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.”

Monday, March 20, 2017

While You Were Gone....

by Chris James

     In case you missed them, I'm going to cherry-pick for your delectation a few examples of what's going on in the bountiful world of professional hypocrisy.  First, the definition of hypocrisy, per the Oxford dictionary: Claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform.  This rather lukewarm definition does not really give the sense of what goes on in the real world.  But a dictionary-approved list of the major synonyms does: Pretense, dissimulation, cant, affectation, insincerity, deceit, dishonesty, duplicity, fraud, etc.

     Most people, surely, must recognize that hypocrisy is the mega-multi-vitamin pill that powers the average politician.  As the matchless Sir Winston Churchill slyly pointed out: "A politician has the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year.  And to have an equal ability to explain why it didn't happen."  But, not all politicians are created equal.  Henry Kissinger: "Ninety percent of politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation."  So, let's start with a real-world politician.  None other than your fave and mine, the Governor of the Great State of California, Jerry Brown.  He's an interesting study, having succumbed to early stage senility as Governor Moonbeam in the 70's, at around 40 years of age.  From there, his career went downhill, but he slowly clawed his way back, ultimately retaking the Governorship in 2011.

     From his normal, numerous, garden variety mountain of political hypocrisies, I'm going to select a recent one that got up my nose.  Not too long ago, the newspaper carried the story of Brown's reaction to the infrastructure problem.  Like many of his predecessors, he has done little - if anything  - to fix the problem.  But the customary rumble of disaffected "voices off" has become a tumult this year because of attacks mercilessly raining down on the infrastructure by - well - rain.  As reported, Brown's delayed, disingenuous reaction sounded as though he, alone, had discovered the problem. One could almost hear him saying, deadly serious: "I was shocked, I tell you, shocked...."  Been there, done nothing and then late to the table!  Not bad.  Especially when this entirely fake reaction is welded to the context of his obsessive contribution to solving the state's infrastructure problems.  Yep, that ultimate brimborion*, the High Speed Rail project.

     Another recent announcement that caught my eye was that Colin Kaepernick plans to test the waters of the free agency system.  Unless you've been off the planet for an extended period of time, you'll recall that Kap - as we affectionately call him - was the San Francisco 49ers star quarterback who mysteriously descended into the quagmire of really mediocre mediocrity, and was unable to free himself from it.  To take his mind - and ours  - off his bench-warming plight, he came up with the idea of kneeling when the National Anthem was played at the game.  He received quite a bit of support for his heroic protest gesture; there was even a number of imitators.  However, there also seemed to be a lot of people who thought that he was an ungrateful lout.  You might say that the whole issue was controversial!

     I am not a great fan of football; soccer is my game.  What got up my nose (it's a generously accommodating nose) was the staggering amount of coverage this episode generated.  I was thoroughly sick of being bombarded by Kap, and all the derivative antics, in the newspaper's main section and sports section.  For the latter, the column inches necessary to keep the inferno raging meant that other sports news had to be sacrificed.  First to go was the, already meager, soccer coverage.  Of course.

     Back to the present.  Buried in Kap's announcement of free agency was his promise that, post the free agent draft, he wouldn't be kneeling any more.  So much for principles.  When it comes to getting a job and a pay-check, whatever all the kneeling palaver stood for in the first place went right out the window.

     Talking of soccer, when the U.S. women's soccer team won the world cup in 2015, it was a national triumph.  But a local newspaper reporter, after damning the achievement by faint praise, excoriated the team because they had not represented the U.S. well.  His "logic"?  He discovered that there was only one "ethnic" on the 23 person team.  (Way up my nose!).  First, what an egregious word "ethnic" is; an adjective, bastardized into a noun, that is condescendingly used in the manner of terms like "alien."  The ethnic in question was insultingly identified by her color; the rest of the team wasn't the same color, but they came from a multitude of ethnicities (the correct word), nonetheless.

     Fast forward to a recent international women's soccer tournament in the U.S.  The home team, ranked number one in the world, is drawn against England, ranked number five.  The U.S. loses the game 1-0.  This is the first time that the U.S. has lost a game on home soil since 2004!  Thirteen years!  What would our reporter have made of that?  Well, since the U.S. team now has on its roster four "ethnic" players (using his criterion), then are we witnessing the "triumph of origin over performance"?**  Absolute rubbish; of course not.  How do I know this with such certainty?   Because the winning English team had five identifiable "ethnic" players on their squad.  So much for the ultra-hypocritical, life-blood draining "diversity for diversity's sake" ethos.  Performance counts, you sniveling hypocrites - regardless of any baseless ethnic quotas that you pull out of the hat.  Just because you throw the word "ethnic," or even "ethnicities," around does not make your pathetic attempt to manage by identity any the less racist.  Bloody hypocrites!  

* Brimborion (n) = A totally useless, utterly nonsensical thing.
** For a different publication, I wrote a satire on this very subject back in October 2015.   It was reprinted on the Common Sense site in March 2016.  It's in the archives.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Disparate Treatment

by John Stevenson

Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning freely enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.   Manning, who was openly gay, was bullied earlier in life and this continued in the Army. 

He has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.  This means, as I understand it, that he thinks he is or should be a woman.  Notice that I use the biologically correct but politically incorrect masculine pronoun.  This is because Manning is and forever will be genetically male even if he receives “gender reassignment surgery,” which he has not yet. So with that digression, back to the point.

 Manning’s military job gave him access to a wealth of classified material which he found troubling.  This included material known as the Iraq War Logs and the Afghanistan War Logs, secret U.S. State Department communications, assessments of Guantanamo detainees, and a video showing unarmed civilians being shot and killed. 

Manning turned over this trove of damaging information to WikiLeaks.  Of course the demonstration of America’s inability to keep secrets is damaging to our relationships with other governments and to our ability to secure the cooperation of civilians in enemy terrain.

Manning’s crimes were discovered, and he was arrested and tried by a court martial.  He was found guilty of espionage and other charges and sentenced to 35 years in prison.  Immediately after his sentencing, Manning announced, “As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me.  I am Chelsea Manning.  I am a female.  Given the way I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.” 

Manning’s espionage earned him support among anti-war activists, who saw him as a “whistleblower” rather than a criminal.  His announcement as “transgendered” gained him support from LGBTQ activists.  A double helping of sympathy from the Left.  On Jan. 17, 2017, President Obama commuted Manning’s prison sentence.

Eddie Slovik had an extensive criminal record, which caused him to be classified 4F, unfit for military service.  But in 1944 Uncle Sam needed warm bodies, so Slovik was re-classified 1A and drafted into the U.S. Army.  In August 1944, Slovik found himself in the infantry in France.

When Slovik arrived at his assigned rifle company, he promptly informed his company commander that he was not cut out for combat and requested to be reassigned to a support unit behind the front lines.  His request was denied and he deserted the following day.

Slovik worked his way to the rear, where he found a non-combat unit and turned himself in.  Officers there urged him to return to his infantry unit but he steadfastly refused, preferring a court martial for desertion rather than a combat assignment.

Slovik was tried by a court martial, found guilty, and sentenced to death.  He had thought he would only have received a dishonorable discharge and prison time.  He wrote a letter to Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, begging for clemency. 

In the hard winter of 1944-1945, Eisenhower was concerned with low morale and a rising desertion rate.  Ike confirmed the sentence, and Slovik was shot dead by a firing squad in January of 1945.

Poor Slovik---he should have been born seven decades later and claimed to be female.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Elephants, Boy Scouts, and Beer

by John Stevenson

Bethany Mandel’s column in The Federalist caught my eye.  Mandel argues that Ringling Brothers made a fatal error in deciding to eliminate elephants from the circus.  That error was listening to, and trying to satisfy, non-constituents rather than customers.

Mandel reports that the “American institution and backdrop of countless memories” yielded to pressure from animal rights activists like PETA and decided to retire the elephants.  The effect was disastrous.  Mandel quotes the Ringling Brothers chairman “…when the elephants were taken off the show, the downward trend [in attendance] was much more severe than had been anticipated.”  They are now folding their tent after 146 years of entertaining American families.

Mandel contends Ringling Brothers made a terrible, although not unusual, blunder: “…they forgot to prioritize the desires of their customer base” and instead yielded to pressure from the noisy Left.  She describes “…the average PETA activist: an unmarried, 20- or 30-something…who likely considers having children to be detrimental to the earth…” compared with “…the average circus-goer: a family with several young children, eager to…experience an afternoon of whimsical entertainment…because if tickets cost that much, it better be an afternoon to remember.” 

Then Mandel shifts to the Boy Scouts of America which “…finally bent completely to left-wing activists, announcing girls who identify as ‘transgender boys’ will be accepted…”  The Scouts “decided to allow anatomically female scouts into its troops and teach its members that, despite biology, these young girls are in fact boys.” 

Mandel predicts this decision may adversely affect scouting participation.  She cites a Reuters poll which revealed that the transgender movement (as measured by responses to the North Carolina restroom controversy) is more accepted on the coasts and large metropolitan areas than in fly-over country.  The Reuters poll also showed strong opposition to the transgender agenda among frequent church-goers (although Roman Catholics were split).  Further, the poll showed support for “transgender rights” was strongest among young adults who are unlikely to yet have children of scouting age.

As with Ringling Brothers, the Scouts had failed to take into account that “…groups that most favor the societal impulse to change the definition of gender are not the same parents whose kids comprise the majority …” of scouting participants.  Mandel concluded it is too soon to say how the participation in scouting will be affected.  But Family Research Council president Tony Perkins gives us a hint: “The time has come for every church and every parent in America to sever ties with the Boy Scouts.” 

Which brings me to today, Super Bowl Sunday.  I read a Business Insider article this morning by Kate Taylor.  She discusses a Budweiser ad which describes Adolphus Busch’s legal entry into the United States and his encounter with anti-immigrant prejudice. 

Apparently this 60-second ad is stirring up considerable negative reaction, on the grounds that it is an unveiled stab at those who oppose illegal immigration.  Folks are tweeting for and against the ad, and there’s a boycott in the works.  Here’s one example: “I drank your product for 30 years and I will no longer drink it you liberal [expletive].”

So generally, the ad should please liberals and displease conservatives.  If that’s true, this looks like another organization following in the footsteps of Ringling Brothers and the Boy Scouts.  Here’s why:  Surveys have shown that conservatives favor what they believe to be domestic beer.  Liberals (when forced to drink beer because there’s no Chardonnay on hand) choose imports---maybe even with lime.  Further, when liberals must choose among the domestics, they go for Sierra Nevada or a “craft” beer; conservatives stick with the old standbys--Bud, Schlitz, Miller, Coors. 

 (Yes, I know.  You don’t need to enlighten me that President Obama had a Bud Light at the 2009 beer summit---a choice probably facilitated by pollsters and focus groupies.)

So it looks to me like Budweiser has made an error similar to that committed by Ringling Brothers and the Boy Scouts: in order to satisfy a political agenda, they failed to understand and prioritize their customer base.

Now I’m going to a Super Bowl party, where I’ll be drinking Coors.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"...and so, as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we say farewell…”

by Chris James

     Among the many scientific journals that I pored over as a graduate student was one titled "Chemistry and Industry."  It was a serious, but quixotic, attempt to bridge the gap between the cloud-cuckoo-land of academia and the real world. In a rather pathetic effort to soften its rather sepulchral tone, the last page of the journal was unusually frivolous. Below is an example of its editorial prowess in its handling of this oddball switcheroo. This was deliberately meant to be "punny":

     British lad, with a PhD in Chemistry, emigrates to the U.S., marries an American lass, and has a son. Dad and boy are very close.  Every evening, the boy sits on his Dad's lap and they watch about two hours of children's T.V. together.  Eventually, the day came when boy wanted to get into the beginner level of Little League baseball. The Mom thought that Dad should do something in Little League to support their son. So Dad signed up for umpire classes.  From the first day that Dad umpired a game, the boy never climbed on his lap again. This bothered Dad so much that he went to a child psychologist to find out what went wrong. The doctor smiled and said: "Oh, you shouldn't upset yourself.  Everyone knows that the son never sits on the British umpire."

     The phrase "the sun never sets on the British empire" is attributed to John Wilson in 1829.  However, there are many claimants for its originality, or for phrases similar to it. They range throughout history from the ancient Persian empire to the Spanish empire to Victorian Britain. This verbal progression is an apt metaphor for the real-life fact that empires come and go.  They are as flaky as the parody in the above paragraph.

     Most of us have heard that "history repeats itself."  A fair amount of empirical evidence exists to suggest that there is a robust element of truth to this claim.  Then there's Santayana's famous aphorism, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  It is another maxim that has appeared down through the ages in one form or another, giving it the weight of credibility. And lastly, we have Scottish author Thomas Campbell's warning that "coming events cast their shadows before."  He wrote it prior to the Battle of Culloden (1746), in which the Scots were quickly and bloodily defeated by the English, and the country was subsequently put to the sword.  Specific as this phrase was to, what turned out to be, the last pitched battle on British soil, it actually had, and still has, an infinite number of generic applications.  So, keep these three trenchant, perceptive canons in mind when you read what follows.

     Well then, what about the British empire?  Our story begins with the Treaty of Paris, late 1815 to early 1816, that ended the Napoleonic Wars.  Napoleon was deposed and exiled.  France made large reparations and was required to set its borders back to pre-war locations.  However Britain, as lead negotiator, resisted any attempt by the allies to break up France, to repress France with an on-site standing army or to confiscate parts of the French empire. British reasoning was that such draconian punishment would destabilize post-war Europe and risk further trouble as a result.  Very perceptive and statesman-like.  The outcome was that Europe had a satisfying period of growth and Britain, with its massive Empire, became world leader - a role that peaked around the turn of the 20th century.

     World War I proved to be the sun starting to set on Britain's top-spot.  Britain's fall from grace occurred not just because of the War's enormous economic toll, nor because of the massive loss of able-bodied manpower.  Several other factors were involved.  Arguably, the most important of these were the burdens imposed by the cost of the rising trend in social legislation and by the aggressive growth of unionism.  Justifiable as these factors may have been, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Worse, the early days of global anti-Imperialism did nothing to help Britain's fading influence on world affairs.

     Britain's demise was not over in an instant.  It was a long road down.  It did not cause the complete evaporation of the country.  Today, Britain is still a player among the "major powers," but a very minor one.  However, the gradual erosion of British power allowed the controlled emergence of a new world leader to take Britain's place.  

     In April 1917, the United States finally entered World War I.  There is absolutely no doubt that the impact of U.S. military power shortened the War by several years and brought the allies to victory.  The calling card of the next world leader had been dropped in the world's tray.  The subsequent Depression in the U.S. certainly put a dent in the prototypical new leader's image, but the dominant role of the U.S. in World War II left no doubt about who was in charge.  And so it has been ever since.  That is until the fairyland, pussy-wussy peregrinations of the Obama administration pirouetted onto the world's stage. 

     If Obama's slimy international policy was not enough, then consider U.S. social legislation during the last eight years.  Obamacare, tons of new rules and regulations, tsars to play God and run the show, piles of new debt to finance this farce.  Plus we have two wars, mishandled by the Obama bone-heads, as well as the rise of public employees union aggression (for local readers, see "BART," a poster-child example).  Do I have to spell it out?  Britain: Socialism, unions, war.  U.S.: creeping Socialism, unions, two badly managed wars.  Britain, roughly 1816-1916.  U.S., roughly 1916-2016(?).  Yes! We may indeed have front row seats to view the potential unraveling of a one hundred year place-in-the-sun routine.  Such beautifully symmetric history is a relatively rare phenomenon.  So stand by for more unintended consequences, and count yourself lucky - or not so lucky - to be able to say "I was there." 

     And so that you can all sleep well at night, I ask: Do you really believe that President Trump has the slightest idea of what is at stake here?  And do you really believe that his strategy of isolationism (please don't make me go over, yet again, the long list that he has cobbled together to do just that) is the way to make America great on the world stage?  If we play "follow the leader" and withdraw into ourselves - and feel mighty good about it - then who will step up to be the next true global leader?  Russia, China, India, Iran, Burkina Faso, Greenland?  Hey!  Have a nice night!