Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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No place in America is better known for marijuana growing than Northern California's Humboldt County. The same forgiving climate and rugged terrain that gave rise to ancient redwoods (and decades of frenzied clear cutting) has brought about a "green rush"—of pot growers looking to tend rows of Afghani Goo or Sour Diesel strains in remote canyons or ridge-lines far beyond the reach of the feds.

Erstwhile loggers can earn much more than they ever did splitting trees. By one recent estimate, cannabis accounts for more than a quarter of Humboldt County's $1.6 billion economy, a share that's likely to grow with the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in nearby Washington state. But the pot economy's need for land and water has sparked a whole new wave of environmental problems.

In this video, made with hi-res satellite images from Google Earth, Anthony Silvaggio, an environmental sociologist with Humboldt State University's new Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research, exposes the extent of the devastation wrought on private forest land by industrial-scale grows:

Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead

When Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead visited Capitol Hill last week to push for tighter gun control measures, he had some unwanted help from a felon back in Texas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Halstead was meeting with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in Washington, D.C., to discuss gun control concerns of the Major Cities Chiefs Association…

At that time, his concerns were being played out at a Haltom City auto shop, where one of his officers and personal friend—21-year veteran John Bell—was shot [in the head] by a convicted felon being pursued by Haltom City police.

This should serve as a compelling illustration of why our country needs tighter gun control laws. But then, so should the murder of 20 elementary schoolers by a maniac with an assault rifle—and we all know how far that has gone to sway people like Cornyn.

If anybody can change the minds of Republican senators, however, it's probably somebody like Halstead, who represents a "cowboy town" in what's arguably the most pro-gun state in America. "We almost see every week where we have officers being ambushed by people who have no right to possess those weapons," Halstead told the Star-Telegram.

Halstead's Major City Chiefs Association is part of a coalition of nine national police organizations that supports a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and advocates expanded background checks.

For more on what police officers think about gun control, read my story on how the NRA recruits cops with freebies paid for by gun companies.

 

Texas Public Schools: Still Teaching Creationism

In Texas public schools, children learn that the Bible provides scientific proof that Earth is 6,000 years old, that the origins of racial diversity trace back to a curse placed on Noah's son, and that astronauts have discovered "a day missing in space" that corroborates biblical stories of the sun standing still.

These are some of the findings detailed in Reading, Writing & Religion II, a new report by the Texas Freedom Network that investigates how public schools in the Lone Star State promote religious fundamentalism under the guise of offering academic courses about the Bible. The report, written by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, found that more than half of the state's public-school Bible courses taught students to read the book from a specifically Christian theological perspective—a clear violation of rules governing the separation of church and state.

Many school districts pushed specific strains of fundamentalism in the classes:

  • "The Bible is the written word of God," proclaims a slide shown to students in suburban Houston's Klein Independent School District (ISD). Another slide adds: "The Bible is united in content because there is no contradictions [sic] in the writing. The reason for this is because the Bible is written under God's direction and inspiration."
  • A PowerPoint slide in Brenham ISD in Central Texas claims that "Christ's resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space—that is was, in reality, historical and not mythological." (emphasis in original)
  • In North Texas, Prosper ISD promotes the Rapture, claiming in course materials that "the first time the Lord gathered his people back was after the Babylonian captivity. The second time the Lord will gather his people back will be at the end of the age."

Some Bible classes in Texas public school appear to double as "science" classes, circumventing limits placed on teaching creationism. Eastland ISD, a school district outside Fort Worth, shows videos produced by the Creation Evidence Museum, which claims to possess a fossil of a dinosaur footprint atop "a pristine human footprint."

Perhaps the wackiest Bible lesson was the one presented to students at Amarillo ISD titled: "Racial Origins Traced from Noah." A chart presented in the classroom claims that it's possible to identify which of Noah's three sons begat various racial and ethnic groups. Chancey explains:

According to the chart, "Western Europeans" and "Caucasians" descend from Japeth, "African races" and Canaanites from Ham, and "Jews, Semitic people, and Oriental races" from Shem. A test question shows that the chart was taken seriously: "Shem is the father of a) most Germanic races b) the Jewish people c) all African people."

In Texas, public schools have the legal right to offer these kinds of classes—up to a point. In 2007 the state legislature passed a law allowing school districts to offer "elective courses on the Bible's Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament." The Supreme Court long ago ruled that such classes pass constitutional muster, as long as they don't advocate for a specific religious view. As Chancey points out, the state of Texas obviously needs to do a much better job of educating its teachers about what that means.

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