Tuesday, August 15, 2017

“Fire and Fury”

by John Stevenson

For starters, let me say that this is neither an endorsement nor a defense of President Trump’s public declarations on Kim Jong Un’s missile rattling.   Instead, it is a call for a bit more perspective and balanced view on the part of critics of those declarations.

The statements causing the critics to reach for the smelling salts are that North Korea would be met with “fire and fury” if they continue their provocations, and later that “military solutions are now fully in place…locked and loaded.”

Just for a bit of historical perspective, Trump’s immediate predecessor President Obama, in an April 2016 interview with CBS host Charlie Rose, called North Korea erratic and irresponsible.  He went on to say “We could obviously destroy North Korea with our arsenals” but that doing so would have negative consequences for our ally South Korea.  The North Koreans were none too pleased with Obama’s statement, but it drew no criticism from the American press or politicians. 

In addition, in 1993 then-President Clinton said that if North Korea were to develop and use an atomic weapon “we would quickly and overwhelmingly retaliate” and “it would mean the end of their country as they know it.”  The North Korean government was outraged, but for the American press and politicians, this declaration was a snoozer. 

So how have the critics responded to Trump’s statements?  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi offered that Trump’s words were “recklessly belligerent and demonstrate a grave lack of appreciation for the…nuclear situation.”  Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein called Trump’s statements “bombastic.”  Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer labeled Trump’s words “reckless rhetoric.”

Even Senator John McCain got in on the fun: “I take exception to the president’s comments because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do…in other words the old walk softly but carry a big stick…because all it’s going to do is bring us closer to some kind of serious confrontation.”  Perhaps McCain had forgotten that, in his 2008 presidential campaign, he had regaled a rally crowd by briefly singing the “Barbra Ann” knock-off---“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran.” 

So regardless of how you view Trump’s tough talk, the inconsistency of his critics reeks of hypocrisy or at least of selective amnesia.

There’s even a move afoot in the Congress to pass a prohibition against Trump taking military action against North Korea.  I am not often given to quoting Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.  But I think his counsel in this case is worth consideration.  Dershowitz opposes any congressional effort to impede the President in his use of force against North Korea. 

Dershowitz says such a move “interferes with the President’s right as commander in chief to make decisions affecting the national security of the United States….I think we ought to take a deep breath and wait and see how it plays out.”

In this situation, the critics should not try to restrain the President---instead they should restrain themselves.  Less of the vapors.  Dershowitz has it right.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


by John Stevenson

For years, there have been occasional and seemingly unconnected efforts to erase symbols of the Confederate States of America---to tear down a statue, rename a school, or remove a Confederate flag.

Then came the June 2015 South Carolina church massacre by a white supremacist. That heinous act galvanized public opinion, and the previously sporadic efforts became a nationwide movement. 

A primary target for historical erasure is the plethora of statues of Confederate military leaders.  And most prominent among those are statues of General Robert E. Lee.

Like other Confederate generals, statues of Lee almost always depict him astride his horse Traveller.  Lore is that Traveller was fast, strong, and brave---a fitting horse for a renowned military commander of that era. 

Unlike Lee, Traveller was presumably not a slaveholder.  His heart likely was not even committed to the Confederate cause.  But, as Lee’s warhorse, in a sense he too was a Confederate hero.  And of course, as the statues are taken down, Traveller is being scrubbed from history as surely as his rider.

Barring some unforeseeable shift in public sentiment, the erasing of Confederate leaders will continue until there is no more Robert E. Lee astride Traveller in any public place in America.   

The historical expunging will be complete.  Or maybe not.

As it turns out, the University of Southern California has a horse named Traveler as its mascot.  Traveler attends home football games and, with his Trojan rider, gallops around the field whenever USC scores---which is far too often.

Traveler first appeared at USC in the 1961 football season.  Of course over the years USC has had a succession of Travelers.  The original one was, according to its owner Richard Saukko, named in honor of---you guessed it---General Lee’s Traveller.

So even after the removal of Confederate statues and flags, and even after the renaming of streets, schools, and buildings, a symbol of the Confederacy will endure in the name of USC’s mascot. 

The historical erasure enthusiasts should turn their attention to this living, breathing, galloping Confederate namesake.  USC’s Traveler and all of his successors will have to be renamed. 

Previous renaming efforts have often included a jujitsu component: the now-disfavored names would be replaced by those of prominent minorities or civil rights leaders.  For example, the renaming of San Francisco’s Army Street as Cesar Chavez Blvd.; the so-far-unsuccessful campaign to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School in Virginia after Thurgood Marshall; and the fizzled renaming of San Francisco’s Washington High in favor of Maya Angelou.  

In keeping with that spirit, USC could select the name of a prominent minority or civil rights leader to replace their Confederate namesake.  For consideration, here are a couple of distinguished figures with already-established connections to USC:  O.J. Simpson, “The Juice,” who galloped for record-setting yardage in the Coliseum in the 1960s.  And Snoop Dogg (nee Calvin Broadus, Jr.) who can often be found horsing around on the sidelines at USC games.

If they are willing to choose a replacement name without regard for minority status or civil rights involvement, here are a couple of USC grads to consider:  John Wayne, “The Duke,” who starred in several westerns as a cavalry officer.  And Charles Paddock (nicknamed “The Human Race Horse”), 1920 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist.

For now, the historical erasure folks are busy with removing the Confederate statues and flags and with the renaming of schools and such.  But once they are finished up with those more tangible targets, USC officials should expect a knock at the door.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Tranimal

by John Stevenson

For my April 19 column, I thought I had uncovered the ultimate absurdity.  “You Won’t Believe This One,” described the removal of a scale from a college gym so that one student would not be caused anxiety over her weight.  Well of course I was wrong, as confessed in my May 31 offering “Trust Us, You Are Beautiful” concerning the covering of mirrors in order to shield some students from the presumably ugly truth.

Well, it turns out there’s always (and perhaps always will be) another winner of the sweepstakes of the absurd.  The current leader in that contest is a visiting PhD student at the University of Arizona.  Hang onto your hat.

This student is apparently a female who identifies as male.  Thus she is a “transgender man.”  Since biologically she is now and forever will be female, I would normally call her “her” or “she.”  However, I must quote below from sources all of which use the politically correct but biologically wrong “him” or “he.”  So I will do the same so as not to inject needless confusion into this story of an already confused person.  OK so far?

On the University of Arizona’s web site, the Gender and Womens Studies Department and the Institute for LGBT Studies jointly welcomed their visiting scholar “…a French student who just started his PhD this year at Universite Paris 8. He works at the intersection of Trans Studies and Animal Studies, focusing on tranimal body modifications, practices and subjectivities. He is beyond excited to be in Tucson for the Spring semester, benefit from all the department’s and the Institute’s activities, conduct fieldwork in the US, and meet everyone!”   

Apparently not satisfied with his gender transition, he has forged onward to now identify as a hippopotamus.  His paper on this was published in “The Journal of Theoretical Humanities.”  An abstract of this scholarly work says: “Confronting transgender with transpecies, the author claims that his hippopotamus identity allowed him to escape…several sets of categorization that govern human bodies.”  And “The article then investigates the politics of equating transgender and transpecies, critically examining the question of the inclusion of xenogenders in the trans political movement.”  That should be useful after graduation.

In his own words, “…being a hippo makes me feel cute, confident, sexy and safe. I discovered that another self was available for me; being a hippo means that I don’t have to be a boy or a girl, a child or an adult, normal or strange.”  As if it’s not strange for a woman to declare herself male and then transmogrify into a gender-free hippopotamus.

Writing further about his newfound freedom from classification, he says “Unlike the somewhat checkered, locked-down, and policed space of transgender, the space of transpecies remained open, as it is not scripted yet.”   And also, that self-identifying as a hippo is “a political form of resistance to the (trans)gender policing of my body.”

As of this writing the welcoming statement remains on the UA website.  However, reports that a UA spokesman has told them that “…despite some early contact with the department, he was not a researcher or an employee of any kind, and he had no student status with UA.” 

So perhaps the kumbaya moment so eagerly anticipated by the Gender and Womens Studies folks and their LGBT soulmates was never actually consummated.  We can’t be sure, because reports that the tranimal did not respond to their inquiries.

This is a great loss to the academic excellence of the University of Arizona, because their Gender and Womens Studies Department and their Institute for LGBT Studies might have benefited greatly from the wisdom and scholarly contributions of the visiting ungulate.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

“Exactly What He Deserved”

by John Stevenson

I’m pretty cautious about travel.  I go to friendly spots like Canada and western Europe. 

If the State Department recommends against going someplace, it’s likely I had already crossed it off.  Places not to go include: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Zimbabwe, and a whole passel of other enticing destinations---like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

As you have surely heard, 22-year old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier went on an organized tour to North Korea (DPRK).   If I’d been invited to tag along, chances are pretty good that I would have had other plans.  But he went.  A bad decision, as it turned out. 

Warmbier stole a poster off his hotel wall, likely as a souvenir, was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to15 years at hard labor.  All done probably as quickly as it took you to read that sentence.  People are unlikely to survive 15 years in a DPRK prison.  And he didn’t.  We can only imagine the beatings and other horrors he experienced, but after a year of it he was returned to his family with severe brain damage and died shortly after. 

Politicians, pundits, folks across the political spectrum cried out for some redress of this injustice.  It was a terrible decision to go tourista in the DPRK.  But his death at the hands of that barbaric regime surely deserves our sympathy for him and his family rather than our criticism.  

But along comes 62 year-old Katherine Dettwyler, adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware. reported that Dettwyler’s subsequently-deleted Facebook post said Warmbeir was “typical of a lot of the young, rich, clueless males who come into my classes.” 

She also wrote: “These are the same kids who cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to study the material to get a good grade.  His parents ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted.  Maybe in the U.S., where young…rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women.  Not so much in North Korea.” 

Campus Reform reports that in another since-deleted comment she posted:  “If you knew these kids you’d be appalled.  They think nothing of raping drunk girls at frat parties and snorting cocaine, cheating on exams, and threatening professors with physical violence.” 

So Dettwyler, who likely never met Warmbier and likely knows nothing about him except what has been in the media, links him to raping, drug use, violence, and cheating on exams.  Her abusive rants smear young white males in general, and Warmbier in particular.   Her writings reek of racism, sexism, and a callous disdain for the tuition-paying parents of her rich white male frat boy students.   

But her most odious comment was this:  “Is it wrong of me to think that Otto Warmbeir got exactly what he deserved?”

Responding to the backlash that followed, the University rightfully disowned Dettwyler:  “We condemn any and all messages that endorse hatred and convey insensitivity toward a tragic event such as the one that Otto Warmbier and his family suffered.  We find these comments particularly distressing and inconsistent with our values.  Our sympathies are with the Warmbier family.”  

Adjunct professors work on contract and are not tenured.  At the time of Dettwyler’s comments she was between semesters.  The University’s statement said Dettwyler “will not be rehired to teach at the University in the future.” 

Apparently Dettwyler’s hateful comments were not an anomaly.  The Review, a student newspaper, said that she had a reputation for being politically outspoken.  One student who had taken two courses from her said Dettwyler’s Facebook post was typical of her: “the most Kathy thing I’ve ever seen.”  So apparently she was known for doling out her ugly opinions in the classroom.

If she had not posted her despicable message on social media, Dettwyler’s behavior would probably never have been exposed.  Donors, parents, and alumni would probably never have learned of her existence, let alone her hateful mindset and statements.   So there would have been no public outcry and the University would never have had to denounce and terminate her.

What’s worse, she would still be in the classroom projecting her hatefulness.  And the parents she so despises would still be paying her salary to preach her loathsome opinions to their children.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Cultural Appropriation Warriors

by John Stevenson

I guess the scourge of “cultural appropriation” has been around a while, but I first learned of it three years ago, and wrote about it in my June 25, 2014, column.  Two fraternities had been disciplined by their respective universities.  One for holding a Cinco de Mayo themed charitable fundraiser.  The other for holding a Fiji Islander charitable fundraiser (grass skirts, coconut bras---like in that racist musical “South Pacific”).  In the first case the event was canceled; in the other, fraternity leaders were required to undergo cultural sensitivity re-education. 

Cultural appropriation is defined by Nadra Kareem Nittle, an expert in the field:  “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.  This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”  Nittle goes on to say that it is worse if the source community is a minority group or when the thing appropriated is particularly sensitive (like a religious symbol). 

There are other similar definitions, but key to their application is that there’s no actual rule book.  Whether a particular act or event is or is not really cultural appropriation is up to the offended individual or community.   Non-negotiable.

I actually was hoping sanity had prevailed and this issue had gone away.  Alas, Michael Barone’s May 5, 2017, column on cultural appropriation brought me back to reality.  So I rummaged around on line and quickly found writings by Nittle, Jenni Avins, Kovie Biakolo---cultural appropriation experts all.  Google cultural appropriation and you’ll find those writers along with many others.  Apparently there’s a cultural appropriation industry out there, taking offense, writing, lecturing, re-educating miscreants and, of course, making up the rules as they go along.

So my vain hope was that the stink about the Cinco de Mayo party and the South Pacific-style event had blown over   Barone brought me back to reality.  The offense of cultural appropriation is now more offensive than ever.

Barone postulated that only the culturally pure should be able to partake of that culture.  For example, that only Italian-Americans with proof of ancestry should be able to buy pizza in the school cafeteria, panini at Panera, or pasta at Olive Garden.  He says “Fortunately, modern technology makes this possible. [Prospective purchasers] could display their profiles on their smartphones…”  The non-qualified “would have to be politely but firmly informed that their ancestry bars them from partaking of cuisine their ancestors had no part in concocting.”

Of course Italian cuisine is just an example.  The right to purchase and drink a Guinness, to  listen to Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” or dance to Chubby Checker’s twist, to wear a sari or a barong, to attend a Greek festival or an Oktoberfest, even to watch a movie such as “Hidden Figures” or “Coming to America.”  All would be subject to proof of membership in the matching culture.

Again, appropriating from my June 2014 column: “America, by its very nature, is a potpourri of cultural foods, music, behaviors, dress, and language.  Borrowing from each other’s cultures has been standard practice in our society.  Unless it is done to mock or ridicule, where’s the offense?”

The culture warriors believe cultural appropriation, a class one felony, wreaks havoc from sea to shining sea.  Me?  I think I’ll put on my aloha shirt, have a gyro sandwich, drink a cerveza---maybe even polka.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

When in Rome….

by John Stevenson

Do you wear shoes in your home?  No one in my family wears shoes in my home or in their own.  It’s our custom.  Visitors usually follow suit.  

It’s also the custom in some Asian countries and in Hawaii to leave one’s shoes at the door.  And it’s becoming more common in “the contiguous 48.”   So what to do when you go to someone else’s home.  Shoes or no shoes?  Well, the solution is to follow the custom of your host.  If shoes are acceptable, leave them on.  If it’s a no-shoe house, go shoe-less.  Common sense.

Similarly if you were visiting Japan, for example, you would leave your shoes at the door.  You would never, I hope, think that the fact that you wear shoes in your own home should privilege you to wear shoes in your Japanese host’s home.  The local custom takes precedence. 

Of course wearing shoes (or going shoeless) in the house is not the real subject here.  It’s just an illustration of a commonly held principle:  people the world around generally accept and follow the primacy of local custom.

Which brings us to another example of campus craziness---perpetrated not by the students, but by the school administration. reports on Clemson University’s diversity training program for its faculty.  To drum up attendance, Clemson’s Office of Inclusion and Equity offered mugs and t-shirts for faculty members who completed the online “inclusion awareness course.”

The training features diversity-related fictitious scenarios from which participants are to select the most inclusive response.  Here’s an example.

“Alejandro scheduled a 9:00 a.m. meeting with two groups of visiting professors and students from other countries.  When he arrived, he found the first group had been waiting for 15 minutes.  The second group arrived at 9:10.”

What should Alejandro do?  The incorrect answer, of course, is for him to explain to the tardy arrivals that “in our country 9:00 a.m. means 9:00 a.m.”  The correct answer is that he “should recognize cultural differences…and adjust accordingly.”  The explanation is that “time may be considered precise or fluid, depending on the culture.”  So Alejandro should recognize “that his cultural perspective regarding time is neither more nor less valid than any other.” 

Notice what has happened here.  Alejandro is the host.  In his country (the U.S., since Clemson is in South Carolina) “9:00 a.m. means 9:00 a.m.”  But the diversity training encourages faculty to ignore the primacy of local custom and accept instead that it “is neither more nor less valid than any other.”

As a consequence, members of the tardy group in this fictitious scenario do not learn the local custom and of course are not expected to follow it---and they presumably have no clue they have been discourteous to the members of the on-time group and the host.  If there’s to be a second meeting, I wonder how the fictional and likely frustrated Alejandro will go about scheduling it?

The anonymous Clemson faculty member who alerted had this to say:  “I’m appalled that Clemson thought it was necessary to ‘encourage’ its employees to take this course.  I can only guess the number of productivity hours the University lost while faculty and staff suffered through the infuriating, biased, laughable examples.”

The Alejandro scenario dismisses the primacy of local custom.  Shoes in the house or not?  Show up on time or not?  Ignoring (or unaware of) the wisdom of the ages, Clemson’s Office of Inclusion and Equity says it doesn’t matter: all perspectives are equally valid.

Paraphrasing  St.  Augustine, who bequeathed us the correct answer some 17 centuries ago:  When in Rome, I do as the Romans do.  It is polite and avoids conflict.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trust Us, You Look Great

by John Stevenson

In my April 19 column “You Won’t Believe This One,” I described the removal of a scale from the gym at Canada’s Carleton University.  A student complained that the presence of the scale triggered her anxiety, presumably by reminding her she is not winning the battle with her BMI. 

The column described backlash and ridicule of the scale’s removal.  One student acerbically suggested banning mirrors because they could be equally distressing.  Well, it turns out that no trigger for emotional trauma (whether real or imagined and no matter how frivolous or dubious) is to be overlooked or discounted.  Thus the facetious suggestion to ban mirrors has come true.

Sabrina, an idealistic student at Laguna Hills High School, replaced mirrors in the girls’ restrooms with “signs of affirmation.”  Girls who look in the mirror see, instead of their reflection, messages like “You are beautiful” and “You are enough.”  Apparently the school had a “What if…..Week,” each day having a specific theme, one being “What if we showed more love?”  Sabrina, who made and posted the signs, told ABC News (this made the news) “I put the signs in the bathroom the night before so students would see them throughout the next day.”  So her affirmation-instead-of-mirrors effort was planned to last one day.

Sabrina’s project was certainly well-intentioned.  She wanted to make other girls feel loved and valuable.  But she overlooked that mirrors serve a purpose.  Girls don’t want to go through their school day with hair askew, spinach-teeth, cockeyed pussy hat, or smeared mascara.  A “you are beautiful” feel-good message does not help a girl to make it so.

So along comes an adult who might help Sabrina understand this.  Chelsea, the school’s activities director, told ABC News that Sabrina had “made it her goal for the semester to spread positive messages around campus.”  She also said that student reaction had been so positive that there were no immediate plans to take the signs down. 

As the adult in this scenario, activities director Chelsea---in addition to praising Sabrina’s desire to raise other girls’ self esteem---might also have helped her to understand that mirrors serve an actual purpose by reflecting reality and allowing people to make needed adjustments.

Well, it turns out that Laguna Hills High was not the only, or even the first, school to experiment with removing or covering mirrors.  A couple of months earlier, a dorm at Bucknell University covered its bathroom mirrors during “Self Love Week” and “Eating Disorder Awareness Day.” 

The signs said:  “Trust us you look great. Take a break from the mirror today and be good to yourself and your body, regardless of appearance. Know that you are much more than how you look. Celebrate your inner beauty today…” and so on.  How this promotes eating disorder awareness is unclear.  It would even seem to promote unawareness

I claim no expertise in this area, but it would seem logical that eating disorders are serious problems which require medical treatment or psychological intervention and cannot be wished away by covering a mirror with a message of affirmation and self love.

At first glance, removal of the gym’s scale and covering mirrors with signs of praise may seem silly or frivolous.  But in fact both acts represent the denial of reality.  Denial is in vogue on today’s campus and is being enabled---even encouraged---by school administrators and teachers.

Administrators and teachers tend to promptly give in to student demands and to the mindset that uncomfortable truths should be ignored, dissenting opinions should be silenced, and “safe spaces” should be provided.  These adults---in loco parentis---should be providing a dose of reality rather than reinforcing its denial.

In the world beyond graduation safe spaces are in short supply.  And denial will prove to have been an unhelpful lesson with unfortunate consequences.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

And you thought that nuclear weapons were the problem?

by Chris James

     To me, George Will's recent column on the May 7 death of Dr. William Baumol at age 95 was an eye-opener.  Dr. Baumol was a well-known (by the cognoscenti, but not by me), well-respected economist - mainly for his pioneering work in incorporating the role of entrepreneurship into economic models.  He may have been almost equally well-known for what is now called Baumol's Cost Disease (BCD).

    In a nutshell, BCD attacks manpower intensive institutions, where it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to increase productivity, yet manpower costs associated with these sectors keep rising. Typically, qualifying institutions and businesses comprise the service sector of the economy; it is the largest component (some 70+%) of most developed economies. Therefore, BCD can be seen to be a serious problem, not so much that we've got the bug, but that we understand it, and that we try to find solutions to ameliorate its impact on society.

     How does BCD work?  Take a simple, whimsical example based on the old jocularity "how many (blank) does it take to change a light bulb?"  Let's say that back in the 1920's, it took three individuals.  These are your service providers.  Today, despite advances in light bulb technology, higher quality and faster production (all indicative of increases in manufacturing productivity), it still takes the same three service people to screw the light bulb into the same type of socket used in 1920.  In other words, services productivity has not increased to any extent over the years. However, the wages of today's light bulb service providers are 50 times higher than they were in 1920.

     There are many internet examples of BCD in real-life action.  Here is a smattering.  The Arts are one of a multitude of service components of the economy, as is medicine.  From the Arts, a classic case.  Today, it still takes about the same number and types of instruments to perform Beethoven's 7th symphony as it did when he wrote it.  Over the decades, symphonic musicians' salaries have escalated healthily (thanks, in part, to a robust Musician's Union).  Ergo, BCD.

     Medicine is a fecund source of germane anecdotes.  Classic: A retired octogenarian doctor of some repute was asked how many interns he took on his rounds back in the day.  He replied 10 to 12. He was then asked how many interns do the (hideously more expensive) rounds today.  Guess his answer.  Medicine is a rich source of services infected with BCD.  Examples: Can a doctor examine two patients simultaneously with the same care that he would give to a single patient?  Could a technician draw blood simultaneously from two patients at the same level of efficiency as with one patient?  Doubling effective treatments in the same time that it takes to provide single patient treatment would increase productivity 100%.  The practicality of such a strategy?  Puh-lease!

    So, how does a manpower intensive industry cope with the inevitability of BCD?  Well, business owners or institutional bosses could, ahem, terminate some of those on the firing line and then beat on the remaining employees to work twice as hard to pick up the resulting slack.  On paper, productivity up; in reality, nobody wants to work there anymore.  Alternatively, bosses could beat on workers to spend less time with each customer and, thereby, cram more people into their schedules.  On paper, productivity up; in reality, because of lousy service, nobody goes there anymore.

     Another approach is to cut costs other than those of manpower.  Such as those of processing time.  And, it is here, that the service industry was thrown a life-saver.  The computer.  Not only did data manipulation, storage and communication improve by leaps and bounds in terms of its cost cutting (time) impact but, for many, productivity improved - that it is to say, with access to this technology (to speed things up), a single employee could cover more work in a single day than before.  But, as every manpower-intensive, service provider scrambled aboard the life-boat, and the new technological stimulus became routine, the gains eventually ran out of steam.

     Now what?  Answer: The simplest antibiotic of all with which to fight BCD is to Raise Prices.  In any given service industry group, some participants will raise prices less than others (it's called competition, and is an essential driver of a capitalist society).  But, the fact remains that price increases are mandatory, if BCD is to be - not defeated - but contained.  So, for the average Joes and Janes out there, much of your grumble about the cost of living going up all the time is embodied in this largest sector of the economy.

     All very nice and neat.  But what happens when prices, designed to combat BCD, get riotously out of hand?  In other words, when the proletariat rises up against the prices that they have to pay for certain manpower intensive services become devastatingly high.  For this condition to be significant, the sector at fault would have to be a large one.  Let's see - anybody know of a real-life example?  Well done!  Of course, health care.

     As in any sector of manpower intensive business, when molecular-sized increases in productivity - if any - get bludgeoned by blatantly public price increases, there's gonna be trouble.  What can the beleaguered sector do about it when all other - usually feeble - curative options have been inadequate or have failed?  You knew it was coming, didn't you?  Turn to the government!  That all-knowing, all-seeing institution; in reality that knows very little about next to nothing, especially about the play in which they are about to perform.  

     Well, the government can't do anything about health care productivity, so that leaves using its power to artificially beat down prices (aka bullying).  But, STOP!  The government is also sole possessor of the magic fairy dust that will make health care "affordable" for everyone and - productivity be damned - cure BCD once and for all.  Subsidies!        

     Subsidies cost money.  Yours.  Case in point.  California, in its whack-job socialistic wisdom, wants to divorce itself from whatever else is going on out there in the world of U.S. health care.  An independent study has calculated that it would cost the State, as a single payer insurance system, around $400 billion a year.  The financial wizards in the California legislature have budgeted $140 billion out of the General Fund for this, so far, whimsical purpose.  Where is the rest going to come from?  Dum-de-dum-taxes-tumpty-tum.  But, of course.  And you thought that health care was your God-given right, and therefore "free."

    What we have here with BCD is a classic case of a vaporous manipulation that is the life-jacket for most politicians at all levels.  Namely, the rallying cry that "although we cannot solve it, we can manage it and contain it indefinitely."  Sure you can.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Python Hunters

by John Stevenson

Want a job?  The South Florida Water Management District is paying people to hunt and kill Burmese pythons. 

Everglades National Park and its surroundings are overrun by the non-native snakes which have decimated some and even eliminated other native species.  Rabbit and fox populations have disappeared.  Raccoons, opossums, and bobcats are nearly gone. 

At the top of the food chain, the pythons have no predators.  They have upset the eco-system, depriving the native predators---alligators and panthers---of their chow.

Over 1,000 people applied, of which 25 were selected to hunt the pythons.  The hunters are given special access to python infested publicly owned land.  While this work seems dangerous and even terrifying, it pays handsomely: $8.10 per hour---which is Florida’s minimum wage.

But there are bonuses.  In addition to the extravagant minimum wage, successful hunters get $50 for snakes up to four feet long.  Longer snakes fetch an additional $25 per foot.  So a 10-foot python, for example, would bring $350---provided the hunter survives to collect his check.

There is periodically an effort to increase the national minimum wage (now $7.25).  Raising the minimum wage was a rallying cry in the 2016 presidential campaign.  Fast food workers even mounted a strike last year, demanding $15 an hour.   A $15 national “living” wage was central to Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. 

California’s minimum wage is now $10 ($10.50 if the employer has over 25 employees), and is scheduled to rise to $15 in January 2022.

The argument that minimum wage is not a living wage is probably correct.  But minimum wage jobs typically are filled by unskilled workers, by youngsters entering the workforce, or by students and others working part-time.  Hopefully they will have moved on to better paying jobs before they buy a BMW and need a living wage.

The argument against an increase is that businesses employing low-skilled workers are typically operating with very low profit margins.  Forcing them to pay higher wages will in turn make them raise their prices or hire fewer workers.  Some will automate where possible, as is happening in the fast food industry.  Either way, unskilled workers lose out because of fewer jobs, higher prices, or both.

There is certainly a wide range of low-paying jobs.  There are burgers to be flipped, hotel rooms to be cleaned, cars to be washed, and crops to be picked.  But in the array of minimum wage jobs, we’ve probably found the toughest.

Regardless where you stand on the issue of raising the minimum wage, it sure seems easier to sympathize with the python hunters over the other typically low-wage workers.

Would you rather bus tables or hunt pythons in the Everglades?  If I had to make the choice it would be easy.  I would chose anything rather than be hunted by pythons.  Especially pythons large enough to earn bonus points. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Depravity and Brutality

by John Stevenson

St. John’s College (not the Johnny-come-lately St. John’s University) is the third oldest college in the United States.  Four of its founders actually signed the Declaration of Independence.  Distinguished alumni include Francis Scott Key.  Presidents George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower visited the Annapolis, Maryland campus.  A second campus, in Santa Fe, New Mexico was opened in 1964---with 81 students in its first freshman class.

Imagine St. John’s venerable ivied halls and the idyllic campuses.  You might picture a serene and harmonious academic community.  Sadly, not so.  Apparently the ugly faces of racism and misogyny plague the Santa Fe campus. 

Apart from its official courses, St. John’s (Santa Fe) has extracurricular “study groups.”  Typically, the study groups each meet for several sessions. Students and faculty are invited to participate in these informal studies of important topics.  Recent groups have explored “Islamic Texts” and the economist Francis Fukuyama. 

The study groups are announced via email to the campus community.  A campus-wide March 2 email announced a study group to tackle the issue of racism.  Here’s what it said:

“We will read about and discuss the privilege of white people (especially white males), patriarchy, sexism, and racism in the neoliberal capitalist empire of the United States.”  And how might participants benefit from this study?  “This is a group where those who most often exhibit racist and sexist behavior---white males---can begin to be self-critical of the very dangerous, brutal, and depraved hierarchical pathologies of superiority, supremacy, and inferiority handed down to us by white Euro-American institutions ….The main topic for discussion will be an ongoing one: How do we deal with the depravity of whiteness and the brutality of masculinity?  How can we get to the root of the problem.” 

So there you have it.  The evil of our American evil empire and the evil of whiteness.  Especially evil male whiteness.  And the invitation to white males to come on down and take a verbal and psychological whipping.  To be administered by their betters: the practitioners of love, peace, and tolerance.

The watchdog group obtained a copy of the email announcing this apparently open-minded and inclusive study group.  They sought to get more information by contacting St. John’s.  In response, the college’s only interest in dialogue was “…how did you obtain a copy of an email sent in-house?”

Do you think the white males of St. John’s showed up in droves, anxious to “get to the root of the problem,” their own depravity and brutality?  And what about their parents, footing the bill for a private school education?  Well, except for the efforts of, the parents would probably remain blissfully unaware of the self-loathing being taught to their progeny at their expense.

And what about the four St. Johns’ signers of the Declaration of Independence?  What about Francis Scott Key, who wrote our national anthem?  What about George Washington, who did more than any other to establish our Nation?  And what about Ike, who led us in defeating the Nazis?  What might they think of what is going on at this once esteemed institution that, in its unenlightened past, did not teach self-loathing to white males and hatred of them to the rest of the campus community.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

You Won’t Believe This One

by John Stevenson

In the fitness center of Ottawa's Carleton University, someone complained to the gym management that she found that the presence of a scale triggers her anxiety.  She requested the scale be removed.  Presumably, the scale traumatized her by reminding her that she is fat. 

Now you would assume that management would simply tell her not to use the scale.  Not good enough.  Apparently her anxiety was triggered not by actually using the scale but by its mere presence within her view. 

So---and you won’t believe this part---they actually removed the scale so that this one gym user would not be emotionally distressed.  Don’t stop reading---this is not a joke.

Of course a controversy erupted, because there are apparently still some sane members of the campus community.  There has been a backlash and ridicule of the decision to remove the scale.  One student suggested banning mirrors because they could be equally distressing.  Another suggested banning calculators because they reminded him he is flunking a math class.  One social media post summarized: “Are you for real, Carleton? What a sick joke.”

Stepping away from the absurdity for a moment, let’s consider the merits of this decision: how it will benefit the afflicted student.  Presumably, she will go on to live in a world beyond ivied Carleton.  There she will doubtless encounter other anxiety-triggering events and objects.  Will the drill sergeant, the employer, the highway patrolman, or anyone else in the real world beyond academia leap to accommodate her need to be shielded from reality?  Doubtful.

In fact, while there is not absolute consensus among psychologists, the preponderance of thought is that confronting rather than running away from problems is the better course.  Most laymen (oops---laypersons) would agree.  So it’s likely that the intuition of those who ridiculed the management decision was correct: hiding from the problem is a bad decision. 

Two things strike me about this incident.  First is the fact that a very small minority (or even a single complainer) is able to alter life for so many others who are just trying to go to work, class, the gym, whatever.  That seems to happen all too frequently, with the many having to accommodate the needs---real or imagined and no matter how frivolous or dubious---of one or a very few who claim offense or emotional trauma.  And this is most prevalent in the academic world, where administrators seem incapable of saying no, get over it, buck up, case dismissed.

Second, I often wonder if the complainer is just a prankster, looking for the most absurd possible offense to allege, just to see if it will be taken as legitimate and then to savor the ensuing chaos.  There are daily examples of supposed emotional trauma in the news, and it almost seems as if they are competing in an absurdity derby. 

After all, these ever-escalating claims of offense are emanating from college campuses---and college kids are notorious pranksters.  Back in the day, it was panty raids.  Today it’s a contest to see who can come up with the most absurd complaint and yet be taken seriously.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Conundrum of the Day: When is illegal not illegal?

by Chris James

 What is it about the word illegal that people---almost exclusively liberals and other left-wing pettifoggers---don't understand?  Illegal means unlawful.  When you break a law, there is a penalty associated with that law for the express purpose of punishing you for your transgression.  So that you learn from the experience and never do it again (it says here).

The most obvious living example of the hypocritical corruption of the word illegal, so that its meaning is deliberately vaporized, is when it is applied to the "illegal" entry into this country by migrants from south of the border.  This patently illegal refutation of the illegality of this activity has got so far out of hand as to bring down wrath on those who even use the word illegal in context. The preferred smarmy and invidious euphemism when referring to south-of-the-border immigrants is "undocumented (insert your own friendly, neutral noun here; profanities and the word 'aliens' are criminally forbidden)".

But the cause of illegally kidnapping the concept of "illegal" is not limited to weighty matters like immigration.  A recent newspaper column defined the extent to which the cancer had metastasized.  In fact, all the way down to the lowly cyclist.  You know, those usually brightly colored individuals, wavering along on fragile, engine-less vehicles, more or less at the side of the road, and who endlessly complain about other road users who apparently have no right to be there at all.

The column was written by the Director of the California Bicycle Coalition.  If there is a Sophistry Hall of Fame, then this utterance should be the first thing you see when you come through the door.  It is so hysterically infantile and self-serving that you may not make it to the toilet in time.  His thesis?  Cyclists roll through stop signs (and, incidentally, traffic lights) all the time and therefore this should not be an illegal maneuver for cyclists.  His reasoning?

 1. "At cruising speed, bikes flow so easily that their riders don't even need to hold the handlebars (OMG!).  But a stopped bike falls over."  Not if the rider puts a foot to the ground, or better, gets off the saddle and stands astride the cross-bar.  Notwithstanding the fact that many riders wear shoes that lock into the pedals so that they are simply too lazy to free themselves and take a stand.

2. "It takes a great deal of time and energy for someone on a bike to go from full stop to steady roll, which is why cyclists so rarely stop at stop signs."  Oh, you poor babies.  My hemorrhoids bleed for you.  And is this a driveling, monumental admission of guilt, or what?
3. "Rather than continuing to call that a crime (stop sign running)---one so common that police and courts don't have the resources or will to enforce it (does that ring a bell on the immigration issue?)---perhaps it is time to legalize safely and slowly rolling past stop signs on a bicycle."  Personally, I have never seen a stop sign on a bicycle, but then I have lived a very sheltered life.

4. "Yes, I know that there is rampant lawlessness among cyclists.  I hear those complaints all the time, most of them justified".  And these are the same sociopathic nincompoops who are going to ride slowly and safely through stop signs?  OMG!

5. When all else fails, play the race card.  "Furthermore, studies in some communities in California, including here in the East Bay, show that police stop people of color on bicycles more frequently than they stop whites.”  No citations supporting this assertion, and, from me, no comment.

There is more bilious rambling in the column about what an Eden our society would be if we would adopt this proposed putrid protocol.  No normal person with more than one brain cell would accept this detritus.  Right?  Wrong.  State Assembly Bill AB 1103, proposing this change, is about to be seriously considered by the Assembly Transportation Committee.  Geez!  Gimme High Speed Rail.  Please.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Racist and Divisive Patriotism

by John Stevenson

In this year’s Iowa State High School Boys Basketball Tournament, rivals Valley High and Des Moines North High faced off in the first round.  Valley High’s school colors are orange and black, but for this game many of their fans turned out in patriotic red, white, and blue.

Some supporters of North High charged racism.  Huh?  Erin, one of the North High moms, is quoted: “For the supporters of one team from a primarily white part of town to paint themselves as the ‘team of the USA’ it strongly implies that the other team, the less white team, is less American.”

On the other side, Valley High student Mallorie said “This country is the United States of America and our colors are red, white, and blue no matter what color of skin you have or what race you are. The intention to offend anyone…was nowhere in the thoughts of any of our student body. Why would it be? We all live in America.”

Valley High’s student body is 76% white.  North High’s is 31% white (28% Hispanic, 25% Black, the remainder are other races).  Some of the reporting says that North High has a significant but unspecified population of refugees, but I’ve been unable find any data on this.  So the thinking goes that displays of patriotism by Americans, in America, is offensive to minorities and refugees (if there are any refugees in Des Moines).  An odd concept that refugees would resent the national symbols of their refuge, but let’s forge ahead. 

Complainers at North High included the assistant coach, but not the head coach who said that he did not notice the USA apparel or see sinister intention by the Valley High students,  “...we are proud of our diversity at North High…”  So not all saw it the same way.

There were, of course, the inevitable allegations of racial slurs, including the chant “deport them.”  These may have been imaginary, since none of the officials, administrators, or teachers present said they heard any such thing. 

Apparently Valley High supporters come decked out in USA apparel for games they believe to be of special significance.  (Probably a more likely occurrence in the heartland than here on the left coast.)  For example, they did it for their football game against Dowling Catholic High earlier this school year.  More on that in a moment.

Probably the most discouraging comment came from North High student DeNasja: “Even if that was their theme for the game, I feel like they should have switched that because everyone knows North is a more diverse school.”  Translation: minorities and refugees (if any) are rightly offended by American patriotism, so don’t display America’s colors.

Sadly, Valley High’s student council was moved to send the usual obligatory and groveling letter of apology (“deeply sorry if we have offended anyone”) but also pointed out “we have traditionally dressed in such a fashion for great games such as the one last night.” 

Was it Valley High’s motive to demean North High for their diversity?  Well, remember Dowling Catholic High?  Dowling is 87% white compared to Valley High’s 76%.  That would seem to militate against the claim of racial motivation for wearing the red, white, and blue.

But the bigger picture.  The complainers claim offense at having to view the red, white, and blue.  They go beyond being unsupportive, or even indifferent, but instead are hostile to America’s colors.  Or at least hostile to having it displayed by a group perceived as whiter (and therefore more American?) than they are.  This is very sad, because it says that we are no longer a melting pot but instead a hopelessly fractured society.

And a solution.  Note to the offended: embrace your national colors.  The Harlem Globe Trotters wear red, white, and blue.  If they can do it, so can you.  The flag is our common ground.  The red, white, and blue belongs to all of us.  Join up.

For those who care, Valley High won the game 57-55.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

No Greater Love

by John Stevenson

The January 29 U.S. Navy SEAL operation in Yemen went awry when the SEALs lost the element of surprise.  Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens was killed in the ensuing battle.  In his February 28 address to a joint session of Congress, President Trump honored Ryan and his widow, Carryn. 

Trump said:  “…the Bible teaches us there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom---we will never forget him…Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.”  The wall-to-wall standing ovation lasted for what seemed an eternity.

Trump’s gesture was widely acclaimed by commentators across the political spectrum.  You can’t get to the Left of CNN’s Van Jones, whose praise was effusive: “He became President of the United States in that moment, period…That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period.”  Jones continued: “He did something extraordinary. For people who have been hoping that he would become unifying…they should be happy with that moment.”  And Jones even suggested “…if he finds a way to do that over and over again, he’s going to be there for eight years.” 

Paying tribute to heroes and their families in presidential speeches is not new.  A few examples:  President Obama did it with a severely wounded Army Ranger, Cory Remsburg.  President Bush (the younger) acknowledged the widow of Johnny “Mike” Spann, the first American death in Afghanistan.  President Clinton acknowledged the widows of police officers killed in the U.S. Capitol shooting incident in 1998. 

Nevertheless, despite the fact that such tributes have become common practice, and despite the fact that Trump’s gesture has drawn praise from Republicans and Democrats alike, not everyone was delighted.  Some examples from the fringe:

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews called it “grotesque.”  Bill Maher said “I wish she hadn’t allowed herself to be used as a prop.”   Activist and director Rob Reiner called it “disgraceful.”  One of the ladies of “The View” said “He [Trump] exploited that widow’” and another “hated it last night.”  And of course Michael Moore heavily weighed in, saying that Trump used Carryn’s loss to score political points:  “And to use that as, just put another notch on his belt.”

But worse was yet to come.  At least Moore, Matthews, Reiner, and the ladies of “The View” were criticizing Trump---and Carryn only tangentially.  Dan Grilo came right out and insulted Carryn herself.  Grilo is a self-confessed volunteer for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  He tweeted: “Sorry, Owens’ wife, you’re not helping yourself or your husband’s memory by standing there and clapping like an idiot. Trump just used you.”

Grilo apologized for his “poorly worded tweet.”  Grilo’s Twitter account was soon deleted, and he was promptly sacked by his employer Liberty Advisor Group.  Liberty posted an apology and explanation on its web site, which concludes:  “Liberty’s culture places a high value on the men and women of America’s military who fight to defend us…We honor them. We want to express our sincere condolences to Mrs. Owens. We also apologize to all those who have served this nation…and anyone else who was offended by [Grilo’s] comments.”  Perhaps he’ll show up as a commentator on CNN or MSNBC.

Certainly there are others that shared such hatred of Trump’s tribute to the Owens but fortunately had the common sense or common decency to skip the opportunity to attack the gesture.

Taya Kyle, widow of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, commented on Moore and his ilk who had insinuated that the tribute was a publicity stunt.  She said the classless response “…makes me sick to my stomach…makes me angry because he’s saying that she’s a fool and doesn’t know she’s being used…”    And: “It totally negates the meaning behind this. And the meaning of it---for all the people watching who cried with [Carryn]---is that some valiant people are out there fighting, not for Republicans, not for Democrats. They’re fighting for this country. And God bless them for it.”