Martin Dyckman: The kooky, the clueless, and the crooked

Academe would be a dreary place without its occasional kooky professor, but James Tracy of Florida Atlantic University is simply too much. Hired to teach about conspiracy theories, he digressed into peddling his own, beginning with the claim that the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre three years ago was a hoax by the media and by the parents of the 20 children whom Tracy denies were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Tracy has been denying almost every mass murder since then, including the Boston Marathon bombing and the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard, the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, and in Sam Bernardino.

The university maintained that it couldn’t fire a tenured professor for sounding like a jackass on a personal blog. But then he challenged the parents of one of the Sandy Hook victims to prove that he was their son. That was calculated cruelty.

It was also finally too much for FAU, which is proposing to fire him.

He deserves to be fired, and if it were only legal, to be tarred and feathered, too. FAU has no more duty to keep Tracy than it would to retain a historian who denies the Holocaust, a geographer who says the world is flat, or an astronomer who claims NASA faked landing astronauts on the Moon. Tracy’s conduct is so unprofessional as to suggest either that he’s nuts or has found a fiendishly clever approach to fame and profit. Regardless, he’s overstayed his place at the public’s table.

But consider this: How is his denial of the obvious so much different from that of Marco Rubio and other politicians who continue to pretend that the indiscriminate sale and use of assault weapons has nothing to do with past and future – yes, future – tragedies like Newtown, Charleston and San Bernardino?

Tracy isn’t half as obnoxious or nearly as harmful as they are. He’s simply easier to be rid of.

• • •

Speaking of absurdities, what’s to make of the news that 30 percent of Republicans and nearly 20 percent of Democrats who say they’ll vote in the primaries would have the U.S. bomb a place that doesn’t exist?

A trick question in an otherwise legitimate survey by Public Policy Polling asked, “Would you support or oppose bombing Agrabah?”

Agrabah is the mythical kingdom in the Disney movie, “Aladdin.”

Among the Republicans, 57 percent said they weren’t sure and only 13 percent were opposed. The Democrats did somewhat better, registering 36 percent opposition. The poll didn’t say how many of them were undecided or how many, if any, challenged the question

“It’s a whole new world,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling. “Republicans who support carpet bombing also support bombing magic carpets.”

But it’s too serious to be funny. It’s hardly news, of course that a substantial minority of Americans can be so clueless. But this is worse than that. About  41 percent of Donald Trump’s voters are willing to kill masses of people in a place about which they know nothing except that it has an Arabic-sounding name. A similar percentage thinks it was OK for the U.S. to send citizens to concentration camps during World War II because of their Japanese ancestry.

Such numbers reflect a cancer in the heart of our country. Bigotry against people of different races or religions has been with us always, but not since the Civil War has it threatened so seriously to divide the nation. Never has it been what it is now: a clear and present danger to nominate and perhaps even elect a candidate for whom racism is as defining a characteristic as it was for Adolf Hitler.

Racism, like cancer, does not remain site-specific. In a recent column, Dana Milbank of The Washington Post reported on some of the reaction to his having called Trump “a bigot and a racist.”

“Let’s not mince words,” someone tweeted. “Milbank is an anti-white parasite and a bigoted kike supremacist.”

It got worse.

That and similar “discourse” could have come straight from National Socialist rallies in Germany in the 1920s and ‘30s. There too, demonstrators opposed to the racist candidate were shouted down with vulgar insults or beaten and dragged from the premises.

Don’t cry for Agrabah. Weep for the people, so many of them, who were eager to bomb it. And then weep for the United States.

• • •

On a more cheerful note, could there be a sight more satisfying than that photograph of Martin Shkreli in handcuffs, being perp-walked to face charges of securities fraud.

But in another absurdity, he’s claiming he was arrested because he hiked the price of a life-saving drug to $750 from $13.50.

If only that were so. Truth is, it’s perfectly legal for the pharmaceutical industry to extort as much money from sick and dying people as the companies think they can. According to The New York Times, Eli Lilly is charging $11,430 a month for a new cancer drug that some leading oncologists say should cost only $1,870 and Pfizer wants $9,850 a month for a new breast cancer drug, far above a reasonable price.

Shkreli is charged with ripping off wealthy investors, not desperate patients. There’s something wrong with that.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Asheville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Martin Dyckman


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