Thursday, November 27, 2014

#1220: Ide Trotter and the creationists on the Texas Education Agency Science Review Board


[Note: I wrote up this post for Round 1 but inexplicably forgot to publish it – it is published now, relatively unaltered, but still highly relevant to the current situation]

One of the most notorious institutions for promoting denialism and illiteracy in the US has long been the Texas Board of Education (TBoE) – despite the admittedly tireless work of some pro-reality members and good organizations such as the Texas Freedom Network. Although prominent former members, such as Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar – who have done measurable harm to reason – are out at present, they are still saddled with ardent fundamentalist haters or knowledge such as Ken Mercer and Barbara Cargill.

In 2011, when the Texas Education Agency released the full list of members serving on the science review panels that will evaluate instructional materials submitted for approval by the State Board of Education, the review panel for biology predictably included individuals with histories of promoting creationism or at least the “teach the weaknesses of evolution inscience classes” gambit (i.e. advocating creationism). The identifiable creationists (courtesy of the Texas Freedom Network) were:

- Ide Trotter (appointed by Terri Leo) a “Baptist layman”, longtime herald of Texas creationism (funder and spokesperson for the creationist Taliban offshoot “Texans for Better Science Education”) and signatory to the Discovery Institute petiion A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, despite not being a scientist. Trotter testified before the board of Education in 2003 and 2009, both times advocating the inclusion of “weaknesses of evolution” that have been scientifically thoroughly discredited. He has claimed – and seems indeed to believe – that major scientific discoveries during the 20th century have made evolutionary science harder to defend: “The ball is rolling and it’s going downhill. There are not enough forces on the side of Darwinism to keep pushing it back uphill forever.” The Trotter Prize, annually awarded by the creationist hub Texas A&M College for various work including important contributions to anti-science, is apparently named for his father.

- David Shorman (appointed by Barbara Cargill), well-known and completely delusional and stupid young earth creationist (with a doctorate in limnology): “Treating Earth history as just that, history, I can find physical and written testimony that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. And just as most of us have no problem believing Jesus Christ was a real person who lived 2,000 years ago, we should have no problem believing there were about 4,000 years from the Beginning to Christ’s birth.” Seriously.

- Richard White (appointed by current chair Gail Lowe), who advocates including (dishonestly) the “weaknesses of evolution” in the science standards, that there “are all well-known scientific problems with modern evolutionary theory” and that teaching evolution without these thoroughly debunked “weaknesses” amounts to indoctrinating children with a religious dogma.

Things can’t be going too badly, however. Even the Discovery Institute has expressed their displeasure with the TBoE.

Diagnosis: And the whack-a-mole goes on. The claims are refuted, and refuted again, and new loons flood in to repeat them. These people are complete idiots, and wear their ignorance and moronicity with pride, dismissing reality as an elitist conspiracy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

#1219: John Trochmann

John Trochmann is a retired maker of snowmobile parts of Noxon, Montana, and founder of the paramilitary organization The Militia of Montana (MOM - at present usually interpreted as an acronym for "mail-order militia"), founded partially from the remnants of the earlier United Citizens for Justice in late 1992 in response to the Ruby Ridge standoff. The organization largely disbanded after the Y2K threat unsurprisingly turned out to be minor, but continues to exist at least on the Internet.

The basic beliefs were standard sovereign citizen stuff, for instance that individuals are not subject to the authority of either state or federal government unless they formally chose to enter into a “contract” with the government (e.g. having a Social Security Number). Trochmann has, accordingly, filed documents with a Montana court to have his status recognized. In the 90s he and his brother David, then familiar figures at town meetings, often argued that “common law” (their version, not the illegitimate version used by the courts) has established that property taxes invalid.

Prior to founding MOM, Trochmann spoke at and attended meetings at Idaho’s Aryan Nations (including several of the group’s Bible studies), and in the early days MOM’s sovereign citizenship idea also included a white supremacist component, e.g. that the citizenship requirements in force at the country’s founding were still operative, and therefore only white male landowners could be sovereigns, whereas all nonwhites and non-Christians were second-class “14th Amendment Citizens.” Though Trochmann later desperately tried to distance himself from white supremacism in order to make MOM more mainstream, MOM continued to publish material from white supremacists, including articles claiming that Jewish people are the “synagogue of Satan” and (predictably) in control of the government. Other central topics for MOM’s newsletters (Taking Aim) were conspiracies surrounding the alleged trail of blood and cover-ups on Clinton’s road to the White House, that the Oklahoma City bombings were orchestrated by the government (MOM’s Robert Fletcher declared “expect more bombs”), conspiracies surrounding NAFTA, the afore-mentioned Y2K – MOM promoted plenty of survivalist gear and techniques designed for getting through Y2K, and Trochmann managed to achieve some fame for it – and, most importantly, that unseen powers were using the United Nations to overturn the American Constitution and invoke martial law as they absorb the United States into an international totalitarian state. So that became their main target. They did, unsurprisingly, not accomplish much, though the aforementioned Robert Fletcher did reproduce a map from a KIX cereal box that purportedly denoted the occupational zones into which the United States was to be divided following the United Nations-sponsored takeover (we don’t know whether government officials accidentally put the map on the KIX box, or whether it was the work of a whistleblower). Later the ideas were expanded with various conspiracy theories surrounding the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the 2007 Financial crisis.

Trochmann later founded the Sanders County Resource Council (SNaRC), which is associated with campaigns against the tribal sovereignty of the Salish and Kootenay tribes, birtherism, and exposing the ominous threat of bear-activated satellite surveillance systems – Montana GOP vice-Chair Jennifer Fielder is associated with the group as well, despite the fact SNaRC was formed to serve as a front group for militia activity (Trochmann admits as much). As for the bear thing, SNaRC believes that conservationists who support wildlife management of local bear populations are part of a conspiracy to conduct surveillance on the militia movement. How? According to Trochmann “[i]f you try to do anything with these bears – they have collars on them. If you try to plug a bear and the heart stops there will be a satellite over the top you instantly to take your picture of you and call out the game wardens instantly.” And since a good militia members can’t avoid things with bears this is a powerful weapon.

Diagnosis: No, seriously, this guy is something of a legend – the Montana militia is a canonical example of how these militia movements work. It is somewhat disconcerting that “mainstream” Montana politicians are so heavily involved with the group, though, but I suppose it tells you something about rural Montana culture?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#1218: Matt Trewhella

Matt Trewhella is pastor of Mercy Seat Christian Church in Wisconsin, Missionaries to the Preborn (the agenda of which should be clear from the name), as well as the Voice of Christian Youth America, and one of the religious right’s religious right. One telling characteristic of the religious right’s religious right to distinguish them from the “mainstream” religious right is their 2008 reaction to Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy; while roundly endorsed by the religious right, Trewhella and his ilk complained that a woman would be unsuitable for the job. Said Trewhella: “I was almost ready to vote for McCain and Palin myself. Almost. But I won’t. I was never keen on McCain to begin with, and his decision to add a woman to his ticket sealed my decision. I won’t vote for them. Why? Because I’m a sexist (as many accuse)? No. But because I’m a theist.” And of course, there is a liberal conspiracy to “effeminize, neuter, and rob males of their manhood,” an agenda that “results in rampant male irresponsibility,” which sounds conspicuously like the kind of rhetoric that certain groups in e.g. Afghanistan have used to argue that women should cover themselves up. And the problem isn’t just that women are allowed to hold positions of leadership; the problem is that they are allowed to vote in the first place – allowing women to vote, you see, is a socialist idea that emasculates men: “The Suffrage movement, wherein women obtained the right to vote, was manufactured by socialists who – because of the Christian consensus in the country at that time – guardedly used Christian words (and dress) to move their God-hating agenda forward.” But Trewhella is not a sexists, as he informatively points out himself.

Well, that gives you an idea of what this creature is about. He doesn’t like gay people either. Indeed, he hasn’t restrained himself much in his criticism not only of gays but of those who don’t abhor the gays like he does, and “disgusting” parents who “don’t protect your child from the filth of homosexuality”. He has at least admitted that he wants homosexuals to be arrested and imprisoned like they used to be (most wingnuts won’t admit that).

His organization Missionaries to the Preborn is militant (and sufficiently scary to make it to this one), and Trewhella has signed the “Justifiable Homicide” petition defending the murder of abortion providers (though he claims to have later removed his name). He has also been associated with the US Taxpayers’ Party (later Constitution Party), whose “patriotism” bordered on the terrorist; in the 1995 convention Trewhella suggested that: “This Christmas I want you to do the most loving thing, and I want you to buy each of your children an SKS rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition,” presumably as a way of both honoring the Second Amendment and sow the seeds of armed revolution against whoever Trewhella suspects to be opposed to it on the grounds that they disagree with him on other issues.

Diagnosis: A rather unpleasant fellow, in fact. He is unlikely to convert many to his cause, but he seems to have a knack for riling up the already hysterically insane. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

#1217: Jenine Trayer

A.k.a. Silver Ravenwolf (chosen)
A.k.a. $ilver Ravingwolf

Her chosen alias might give her away rather promptly, and Trayer is a prolific neopagan author of many books for teenagers attracted to neopaganism (To Ride a Silver Broomstick, Teen Witch, and so on). As such she is the starting point for many neopagans (although given the daftness of her chosen alias one wonders how even deluded teenagers can get through them), and many young neopagans thus feel some attachment to her ideas. Apparently, however, older neopagans consider her work to be historically revisionist, overly simplistic, or as having borrowed too much from other religions. Her other nickname is derived from the suspicion that Trayer is not really motivated by sincere religious convictions.

We’ll leave the complaints of other neopagans to other neopagans. Reasonable people will probably take issue with Trayer’s promotion of magic in a manner seemingly inspired by the law of attraction (or prayer): that invoking the proper spells or using the proper herbs/candles/metals will make all of your problems go away. According to Trayer, however, neopagans are in fact just practicing science (no, she has no idea). In To Ride a Silver Broomstick, the claim is “[I]t is my personal opinion that most people are attracted to the Craft not by its religious content, but by its scientific and technological allure.” In MindLight, almost surprisingly unsophisticated quantum woo is invoked to back up the law of attraction  – yes, you, too, can use quantum physics to get whatever you want. It has to do with energy.

I do, however, wonder what she means by “[t]here is NO difference between Wicca and WitchCraft. Anyone who tells you there is a difference is experimenting in the theory of Occum’s Razor.”

A critique of her work can be found here (can't vouch for the source, but may be fine).

Diagnosis: Actually rather boring for this kind of crazy, partially given the nagging suspicion that Trayer isn’t being completely upfront about her motives. Still, she does continue to exert some influence over the weak of will (teenagers in particular), and it is certainly not benevolent.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

#1216: Robin Toms

Robin Toms is an Associate Professor at Texas Woman’s University College of Nursing, where she researches “Reiki – Complementary Therapy, Leadership-Work-Life Balance, Online Education Outcomes.” Well, “research” might be a misnomer. She panders reiki. According to Toms “Illness results from blockages in the energy field,” and “Reiki balances the human biofield to unblock the energy”. Yes, it is faith healing based on traditional medieval vitalism under a new name, nothing more, and by “energy” Toms doesn’t mean energy, but magic spirit-stuff. She has, for instance, laid out her new age metaphysics in the article “Reiki Therapy: A Nursing Intervention for Critical Care,” published in Critical Care Nursing Quarterly, which some actually treat as a respectable source of information (not anymore, one hopes optimistically). In that article she justifies her position thusly: “Florence Nightingale viewed the spirit and body as inseparable. When there is disruption in the body, the energy fields within and surrounding the body are also disrupted. Energy fields, though we cannot see them, are part of the body as well as the spirit. Although we, as nurses, may be primarily focused on the care of the body, we are also in a unique position to address the needs of the spirit through the use of complementary therapies.” Yes, that’s the level at which it is pitched. What’s her evidence for this energy field? Wait for it: “Attempts have been made to photograph the energy fields surrounding the body and plant life. Kirlian photography has been used to produce images of bioenergetic radiance emanating from and surrounding plants and the human body.” Yes, the testimony of playfair crystal ball gazing techniques. The mind boggles, and the article is pertinently discussed here.

Diagnosis: Another religious fundamentalist newage crackpot, you’d think. But Toms is also an “associate professor” at an institution that ostensibly teaches nursing (I have no idea what its accredidation status is, but it’s not on Quackwatch’s list, though it probably should be by now).