There will be two events this week where Saralee and I will be talking about How Things Really Work. The first is Thursday, October 14th at the University of Houston. The Hobby Center for Public Policy and the Briscoe Center for American History will host a reception and book signing at the Hilton on the University of Houston campus starting at 7:00pm. You can find out more details here.

The other event will be at the Texas Book Festival in Austin. We were honored to be included in the group of authors participating this year. Our session is scheduled for Sunday, October 17th. It will be held in the Texas Senate Chamber, a place that is very familiar to me, and will begin 4:15pm. The discussion will be moderated by Paul Burka.

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How Things Really Work is now available at and other online retailers. Click the buy the book link on this site to see all of your online options. 
Saralee and I appreciate The Baker Institute, the Rice University School of Social Sciences and the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas hosting our first book event in Houston this week.
You can also join us October 14th for a conversation, reception and a book signing at the University of Houston hosted by the Hobby Center for Public Policy and the Briscoe Center for American History. More details about this event are available at the Hobby Center for Public Policy website.

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We officially launched our book last evening in Austin. Many friends joined us, and we enjoyed talking about the book and singing copies. Thanks to all who came and especially to our hosts, the LBJ Library and Museum and our publisher, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

Saralee, Diana, and I have been friends for more than forty years, going back to the time when I was managing editor of the Houston Post and Saralee was covering NASA for the Houston Chronicle.

All of us have been writers and editors most of our adult lives. There is a natural tension between writers and editors. Molly Ivins used to say that the most primal human urge is not sex or fear of hunger or hate, but the urge to mess with someone else’s writing.  But it worked out all right. We’re all pretty good editors and Saralee writes almost as well as I do!

Of course, there have been bumps in the road. Surprising as it may seem, sometimes Saralee’s memory has differed from mine. The worst part of it is that when we discuss one of these instances, I usually end up saying, “ may have a point there.”

Saralee and I have been colleagues for about fifteen of those forty years. We have worked together at the Capitol, the LBJ School, and the University of Houston. In her spare time she has been deputy commissioner of the General Land Office and of the Department of Health and Human Services. She has also worked at the Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Public Utilities Commission.

Hobby and Tiede in the Texas Senate c. 1988

The good news is that she has finally landed a steady job as communications director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

We have been writing this book for five or six years. In describing the experience, even we cannot improve on our fellow author Winston Churchill, who put it this way:

“Writing a book is an adventure. First it is a toy, then an amusement, then a mistress, then a master, then a monster. Then, just when you are about reconciled to your servitude, you kill the beast and fling it to the public.”

Now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s all yours!

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Advance Buzz

Newspapers, magazines, and websites have recently run write ups and reviews of How Things Really Work. So far, so good. Links to those articles are posted on the news page of this website. Last week we had a small gathering with friends and reporters who cover Texas politics. Saralee and I had a chance to talk about the book and sign copies. I also read the chapter, “Just Vote No,” which contains my advice for legislators. It was a nice evening and good preparation for the book events that begin on Wednesday with the book launch at the LBJ Library and Museum. More details about this and other upcoming events are available on the news page of this site.

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Set to Launch

We are a little more than two weeks away from the opening event in Austin for How Things Really Work: Lessons from a Life in Politics. It will be a nice event at the LBJ Library and Museum. Saralee and I appreciate the work by everyone at the Briscoe Center for American History in getting the book edited, published and available for everyone to read. A big thanks also to them for organizing and co-hosting the launch event with our friends at the LBJ Library. We look forward to seeing many old friends and making new ones too on September 29th. You can read more about the event in the news section of the website or by calling 512-495-4692 for more information or to R.S.V.P.

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Texas’ Greatest Need

I hope that you have enjoyed seeing the information on this website and that you are looking forward to reading our book when it arrives in bookstores in October. We are planning book-related events starting next month. Please check back for more information on the news page of the website.

With the start of the new school year, everyone’s focus briefly turns to an issue that is one of my passions – education.

Texas’ greatest need now is better education. This was Texas’ greatest need 100 years ago, 50 years ago, and 10 years ago, and it will likely be the greatest need 10, 20, 100 years from now. Unfortunately, education hasn’t been an historical priority in Texas and it isn’t one today.

Texas continues to underinvest in education and underproduce educated people. Texas ranks last in percentage of high school graduates and 35th in percentage of college graduates.

This is true even though nearly every candidate for public office, from school board to governor, promises to do something about the sorry state of public education. But some things really are better. We now grade our schools from “low-performing” to “exemplary”. The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests ensure a basic body of knowledge is covered. The no pass-no play rule says academics are more important than football.

Look ahead, though, and you will see an unskilled, uneducated labor force, a larger prison population and growing welfare rolls – a greater gap between haves and have-nots. Education has always been the great closer of gaps. It’s been doing the job for years. As I wrote some years ago, the path from good intentions to good education is paved with difficult choices and hard cash.

The problem is that we have ducked the difficult choices and held onto the cash. We have chosen to criticize, audit, howl for reform, change management, castigate, carp and opt for the easy solution. Tax cuts are more popular than teachers’ payraises. No wonder that school superintendents’ salaries have gotten bigger as beleaguered school districts try to find someone willing to take on a thankless job with too big a task and too small a budget.

But we also confuse tinkering and meddling with progress, we focus on reform rather than improvement, and we demand better management while we shortchange teachers and children. For the past 50 years at least, two issues have consumed most of the hours spent by the Legislature –  education-governance and school finance.

We get what we pay for. Houses, cars, and groceries cost more today. So do private schools and private universities. Do we really think we can get the same public school education without spending more?

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Getting Started

Many may ask why a blog? My answer is short and shameless: I’m trying to sell a book, How Things Really Work: Lessons from a Life in Politics. It will be available in October. 

Before beginning my life in politics, however, I had a life in journalism. Media and how content is delivered has certainly changed, but the value of writing and expressing opinions is still important. That is what I intend to do in this space – express my opinions on topics that are interesting to me – Texas, politics, education, apportionment, elections, history, etc.   

We will see how it goes and how it evolves. I hope you check back and even let me know what you think about what is posted here.

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In just a few weeks, on April 1, we will all be counted by the twenty-third U. S. census. Then the fun starts.

Congress will reapportion. Texas will gain three or four seats in Congress and electoral votes in the next three presidential elections. Texas will also be eligible for billions of more dollars of federal aid. Whether Governor Perry lets us collect it is, of course, another matter! If at first you don’t secede don’t try again.

Then the legislature will redraw 232 districts: thirty-six congressional, thirty-one state senatorial, 150 state house, and fifteen State Board of Education. Counties, cities, and school boards will redraw thousands more.

Here is the most famous political cartoon in history. It added “gerrymander” to our language. The definition of “gerrymander” is simple: I redistrict. You gerrymander.

Gerrymandering, drawing a district to elect or defeat a particular candidate, is a time-honored technique, practiced by the Founding Fathers, that frequently doesn’t work. The gerrymander shown above occurred in Massachusetts in 1812. The Jeffersonian legislature tried to defeat an incumbent Federalist congressman by drawing a district a cartoonist made look like a salamander. Elbridge Gerry was governor, hence the name.

The Federalist won. The gerrymander didn’t work.

The very first gerrymander didn’t work either. Patrick Henry opposed ratification of the Constitution of which James Madison was one of the principal authors. In the Virginia Constitutional Convention called to consider ratification Madison prevailed. And a good thing, else we might still be laboring under the Articles of Confederation—or might not be a nation.

But Henry prevailed in the legislature. He prevented Madison’s election as one of Virginia’s first senators. He then tried to prevent Madison’s election to the House of Representatives by drawing an eight-county district thought to favor Madison’s opponent, James Monroe.

Madison won 1,308 to 972. Again, the gerrymander didn’t work.

Virginia was so rich in political talent that two future Presidents actually ran against each other! Virginia was so rich in political talent that two future Presidents actually ran against each other!

It’s a good thing Madison was elected, else we might not have a Bill of Rights!

Gerrymandering in Texas has had a DeLayed effect.

So onerous and contentious can redistricting be that legislatures sometimes avoided it by creating state-wide districts, seats held by congressmen-at-large. Congress prohibited at-large and multi-member Congressional districts in 1967.

Texas amended its Constitution in 1951 to establish the Legislative Redistricting Board, which redistricts the Legislature if the Legislature fails to do so after each census. The LRB did so in 1981, with no partisan rancor. No senators of either party seeking re-election were paired. I don’t remember if the partisan balance was changed or not. In those happier days a generation ago it didn’t much matter.


• The first apportionment controversy was in the Constitutional Convention when the Founding Fathers excluded 40% of the slaves from the apportionment base.

• The second was when President George Washington cast the first-ever Presidential veto. He vetoed a bill favored by Secretary of State Jefferson but opposed by Treasury Secretary Hamilton. I think it gave New York too many votes.

• In 1921 reapportionment was so controversial that Congress didn’t do it at all. The 1920 census showed a large influx of immigrants and a population shift to the cities. Urban states would have gained the seats (and Congressmen) rural states lost. The urban shift would have unseated Congressmen within states as well. Congress did not reapportion because a lot of Congressmen would have lost their jobs. Congress ignored the Constitution for a decade and the House of Representatives became less representative. The country boys won again.

After the 1930 census, at the urging of President Hoover , Congress changed the reapportionment procedure to make it more ministerial and self-enacting.

Congress decides who is counted and where, who excluded, and what questions are asked.

Should the census count government personnel overseas? Prison inmates serving time out-of-state? Mormon missionaries serving God overseas? If so, where should they be included for reapportionment?

• Sometimes overseas government personnel have been counted but not included. In 1986 Tom Foley from Washington state succeeded Tip O’Neill from Massachusetts as Speaker of the House. In 1990 Congress included the overseas personnel and thereby shifted a seat and an electoral vote from Massachusetts to Washington. Washington had 8,092 more than Massachusetts. Would Massachusetts have lost the seat and the electoral vote to Washington had Tip O’Neill still been Speaker? Go figure. Tip once famously remarked that “all politics is local”.

Inmates are counted where they are imprisoned rather than where they were convicted. Governors who export prisoners to other states beware. You may be exporting a Congressman! And who knows which prisoner is the Congressman?

Missionaries are not counted. After the 2000 Census, Utah sued unsuccessfully for a fourth Congressional seat and electoral vote at the expense of North Carolina, contending that Mormon missionaries serving overseas should be counted in the same way as overseas government personnel.

As the folks from Massachusetts, Washington, Utah, and North Carolina can tell you, those last few hundred can make the difference when you get down to a state’s last seat.

Frequently at redistricting conferences a speaker will tell a story something like this:

“When I redistricted the (pick a state) House in 19×1, I drew compact districts with the lowest standard deviations on the Western World. But when I showed it to the Speaker, he pointed out that I had one too few districts.”

That always gets a nervous laugh from the audience (legislative staff members who are afraid they might do the same thing).

Something like that happened in Texas in 1922. The Legislature left out Swisher county. The Texas Supreme Court put it back in. Makes you wonder where the legislators from Swisher County were.

Wars spawn censuses. Throughout history, military commanders have needed to know how many men followed their flag. A rear-march through the centuries tells us that in the Book of Numbers Jehovah told Moses to count the Children of Israel as they wandered through the desert to see if they had enough soldiers to conquer the Canaanites. (Wouldn’t you have thought Jehovah already knew?)

The census told the heavenly Quartermaster how many to feed so that just enough manna fell from Heaven. That census showed several million Israelites. The Israelites were an army of 603,550 soldiers. Although they had been trekking through the desert for forty years, they conquered.

Censuses have been fatal:

• Moses threw the lepers identified in the census out of camp and left them to die in the Wilderness.

• We celebrate the most famous fatal census every Christmas. It happened in Bethlehem in either 0000AD or 0000BC. (Even then they took censuses in decennial years.) Joseph and the pregnant Mary had gone to Bethlehem to be counted. There was no room at the inn so they had to stay in a stable.

Records of that census survived until at least 150 AD. St. Justin Martyr wrote to the Roman Emperor in The First Apology that Bethlehem “is a village in the land of the Jews, 35 stadia [about four miles] from Jerusalem in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can learn from the census returns.” A commentator noted “the census returns were no doubt preserved in the Roman archives and were probably accessible in Justin’s day.”

Herod, mindful of a prophecy that a rival King of the Jews would be born at about that time and in that place, ordered the slaughter of male infants so born – the Holy Innocents.

But Mary and Joseph escaped with their infant Jesus by retracing Moses’ flight from Egypt. Despite Herod’s murderous efforts the prophecy came true. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” survived. Moses and Jesus were both hidden at birth from rulers bent on infanticide. How different history would have been if the baby-killers had found their targets!

Celestial navigation was big in those days before GPS. The Israelites were guided by a pillar of fire at night. On that night in Bethlehem some undocumented aliens—three guys on camels—were wandering around looking at the stars. Sure enough, they had drugs in their saddlebags. Stuff called frankincense and myrrh.

• Another fatal census was taken in 1937 in the Soviet Union. The numbers were too low to suit Premier Josef Stalin so he shot the members of the Census Board for “diminishing the population of the Soviet Union”. Somehow, the 1939 census takers found millions more Russians. Seems they had undercounts even then.

• In the 1940s, census data helped Nazis find European Jews.


The U.S. census is an essential part of our electoral process. The writers of the Constitution were creating a nation that would have an increasing number of states with increasing populations to be represented by an increasingly large Congress.

Our census, like the Numbers count, has also been used for military purposes:

• In the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman used census maps to chart his March through Georgia to the Sea. The maps showed the number of whites, free blacks, and slaves in each county. They also showed how the army could live off the land: how many horses, mules, cattle, and how much wheat, corn, oats, and other crops on each farm.

“No military expedition was ever based of sounder or surer data,” Sherman wrote to his daughter Ellen. He could move faster than his foes because he didn’t need supply lines. Census figures helped Grant at Vicksburg just as they helped Moses in the desert.

• The 1940 census helped the Army round up and imprison U.S. citizens of Japanese descent in 1942. One of those internees, Norman Y. Mineta, became Secretary of Commerce and boss of the Census Bureau 60 years later. Mineta, when he was a California Congressman, passed a bill paying each surviving internee $20,000.

• The 2000 census helped the FBI to find Arab-Americans after the 9/11 attacks.


Apportionment is as much about electing Presidents as about electing Congress. The Constitutional Convention built in a small-state bias into both processes by adopting the Connecticut Compromise. The Connecticut Compromise created our bicameral Congress: a Senate for the small states, a House of Representatives for the large ones.

The Constitution apportions three electoral votes to each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia states regardless of size. (Texas has never ratified the Twenty-Third Amendment giving three electoral votes to the District of Columbia.)

The small-state bias is created by the Constitutional apportionment of and, very slightly, by the “method of equal proportions”. For example, there are three times as many electors per resident of Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska as there are of California, Texas, and New York.


Now comes one of those deliciously ironic episodes that make history fun!

“Wait a minute!” thought the Northern Republicans. “We won the Civil War, but we still have a Southern President. Now we’re going to give the Rebs the Capitol AND the White House? That’s what we put the three-fifths rule in the Constitution to prevent! We’ll fix that!”

Their efforts to do so were not impressive:

• The House impeached President Andrew Johnson for the “high crime and misdemeanor” of firing his Secretary of War (Stanton). Cooler heads prevailed in the Senate—by one vote. That’s what Senates are for. As we know from recent history, Presidential impeachment is not one of the things Republican Congresses do well.

Congress abolished slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment, thereby putting the other 40% into the apportionment base.

That would have given the Rebs sixteen more seats in Congress and electoral votes—enough to give the Democrats control of Congress and elect a President!

• Then they passed the Fourteenth Amendment–a ludicrous attempt to deal with the threatened increase in Southern representation. Section 2 gave Congress the power to reduce representation of states that kept blacks from voting. Southern states did so, but so did Northern states. No such reduction was ever made. Section 2, became, in the words of the Congressional Research Service, “little more than an historical curiosity.”

• The Republicans passed the Fifteenth Amendment giving blacks and freed slaves the right to vote and have probably regretted it ever since. For the last century they have mostly voted Democratic.

In any case, the amendment wasn’t very effective until real enabling legislation (Voting Rights Act) was passed by a Democratic Congress at the urging of a Democratic President a century later.

• They considered basing apportionment on voting population rather than total population. That looked good for a while. Southern states would lose eighteen seats instead of gaining sixteen. But that would exclude women and aliens and penalize the New England states. It might even make states think about letting women vote! Back to the drawing board!

In the end the South neither gained nor lost representation for three reasons:

• Counting the freed blacks just about offset Southern casualties during the Civil War.

• The Eastern states grew more slowly than the rest of the country and so lost relative share, but Western states (California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon) grew by more than 50%.

• The 1870 census was a mess. The South was undercounted by 1.26 million. (The black undercount continues. In 1940 thirteen percent more black men registered for the draft than were counted by the census in that age group. )


The Supreme Court of the U. S. refused for years to hear redistricting cases because redistricting was a political issue, a view held strongly by Justice Felix Frankfurter.

Before Baker v. Carr redistricting fights, at least in Southern states, were not between Democrats and Republicans (there weren’t many) but between city folks and country folks (there weren’t as many as there used to be). The country folks won because their grandfathers had stacked the constitutional deck.

Baker v. Carr reshuffled the deck.

Charles W. Baker of Tennessee complained that a 1901 law designed to apportion the seats for the state’s General Assembly was virtually ignored. Baker’s suit detailed how Tennessee’s reapportionment ignored population shifts within the state.

The Texas situation was the same, except that the law and constitution were followed, not ignored. But the same result was reached. The state constitution allowed Harris County (Houston) with almost 20% of the state population to have only one (3%) of 31 senators.

Many legislatures (like Tennessee and Texas) were dominated by rural legislators. Districts bore little regard to population. Rural legislators represented a lot fewer folks than urban legislators. Legislatures had become unrepresentative.

Baker won, 6-2, Frankfurter dissenting. One-man-one-vote became the law. A wave of redistricting swept state legislatures, city councils and school boards across the country. Congressional districts soon reflected the new makeup of the legislatures.


A year after Congress passed the Civil Rights Act President Lyndon Johnson urged passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in these words:

“Rarely are we met with a challenge… the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such as an issue…the command of the Constitution is plain. It is wrong – deadly wrong – to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”

The Act outlawed literacy tests and poll taxes. All you needed to vote was citizenship and a registration card. The Fifteenth Amendment was finally to be enforced. (The poll tax was eliminated by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment in 1962. The Texas Legislature declined to ratify it in 2007.)

The impact of this act was dramatic. By the end of 1966, only four of the traditional thirteen Southern states had less than 50% of African Americans registered to vote. By 1968, even hard-line Mississippi had 59% of African Americans registered. African Americans were elected to office, often for the first time since Reconstruction. The Act was the boost that the civil rights cause needed to move it swiftly along and LBJ gets full credit for it.

LBJ famously predicted when he signed the Voting Rights Act that he was signing away the South to the Republicans for a generation. He was wrong. It has now been almost three generations.

Blacks and Hispanics became protected minorities. Renewed in 2006 by Congress, the Voting Rights Act is one the most important changes in American electoral history. Democrats, men, Indians, and Asians, minorities all, are not protected. Thank goodness men are not a protected minority, else we would have district lines bisecting bedrooms.

The most controversial part of the VRA is Section 5. Section 5 specifies those States and smaller jurisdictions that must submit redistricting plans to the Justice Department for preclearance.

Until 1990 redistricting was done in a prayer-like attitude. Legislators and staffers spent a lot time on their knees. The state capitol was their cathedral. Their prayer rug was a large state map with a plastic overlay. A felt-tip marker was the prayer stick and a hand calculator the rosary.

Nowadays it’s done on a computer. Move a precinct with a mouse click and the numbers, displayed at the bottom of the screen, change before your eyes.

Since the census determines how many electoral votes each state has and therefore how much your vote counts.

If you aren’t counted, you don’t count!

[1] Labunski, Richard. James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights. Oxford, 2006.[2] PL 90-196.  See
[3] Texas Constitution, III, 28.
[5] State of the Union address, Dec. 2, 1930.
[7] Smith v. Patterson, 111 Tex. 525, 242 S.W. 749 (1922).
[8] Numbers 1,2.
[9] Luke 2:1-7
[10] St. Justin Martyr The First and Second Apologies, Paulist Press 1997. L. W. Barnard, editor. Cited in Houston  Mayor          William H. White letter to the author, September 5, 2000.
[11] Matthew 2:16-18
[12] Conquest, Robert. Reflections on a Ravaged Century. (John Murray,1999)
[13] American Census: A Social History. Margo Anderson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. p. 64. See esp. 8n, 9n. Hereafter “Census”.
[14] William Seltzer and Margo Anderson, “After Pearl Harbor:  The Proper Role of Population Data Systems in Time of War,”  Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Los Angeles, CA, March 25, 2000.
[15] New York Times, June 30, 2000.
[16] New York Times ,July 30, 2004.] For an excellent discussion of the Electoral College  see Langley, Lawrence D., and      Pierce, Neal R. The Electoral College Primer. Yale University Press.

[1[18]] U.S. Constitution, 23d Amendment.

[1[20] See] Author’s calculation from
[22] Census, Chapter 3.
[23] of Interdisciplinary History 30.1 (1999) 1-36
[24] Anderson, To Sample or Not to Sample Journal of Interdisciplinary History 30.1 (1999) 1-36
[25] 369 US186(1962)

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Texas, once the Lone Star State, first became the Let’s Secede State (Rick Perry), and is now the Laughing Stock State (State Board of Education), Once a two-party state, Texas has become a tea-party state.

What does it tell you that Libertarian Debra Medina was showing close to 30% in the Republican Primary polls and dropped to 18% when she said she wasn’t sure that President “Dubya” Bush bombed New York on 9/11? And Bush was a Republican President!

Take the most recent episode brought to us by the State Board of Education (SBOE). They want to edit history books by expunging the names of Hispanics who helped Texas become free from Mexico. Lorenzo de Zavala, born in Mexico in 1788, helped draft the constitution of the Republic of Texas and was its interim vice-president (1836). The Texas Archives Building across the street from the State Capitol is named for him.

Have the folks who want to edit Texas history to suit their lily-white selves ever heard of him? Apparently not.

Even before the Texas history fiasco some SBOE members had decided they were better scientists than Charles Darwin. Seems they’re not real happy about evolution. Their chief biologist is then board chairman, Don McLeroy. McLeroy will have to conduct his scientific investigations elsewhere next year. He was defeated in the Republican primary by Tom Ratliff. On his campaign website Ratliff explained some differences between himself and McLeroy: “I believe God created the Heavens and the Earth millions and millions of years ago. I do not believe, as my opponent does, that the Earth is a mere few thousand years old, nor do I believe, as my opponent does, that dinosaurs and mankind lived at the same time.”

I’m like the ill-informed gentleman in South Carolina who said “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” I just want them to keep their hands off my textbooks.

If we’re lucky, the SBOE may itself be evolving. The problem is that evolution means change.

● Is the theory of evolution itself evolving?

Of course! The late Stephen Jay Gould showed that evolution does not proceed at a steady pace, but in fits and starts.

● Is physics evolving? You bet!

Newtonian physics describes our everyday world. But when telescopes exposed us to infinite space and time Einstein developed the theory of relativity. When electronics exposed us to subatomic worlds Bohr, Dirac, Heisenberg, Planck and others developed the field of quantum mechanics. Do all those fields of physics fit together neatly? No. Physicists are trying to develop a Grand Unified Theory (GUT). They haven’t found it yet. Maybe there isn’t one.

● Is astronomy evolving? At galactic speed!

Ptolemy taught us that the Sun went around the Earth. But then Copernicus and Galileo came along and said “No! It’s the other way around!” (Just like the SBOE centuries later, the infallible Pope thought he was a better scientist than Galileo and wanted to excommunicate him—or maybe burn him at the stake.)

Astronomers can account for less than 20% of the matter necessary to hold the universe together—if we have the laws of gravity and physics right. Dark energy and dark matter, whatever they may be, are needed to balance the equations.

The only fields of study that don’t evolve are those not important enough to think about any more.

Central to the theory of evolution is the mutant gene that causes the species to evolve—for better or worse.

The mutant gene that made the national GOP evolve from the party of Eisenhower to the party of Limbaugh and the whackos evolve from Birchers to Birthers is loose in Texas!

But help is on the way! Scientists will soon isolate the GOP gene. Then the condition can be treated by massive injections of stem cells!

In the meantime, those of us who still believe the earth is round, that it goes around the sun, and that President Obama was born in Hawaii, will try to stay away from the Republican thought police.

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Robocalls—A Public Nuisance

Enough, already!

During the last political season we have all been harassed in our homes by countless robocalls from rude people who want us to vote for them because they invaded our privacy.

Let’s put a stop to it! We can protect ourselves from computer spam by blocking the sender. Let’s do the same for our telephones.

Here’s how it could work:

Telephone companies have “star codes” that mostly don’t work. “*67” is supposed to block the calling number from calling in the future. It doesn’t.

Let’s require by law telephone companies to have a new star code “***” that works. That code would block the calling number. If the caller persists in using the phone system to harass the public make the phone company cut off service to the harasser, on pain of heavy fines not includible in the rate base.

Technical problems? Heavy fines will solve them.

There have been unsuccessful attempts to stop this nuisance before. The “free speech” issue has been raised by such notable defenders of our freedoms as insurance companies, debt collectors, and—yes— newspaper publishers, Congress and several states have passed laws, ineffective because they exempt the main offenders: charities, politicians, nonprofit organizations, debt collectors, insurance companies, newspaper publishers, government agencies.

That’s like saying that only sex offenders can grope you.

Cumbersome and probably useless “no-call” lists have been established so that those who do not want to be ravished again can list themselves. That’s putting the burden on the victim, not the harasser. One such list, the National Political Do Not Call Registry, actually requires you to pay for the privilege of not being harassed.

Your tax dollars at work!

Efforts in Texas to abate the nuisance go back to 1999 when State Representative Debra Danburg tried to establish a state do-not-call list. The bill never got out of committee because insurance salesmen and stock brokers were protecting our right to privacy.

In 2001, the Legislature did pass a law purporting to limit the public nuisance. Your own experience in the past few months is the best measure of how effective the law has been. The bill, of course, exempted the usual suspects.

The law has been tweaked every session since. You must feel more secure now that “certain Law-enforcement Charitable Organizations” are now exempt.

The Texas Public Utility Commission is supposed to enforce the law but has never done so because the law is unenforceable—as it was meant to be.

But—never fear— you can always sue for the damages you can prove. That’s if you can find a lawyer who will file the suit for a contingent fee—that is, for a share of the judgment. Or maybe you can get the Attorney General of Texas to sue.

But with *** you could block that pesky neighbor and crazy Aunt Sally, too!

While we’re at it, let’s block the spam in our mail boxes by tripling third-class mail rates every year or so.

Enough, already.

Bill Hobby can be reached at [email protected]

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