Thursday, March 24, 2016

Texas and Textbooks

School days, school days,
Dear old Golden Rule Days. . . .
— 1907 Popular Song by Will Cobb and Gus Edwards

For those of us who in years gone by have enjoyed watching the Texas State Board of Education wrestle with the question of what to put in science textbooks used by its students that address, among other things, the pesky questions of climate change and evolution, I am happy to alert readers to the possibility of a new addition to that august group. To describe her at this time may seem premature, since in order for her to join that Board she will have to win a run off election in early May as well as the general election in November. Nonetheless, since many of her ideas remind us of the halcyon days of that Board when it was chaired by Don McLeroy, it seems appropriate to remind Texas voters of what they have to look forward to, should she join that body. Don McLeroy is, of course, fondly remembered by Board observers.

In 2009 Dr. McLeroy and his like minded colleagues on the Board were successful in requiring Texas science text books to address the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories such as evolution. In a January 2010 interview with Mariah Blake of the Washington Monthly discussing that issue, Dr.McLeroy said of the Board’s decision: “Wooey. We won the Grand Slam, and the Super Bowl.. .. Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution.” During the interview he explained to Ms. Blake that “Evolution is hooey.” (In expressing that sentiment he was nothing more than a harbinger of Ben Carson. Dr. Carson has often opined on evolution saying Darwin’s theory of evolution was “something that was encouraged by [Satan]” and saying the big bang theory is like “fairy tales.”) Dr. McLeroy has not been a member of the Board for many years but, if elected, Mary Lou Bruner from Canton, Texas, should prove to be someone who can fill the shoes left empty when the good Doctor left the Board.

In 2013, Ms. Bruner addressed the Texas State Board of Education. In her comments to the board she said, among other things, that “Evolution scientists have ignored (and hidden) evidence proving humans and dinosaurs existed simultaneously. Foot prints of dinosaur and man have been found preserved together in solid rock. . . . Evolution is a religious philosophy with propaganda supporting the religion of atheism.” This is not simply an idea she has plucked out of thin air. In an article published April 9, 2013 that begins with the statement that: “This article is very true.” Ms. Bruner supports her theory with a careful analysis of what happened after the flood waters on which Noah’s ark floated, receded. She said that dinosaurs and humans co-existed at that time and explains that: “When the flood waters subsided and rushed to the oceans there was no vegetation on the earth because the earth had been covered with water. . . The dinosaurs on [Noah’s ark] may have been babies and not able to reproduce.” She then explains that there was not enough vegetation on earth to enable dinosaurs to survive to reproductive age, an absence of sustenance that apparently did not have a similar effect on humans.

According to a report from Texas Freedom Network (TFN) that has followed Ms. Bruner’s writing, she has expressed herself on numerous topics. As might be expected from one who has a theory to explain why evolution is a non-starter, as it were, Bruner also has an opinion on climate change that is, if nothing else, refreshing, since it has not been heard from others. “Climate change” she says, “has nothing to do with weather or climate; it is all about system change from capitalism (free enterprise) to Socialism-Communism. The Climate Change HOAX was Karl Marx’s idea. It took some time to ‘condition’ the people so they would believe such a ridiculous HOAX.”

In addition to being something of a scientist, Ms. Bruner is also an historian. In 2014 Ms. Bruner wrote of the Civil War that “Historians waited until all of the people who were alive during the Civil War and the Restoration (sic) were dead of old age. THEN HISTORIANS WROTE THE HISTORY BOOKS TO TELL THE STORY THE WAY THEY WANTED IT TOLD.” There is, of course, a bit of poetic license in that allegation since many history books were written long before the last civil war survivor died some time in the 1950s.

Ms. Bruner has also formed opinions about Islam that sound remarkably similar to another scholar who has contemplated the religion, Donald Trump. Ms. Bruner has written that: “Islam is not a religion. Islam is an inhumane totalitarian political ideology with radical religious rules and laws and barbaric punishments for breaking the religious rules.” She has also written that the reason that President Obama favors rights for gays is because of the years he spent as a male prostitute living in New York City using his earnings to support his drug habit.

Ms. Bruner is a retired teacher. As she explained when addressing the Texas State Board of Education, she taught kindergarten in the Texas public schools for 35 years. That may very well explain why Texas has produced such luminaries as Ted Cruz and Texas governor, Gregg Abbott. If she becomes a member of the Board, all eyes will be on new editions of science textbooks in Texas. For good reason.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tips for Trump

There is no other way of guarding oneself against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth. . . .
— Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Herewith a few suggestions for Donald Trump that may be of help to him when he becomes president. That he needs them is suggested, among other things, by recent comparisons of him to Adolf Hitler. The most recent comparison was made by Anne Frank’s stepsister, Eva Schloss, who, in an essay to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, said that Mr. Trump was “acting like another Hitler by inciting racism.” In early March some commentators said that when those attending Trump rallies raise their right hands in what appears to be a salute, they seem to be performing a current version of the “Heil Hitler” salute seen at Nazi rallies. Mr. Trump has said that suggestions that it is a form of “Heil Hitler” are “ridiculous. His fans are simply pretending to be taking the oath of office he will be taking when he is sworn in. The gesture is frequently accompanied by the shout of “Do the swear in, do the swear in.”

Because of many of the things that have been said during the past few weeks, it is none too soon to suggest that Mr. Trump should begin considering steps he can take to control the sorts of disrespectful things that will certainly increase when he enters the White House. He has already said that “[O]ne of the things I am going to do if I win . . . .I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” Although that is a great idea, he should consider additional steps that have been taken by some of our close allies to make sure their elected officials receive the kind of respect to which the offices they hold entitle them.

As soon as he is elected Mr. Trump should persuade Congress to pass a law similar to one in Turkey that makes insulting the president a crime. Such a law has proved highly effective in that country where 1,845 cases have been brought against Turkish citizens for insulting their president, Recep Tayyan Erdogan. People have been charged for such things as media posts that are critical of the president or newspaper stories that are critical of him. On March 4, 2016, President Erdogan’s riot police took over the largest opposition newspaper in Turkey, throwing out its editors and journalists. Over the weekend Erdogan supporters were installed and on March 7, when the next edition of the paper appeared, instead of criticism of the administration it was filled with praise for its activities.

It is not only to Turkey that Mr. Trump can look for guidance. In Thailand, a 15-year sentence awaits anyone insulting the king, queen, heir, or regent. A former stock broker was recently sentenced to six years in prison for Facebook postings that were deemed offensive to the king and, thus, a violation of royal defamation laws.

Our long time friend and ally, South Korea, has a somewhat different, bur equally useful approach to insure the president receives the respect she deserves. Although the South Korean Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, that guarantee is weakened by defamation laws that provide that comments that are deemed not to be in the public interest, can result in a 3-year prison sentence, if they are true, and a seven-year prison sentence, if they are not true. That is a valuable tool to make sure that a president can act in the country’s best interests without fear of criticism from people who don’t have a clear understanding of what the president is doing. According to Park Kyung-sin, a professor of law at Korea University, “the government is especially sensitive about defending the personal reputation of the president.” Although bills have been proposed in Parliament that would weaken the laws making it a crime to make comments not deemed to be in the public interest even if true, they have all failed. Instead, the government has pushed through Parliament even tighter restrictions on what can be said. One anti-government law maker said of the newly enacted legislation, during a 10-hour filibuster, that he could never “support this attempt to place a dog collar on the people.” An activist who had spread a rumor that the reason the President of South Korea did not respond in a timely fashion to the sinking of the ferry that killed 304 people, was because she was in the midst of a romantic encounter with a former aide. The house of the protestor who spread that rumor was searched and the protestor arrested and interrogated. Following his release, he called the arresting officers “running dogs for the government” and he and colleagues threw dog food in front of the prosecutor’s office shouting “bow-wow.” When confronted by the police following the demonstrations the protestor said: They kept asking me what was the political meaning of ‘bow wow.” When Mr. Trump becomes president he will not ask for an explanation of “bow wow.” He knows that his bite will be much worse than his bark and an explanation of the meaning of “bow wow will not be necessary.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Conversion of Chris Christie on the Road to High Office

Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.
A child’s saying

It is a message of redemption and forgiveness and it speaks volumes about Donald Trump and only a few pages less about Chris Christie. It speaks to a magnanimity that one would expect from aspirants to high office but not from lesser men. Their generosity of spirit and willingness to let bygones be bygones, serves as an example to us all. Lesser men would hold grudges, refuse to shake hands when encountering each other in public places, and would speak snidely of one another to mutual acquaintances. They would never be seen in a manly hug in front of an array of television cameras. And all of that offers proof, were proof needed, of what a magnificent team they would make, should the world’s highest offices be thrust upon them and they were to become the president and vice president of the United States. Although it is hard to determine which of them is more magnanimous, the winner is probably Donald Trump. That is because Governor Christie said more hateful things about Mr. Trump than Mr. Trump said about Governor Christie, so Mr. Trump had the most to forgive in accepting the governor’s endorsement and support. Consider just a few.

It was less than one month ago that Governor Christie heaped scorn on Mr. Trump’s ability to deal with crisis situations by saying that a crisis for Mr. Trump is “when his favorite restaurant on the Upper East Side isn’t open.” In response to a statement from a man at a campaign stop in Iowa that he couldn’t imagine Mr. Trump as president, the governor said: You’re feeling my pain right now,” suggesting he, too, found that difficult to imagine. Commenting on Mr. Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, the governor said Mr. Trump was “dead wrong.” On the same subject, when being interviewed on a radio show in December, the governor said of the Trump proposal that: “This is the kind of thing that people say when they have no experience and don’t know what they’re talking about.”

In discussing the hallucination Mr. Trump had when he thought he was watching thousands of Muslims in Jersey City, New Jersey, cheering as they watched the destruction of the World Trade Center, the governor said: “It didn’t happen, and the fact is, people can say anything, but the facts are the facts and it didn’t happen in New Jersey that day and it hasn’t happened since.” Speaking on Fox news in August, the governor said of Mr. Trump, “I just don’t think that he’s suited to be president of the United States. I don’t think his temperament is suited for that and I don’t think his experience is.” Commenting on Mr. Trump’s statement that he could “shoot somebody” on the streets of New York without losing his loyal supporters” the governor said that: “If he really does think he can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still keep voters, I think that’s a little bit too much for most voters in the United States.” In making the last comment, the governor was absolutely right. It’s just that Governor Christie is not most voters. He’s an ambitious governor turned sycophant. He’s bound to enjoy his new found status. It will be a good learning experience for him since he is more accustomed to being adored than adoring.

Governor Christie’s decision to fawn over Mr. Trump required him to overlook far fewer insults tossed at him by Mr. Trump than Mr. Trump had to overlook in deciding to accept the adoration of the Christie. Mr. Trump made a big deal out of the George Washington Bridge scandal saying (albeit without presenting facts, a minor impediment when Mr. Trump trumpets about the activities of others) “he knew about it.” He then said that Mr. Christie could not win because of his past involvement with the bridge. In a tweet Mr.Trump asked how the governor was running the state when he was spending all his time campaigning in New Hampshire.

Mr. Trump was delighted to have Mr. Christie go from harsh critic to lavish endorser. It took away a bit of attention from the fact that Mr. Trump couldn’t remember who David Duke was. And here follows a bit of irrelevant trivia should Mr. Trump need more information about David Duke. David Duke was not only the National Grand Wizard of Knights of Ku Klux Klan and the founder of the National Association for Advancement of White People. Like Donald Trump, he, too, aspired to high political office. In 1999 he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives to succeed Louisiana’s Bob Livingston, who had been slated to become the Speaker of the House but, instead, resigned from Congress when his extra marital affairs became public. As a result, Dennis Hastert became Speaker of the House and was the longest serving speaker of the House in history, serving from 1999 to 2007 when he retired from Congress. In 2015 Mr. Hastert pled guilty to one federal felony count related to hush money that he allegedly paid to keep its recipient from disclosing sexual misconduct engaged in by Mr. Hastert when teaching high school prior to entering Congress.

So much for trivia and morality. David Duke was not elected to the office he coveted. One can only hope that now that Mr. Trump knows who Mr. Duke is, he will follow in his footsteps.