as Citizenship Day, Immunization Day and Senior Citizen Issues Forums. Armando currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA. He has worked tirelessly to increase outreach community service programs, such as youth sports leagues and adult General Education Degree (GED) programs for Aldine/North Houston residents.

With the support from community leaders, friends and family Armando, is ready to work for District 140.

For questions or for more information, please call his campaign office at 713.505-0057

WHO: Armando L. Walle Files for District 140

WHEN: December 3, 2007 at 10:00 A.M.

WHERE: Harris County Democratic Party Headquarters
1445 North Loop West in Suite 110
Houston, Texas 77008

This will be one of the biggest Democratic primaries to watch in Harris County next year. Can we take out a Craddick Dem for the third straight cycle? I’m beginning to hear that Rep. Kevin Bailey is saying that he’ll support Rep. Senfronia Thompson for Speaker, but I don’t have a whole lot of faith in that. Best to vote in Armando Walle and remove all doubt. Stace has more.

Dukes draws a primary opponent

Of all the Craddick Democrats, I figured Austin’s Dawnna Dukes would be the first to draw a primary challenger this year. Travis County has one of the strongest organizations in the state, they have few Republican targets to aim at, and I’ve heard plenty of discontent with Dukes for some time now. But up till now, there’s been nothing. Up till now.

In Austin, Rep. Dawnna Dukes, a Democrat, got a key post on appropriations after voting for Craddick.

“That whole line of Dawnna voting for Craddick has no traction,” said Dukes’ political consultant Colin Strother. “It hasn’t come up. This is Austin, probably the most politically aware city in the state, and they have no idea who he is.”

More important, Strother said, is that Dukes has a good Democratic voting record and is running as if she has an opponent.

Her political signs will be up next week as she begins block walking.

“We’re hitting it full speed,” he said. “If someone wants to run, they will have a steep hill to climb.”

This summer a faction of Austin Democrats tried — and failed — to find Dukes an early opponent. But Brian Thompson, a lawyer who works at McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore and who serves on the Austin Human Rights Commission, said Friday he is being encouraged by Democratic activists to challenge Dukes.

“We’re tired of being represented by a Republican-funded politician who has pledged absolute loyalty to Republican Speaker Tom Craddick and puts her own political ambition and self-interest ahead of the best interests of the good people of East Austin,” Thompson said.

I’m not sure if that’s bravado or baloney on Strother’s part, but I sure as heck wouldn’t count on people not knowing who Tom Craddick is. Seems to me it’ll be easy enough to print up flyers that say something like “I support a Democrat for Speaker, Dawnna Dukes supports Republican Tom Craddick”, and make her defend that. Sure, I agree that it’ll take more than that to oust someone. If Dukes’ record is as good as her consultant says it is, she’ll probably be okay. It’s just that without her support of Tom Craddick, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. There’s a simple resolution to that, but I’m thinking the moment has passed. So be it. Link via BOR.

Reports on the effects of the smoking ban

Back when the city passed its more comprehensive smoking ban, there was a lot said by folks in the local music industry about how this would kill the bars, especially those that feature live music. I’m glad to see that John Nova Lomax, who had done some of that public fretting back then, has now taken the time to check around and see if some of those apocalyptic predictions have come true. He starts out by giving free rein to one musician and his anti-ban rant:

It’s safe to say that John Evans is no fan of the recently enacted smoking ban. To him, the municipal stubbing out of our collective ciggies is another step in a long process of pasteurization that is making Houston less, well, Houston.

“This has always been a ‘Screw you we’re from Houston’ kind of town, the last frontier,” he says. “Let everyone else be all tight-ass, but now we’re just like everybody else.”

What’s more, he believes it is harming his bottom line. “The smoking ban is kicking our ass,” he adds flatly.


With Evans’s rant in mind, I decided to call a few more people in the Houston music scene to gauge opinion on the first 90 days of the ban. Here are their responses:

He spoke to a total of eleven people. Here are their responses, briefly summarized:

Pam Robinson, owner, Walter’s on Wash­ington: It really hasn’t had much of an effect on overall attendance.

Geoffrey Muller, musician in the Sideshow Tramps and a host of other bands: I haven’t really noticed a difference.

Byron Dean, singer, Poor Dumb Bastards: Being in a band and being a smoker, it absolutely sucks.

Allen Hill, bandleader, the Allen Oldies Band: I wasn’t a fan of how it became law, but now that it is here, I love it both as a showgoer and a performer.

Tom McLendon, owner, The Big Easy: It certainly hasn’t helped business.

Thomas Escalante, singer in the El Orbits and the owner of record store Sig’s Lagoon: It’s been refreshing.

JJ White, singer-guitarist, Dizzy Pilot: As a nonsmoker I was against it, and I am still against it after the ban.

Pete Mitchell, owner, Under the Volcano: I’m really confused. So much of the feel of my place has changed. The regulars have been shifted to the patio, and there’s not that banter with the bartenders there used to be. Ultimately, though, I think this is a time of transition, and my gut feeling is that people will just smoke less in the future. More people will just give up.

Brad Moore, owner, the Pearl Bar: Mike Simms told me a funny story about the Dwarves show at Rudyard’s a while back. The Dwarves are kinda infamous for doing 20-minute sets, but this time they played for 45 whole minutes. They wanted to do an encore, but the whole room had cleared out as soon as they finished; everybody had stampeded out to the patio. Their fans weren’t expecting them to play that long, and all of them went to go smoke as soon as they were done.

Miss Leslie, singer in Miss Leslie and the Juke Jointers: The smoking ban has been fine, but you have to get used to watching half your audience walk out to go smoke in the middle of your set.

John Egan, singer-songwriter: Who cares? What’s everybody getting so bent out of shape about one way or the other? It’s less smoky. Big deal.

Doesn’t sound like it’s been too bad for business to me. I haven’t gone to many shows lately, but that’s due to babysitting requirements; it certainly isn’t because I miss coming home smelling like an ashtray (not much of an issue for me anyway since the Mucky Duck went to all non-smoking shows). What do you think?

Elsewhere, the Press notes that the smoking ban is being cited as a factor in the closing of Cosmos Cafe.

In an e-mail note to customers on Thursday, owner Pete Pallas said a combination of factors led to his decision, including his workload, not having enough customers willing to support live music, and the recent smoking ban introduced by the City of Houston.

Yesterday was its last day of business, with Friday being its final live show. Ironically, Cosmos is one place I had stopped going because of the smoke. Tiffany and I used to enjoy eating there, but gave up because you couldn’t escape the fumes. I’m still sorry to see it go, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to blame this on the smoking ban. From the description, it sounds to me like the place was headed towards closure anyway – the smoking ban may have accelerated that, but I doubt it was decisive.