Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.

I was only mildly surprised to learn that Stanford University had hired an atheist “chaplain,” luring John Figdor away from Harvard. The surprise was that it took so long.

After all, Claptrap Community College in Plattsmouth, Neb., has had an atheist chaplain for years in the person of Howard Bashford. He agrees with Figdor that “atheist, agnostic and humanist students … would like a sympathetic nontheist to talk to.” (You know, about questions of love, death, the meaning of life.)

Bashford, unlike Figdor, does not have a degree in religious studies, but jests his degree is in “divinity fudge.” He hastens to add, “Figdor and I both are meeting a human need. Atheists have real spiritual – oops! – psychological needs, too.”

He noted that the new Stanford chaplain had told the San Francisco Chronicle that at some homeless shelters, people were forced “to pray if they wanted to eat,” a practice he termed “a serious problem in American society.”

“It’s important for us to build a strong atheist community, so nobody has to pray to get a hot meal. What we’re doing at Claptrap is co-opting certain ‘believer’ institutions, like regular ‘services,'” he said. “Ultimately, we hope to gain tax-free status, just like religions.

“Would you like to hear some titles from own hymnal?”

Without waiting for an answer, Bashford recited, “Of course, we have our own carol for the holiday season, ‘Oh Come, All Ye Faithless,’ and that’s nationally popular. Here at Claptrap we’re rather fond of ‘Just a Closer Walk with Me,’ ‘Crock of Ages’ and ‘How Great I Am.’ Also popular are ‘What a Friend We Have in (insert name of friend),’ and for holdovers from 1960s culture, ‘Amazing Grace Slick.'”

Bashford said that without the hint of a doubt the atheist chaplaincy movement would gain momentum, uniting “atheists and humanists across the nation and the world.”

“It’s something I take on faith,” Bashford said.

A ‘buyer beware’ moment: The California electorate is what we used to call “a salesman’s dream.” No matter how often Golden State voters are gulled by the politicians in Sacramento, they stand ready to be “sold” again. And again, the latest scam is for the benefit of “the children.”

You may recall, the children were to benefit from establishment of a state lottery, proceeds of which would support public schools. Wise folks voted against the ballot measure, figuring the Legislature would figure out a way to steal the funds for pet projects.

Steal them it did, though indirectly. The legislative reasoning was flawless: “Now the schools are getting all this lottery money, so we can spend some of what we used to give them on other things.” Done.

Now the push is to modify the provisions of Proposition 13, which limits property tax valuations to a percentage of a given property’s last sale (with a moderate annual escalator). One must agree that businesses have benefited disproportionately, because corporate properties seldom change hands.

A measure to take this into account is being sold on the idea that new funds will go – once again – to the public schools, to benefit the children. You may agree that California needs another business-unfriendly law, but if you think this is going to benefit kids, I’d like to sell you a beautiful, genuine Rolex wrist watch, with only a small markup from what I paid a street vendor in Tijuana.

Speaking of commitment to kids: The State of California is so dedicated to improved education that it asked the federal government not to penalize the state for miseducating youngsters. That is, it asked a waiver of “No Child Left Behind” requirements regarding “underperforming” schools.

The real sticking point for the state is a requirement that teacher and administrator evaluations take into account student achievement on such things as standardized tests. Here’s an example of a test question:

Opposing teacher/administrator evaluations are:

a) Teachers’ unions
b) Politicians who depend on campaign contributions from teachers’ unions
c) Administrators at failing schools
d) None of the above
e) All of the above.

We’ll grade your responses when we get around to it.


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