Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When Offenses Collide on the Dance Floor

I've already admitted that I watch "Dancing with the Stars", a usually inoffensive ABC show where B-list and C-list celebrities from the performing arts. sporting arenas and elsewhere are paired with professional dancers to learn a new ballroom dance each week.  They are judged by professional dancer-choreographer judges and one "star" is lost each week from a combination of viewer votes and judging scores.

This is the, I don't know, 15th or 20th season of the show, which means they're running out of stars that people have ever heard of; for the last few years that means they've been running out a bunch of stars of Disney teen shows (Disney, of course, owns ABC) and other folks of little celebrity.  The B list, apparently, is exhausted and the alphabet is not.

But I digress.

In a desperate effort to fill out this season, the producers brought in a professional model named Charlotte McKinney.  Now, you would not know the name; however, you would definitely know her commercial, a Super Bowl ad wherein she took a bite out of a hamburger or some other sandwich in what was intended to be a very seductive way.  When you're in a commercial like that, you had better grab your fifteen minutes of fame, and there were the Dancing with the Stars producers a-waiting.

Last night was the third or fourth week of the show, enough time to tell that Miss McKinney and her partner were not going to win.  She wasn't bad, mind you, but there are some celebrities this season who are excellent dancers and, having watched the show for years, I can tell roughly when the judges and the fans will conspire to remove someone.

OK, she wasn't great, either.  There appeared to be some ability to dance, but as the fluffy intro showed, she had not put as much time into it during the week, and that frustrated the judges who saw potential unfulfilled.  The judges respect dance and expect the celebrities to devote themselves each week to learning it.  Their scores for her were accordingly lower than they might have been had she been a bit less capable but a bit more devoted.

But I digress again.  It should be mentioned that, unlike most models, Charlotte McKinney has a very un-Twiggy physique.  Did I say that delicately?  And, let's face it, there is a presumption that when an endowed blonde crosses your field of vision, men are not thinking quite as much about her intellectual capacity, nor perhaps their own.

And so it happened that after Miss McKinney and partner did their routine, and the judges gave their capsule critiques, and after one of the others had taken her turn ask her to work harder and do justice to her dancing ability, it came to judge Bruno Tonioli.  Bruno is a rather enthusiastic critic, standing up most of the time for his speeches and waving his arms around.  It should be noted that he is Italian, but his English is better than many Americans, and I'm not exaggerating.

He began his allotted time by saying, "Well, my dear, you're never going to win the Nobel Prize for quantum physics ..."  Yes, really.  I suppose he was trying to make a point that was in his head, but it never got finished as the audience gasped.  To her credit, Miss McKinney turned to her partner and kept her mouth shut and didn't make a face.

I'll tell you what.  I have a degree from M.I.T. and I still get called "stupid" once in a while, sometimes for good reason.  I've gotten called a lot of things in my life, some true, but nothing gets under my skin more than being called "stupid".  Of course, I've never had that happen to me in the middle of a very popular live national television show.  And when I get called "stupid", it's because of something I've said or done, not because someone looked at me or my body parts and made an inference.

I just can't wait for the fallout.  You see, in addition to his capacity for offense, Bruno Tonioli is gay.  So when he is inevitably taken to task for his lapse, and someone -- Disney, the network, his peers, whoever actually has the authority -- suspends him or whatever, what next?  Do we have a fight between the "blondes are not dummies" crowd and the "gays should be allowed to say anything they want" crowd?

We have more serious disputes among constituencies in this country -- think about seniors, represented by the leftist AARP, fighting with unions, represented by the even more leftist AFSCME and the AFL/CIO, fighting when over-committed pensions negotiated by the unions threaten government capacity to pay Social Security benefits.  So this little incipient tiff about a careless and insensitive remark will be but a moment's concern.

Bruno Tonioli actually seems like a very nice guy, who had a point he wanted to make about the expectations of a model and really screwed up badly trying.  But I have to wonder how a guy keeps his job or gets away with it, calling someone stupid on national TV based on her measurements and her hair color.  And I wonder whether his possible lack of punishment offends the blonde community, or his actual punishment triggers the gay community.

This will all, of course, be hashed out in social media online.

A tangled Web 'twill be, indeed.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Servant of Humanity

For many of us, the January 2010 earthquake of 7.0 magnitude that devastated the nation of Haiti, was a tragedy that assailed our sensibilities for weeks, yet it seemed culturally as distant as had it happened on Mars, even though some 316,000 people died as a result.  Earthquakes, after all, do happen.  Buildings collapse. People die, tragically but inevitably.

They don't, however, die as inevitably in such large numbers.  This was borne out a month thereafter, when an earthquake of 8.8 magnitude -- and that scale is logarithmic, so this was a hugely more energetic one than the one in Haiti -- struck Chile.  Very few sensibilities in the USA were assailed, however, principally because only 523 Chileans died as a result, even though the impact of the earth's rumbling was some 60 times as great.

Paul Fallon did not need to be told why the death toll in Haiti was so much higher, nor did he have to be encouraged to feel empathy for the nation and its people.  A Boston-based architect who grew up in Oklahoma, Fallon had been to Haiti previously and was well aware of the country's utter lack of building codes and propensity for building with unreinforced concrete -- deathtrap architecture when the earth starts shaking.  He was also aware of the stark contrast with Chile's strongly-enforced codes and what a life-saving impact they had when the plates moved underneath Chile.

There are, I'm sure, people who prefer that charity "begin at home", as it were, and I'm sure I count many among my friends who take that a bit too strongly.  But I know that if I had a talent, a skill, knowledge and interest that made me particularly qualified to render service to my fellow man, I would follow it to where it might best apply in or outside the USA.

Paul Fallon applied his, spending a good part of the subsequent few years in Haiti doing his part to provide for a future in however small a part of the country he could, one that would leave lasting benefit.

About 10 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake is the town of Grand Goâve, devastated as was so much of the country.  He responded in his own way, with designs for what would become two earthquake-resistant buildings -- one an orphanage, the other a school -- in the town.  Eventually living half the time in country, he supervised construction on the two buildings, including an innovative design to make them safer than most structures in the country.  Fallon also became part of a group of Americans training the Haitians to build with higher standards, particularly where concrete construction is involved.

The stories of his time there are found in a number of sites, as well as in his book Architecture by Moonlight, an account of his years of personal effort as a part of the recovery effort, and equally of his connection with the people of the country.  The orphanage, for example, was personal for the American family who planned it to honor the memory of the couple's daughter, who died in the earthquake, while the school was a church-based project of an organization called the Mission of Hope, a strongly missionary-focused group.

I can't try to describe the difficulty of building modern structures absent the convenience of modern machinery to do things like mixing concrete, or even moving building materials.  I can't imagine in the 2010s having to substitute manual labor for what we would regard as the most simply automated parts of the construction process.  I can't try to portray many equally altruistic groups having to compete for scarce resources, funding and equipment.

Fortunately, I don't have to; it is written in the book and the subject of a number of interviews and stories that I hope some of you will take a little time to search and peruse, such as this video

The ending is not yet what we might wish; although the buildings with which he was involved were properly designed and built, the cost of construction of reinforced concrete for other needed construction, particularly of steel, is still beyond Haiti's capacity, and the building codes, or lack thereof, reflect that.  The risk is still essentially what it was.

That actually doesn't matter as much for my purposes.  Today I simply want to call a few more people's attention to one selfless person's actions to make a part of humanity better than it would have been had he not lifted a finger to help.  There are others, heroes of our time, who find parts of their lives to devote to service of their fellow man -- with little or no tangible reward.  All should be saluted.

As you might have somehow inferred, I know Paul -- known inexplicably as "Shorty" even though he is not particularly diminutive (few, compared to me, are).  Shorty joined my fraternity at M.I.T. the fall after I graduated, and we didn't meet until I returned to Boston for a brief stay in 1974, and so knew each other only in passing forty years back.

Still, when you hear the name of a chronologically close-enough fraternity brother your ears pick up, and after the earthquake I started to hear about Shorty's efforts to help where he could.  Reading into the story, I found myself very proud to have known him, proud to have shared the experience of what our brotherhood meant, glad that he has made so much more of his training and education for his fellow man than I can hope to, in my own life.

I know as sure as I write this that he did what he did, and continues to help out there, not for personal gain, but because of the innate goodness in him and the humanity that tells him to do what he can.

The founder of the fraternity we are both members of wrote, back in 1849, that our members should transmit it "not only not less, but greater than it was transmitted to us."  There are men and women who apply principles like that even broader, to the whole world they live in, leaving it even better for their presence.

Few have done it as well.  Good on you, Shorty.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Friday, March 27, 2015

March Blandness

It has come to that wonderful time of year, and we are in the midst of it, when brackets are filled out, brackets are busted, and I'm not referring to installing shelves.

No, it is the NCAA college basketball basketball tournament, once the celebration of team efforts from one's alma mater, then a celebration of the practice of gambling, and now ... I don't seem to care.  I filled out a few brackets and paid $20 for the privilege of doing so, like maybe 40 million others, but honestly, I'm not watching the games, and check in each Sunday to see where I stand in the list.

I hope you caught the important part -- I'm not watching the games.  The advertisers are not exposing their product pitches to me and I'm not inclined to buy their products.

The simple reason?  I don't care about the basketball part any more.

Now, I actually played basketball for my high school (don't laugh) and am still a devoted fan of the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina, where I attended medical school.  I can still recall the "Beat Dook" slogan painted on the water tower in Chapel Hill, noting the private university in Durham a few miles up Rt. 15-501.  Forty years have passed, but I'm guessing a version of the slogan is still there if the tower is.  The Heels are out of the tournament now, but as they weren't likely to get past a couple rounds, I didn't bother to watch them.

In those days of the early 1970s, when Bobby Jones played for Carolina and David Thompson for NC State along with Monty Towe and Tom Burleson, Duke had Kevin Billerman and Chris Redding; there were teams, real teams.  They were teams that appeared to represent the institutions whose names appeared on the front of their tunics.  We fervently believed that Tom Burleson attended real classes at State, and that, other than being over seven feet tall, he was somewhat like the other students.  And he would be on the team the next year.

In some cases that was true, of course.  But whatever the reality of the '70s was, the reality of 2015 is far different.  As I write this, Kentucky has made it to the round of eight, the fourth round, without a loss all season.  Are we surprised?

John Calipari is the coach at the University of Kentucky, and he has built a "team", if I may use the word, led by a set of talented players we now refer to as "one-and-dones", i.e., they come out of high school, play one year at Kentucky, quit school to declare for the NBA draft, and hope to get drafted to play professionally while their peers at other schools are in their sophomore years.

Why?  Because the NBA, in its infinite wisdom, responded a few years ago to the outcry against high school players declaring for the draft and bypassing college entirely.  They passed a rule, clearly written by a committee, setting a minimum draft age of 19.  In other words, a kid who formerly would have left high school (I won't assume the word "graduated") and declared for the draft, now has to kill a year either by playing in Europe or going to college for a year and then declaring.

Something, in the view of the NBA, had to be done, since far too many kids were coming out of high school thinking they were good enough for the draft, then were not getting drafted at all --there are only two rounds any more -- and since by declaring for the draft they could not play at a college, they had either to find work playing in Europe or find their butts on the street.

The "something" they decided to do was set a draft age.  Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences kicked in, as it always does, and someone figured out how to game the system.  Calipari at Kentucky, with no need to feign loyalty, simply advertised to recruits to come and be part of the '14-'15 team, which will be completely different from the '15-'16 team, et al., and then declare for the NBA draft.  Voila!  A team of stars, who happen to wear blue and white for a year to remind them of the semester of basket-weaving classes they took in Lexington.

It certainly appears to work; a bunch of talented mostly-freshmen, needing only to push for one season to get their payoff, will respond to the entreaties of a recruiting coach they know won't be begging them to stay after their freshman season -- in fact, after next week no one expects any of them to see the inside of a classroom within 20 miles of Lexington.

What has happened?  Loyalty to one's alma mater, as represented by its basketball team, is a chuckle in one's beer anymore.  I root for the Tar Heels, but my fandom occupies maybe three minutes a week of my time during the season because I don't need to know the names of the players or get familiar with them; they'll soon be gone.  God only knows what Kentucky fans think.

The NBA should have done of two things -- either have no age limit at all to be drafted, or set it at 21.  Not, of course, so I could root for a Tar Heel team that would be together a few years, but (partially) to give the players an opportunity to grow up and learn the game and, mostly, to return the college game to a semblance of decency.  To return college teams to being "teams" that represent their schools, even a little bit.

I can only say that were there no betting, I suspect there would be little audience for the three-weekend celebration called March Madness.  The game itself or, more accurately, the collegiate nature of the game, has long since departed.

I mourn it.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bowe Knows

Yesterday, Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier who was exchanged by the Taliban in Afghanistan for five Talban generals and other high-level military types, was charged with having deserted his post as a prelude to being picked up by our enemy and subsequently being incarcerated by them.

Heck of a trade, eh?  Bergdahl was so desperately needed by the USA to be returned to service and his homeland that he was worth the exchange of five very senior Taliban military leaders?

Well, no.  Bergdahl's return months ago was desperately needed, not by his country, but by his president.  Yes, Barack Obama, already desperate to give back all the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and wherever else we are holding enemy combatants to uphold a campaign promise, also needed to look good a few months before the midterm elections he was facing a big rebuke on -- which he got anyway.

Sitting squarely in the midst of a huge scandal involving the Department of Veterans Affairs, forced to fire a distinguished general he put in charge of VA, he needed a domestic victory.  Just listen to his speech at the time, standing next to Bergdahl's parents, announcing what a wonderful thing it was that we managed to avoid leaving a soldier behind.  It's as though he did something somehow that was good.

Now, however, we can confirm through the investigation by the Army Forces Command what we came to know as a country shortly after the swap, and what his former comrades already knew -- Bergdahl was a deserter, an affront to those who wear the uniform and those who wore it defending the country.

As important in this is the fact that the military were allowed to conduct the investigation into Bergdahl's desertion at all, given that the result was so expected, and would be so much a slap in the face to the president -- who, of course, runs the military.  That pretty much tells you how widely known in the Army the facts of his desertion were. 

I know that we will spend a lot of media time talking about Bergdahl himself, his treachery (or stupidity), desertion and what his fate will be.  We will talk about the eight or more Americans who lost their lives trying to find him.

But far, far more important is that five high-ranking Taliban are walking free over in Qatar or have returned to Afghanistan; far, far more important is that their return threatens the lives of actual patriotic military members serving there; far, far more important is that the Taliban Five's freedom was made a cause célèbre in Afghanistan and a feather in the cap of the evil-doers there.

And more important even than that, is that the swap itself ever happened.  Once again, Barack Obama, who moaned that "Sgt. Bergdahl missed birthdays and anniversaries" while imprisoned, took a step that jeopardized the security of the USA for his own political ends.  Awwwwww.  "I speak for all Americans", he said in the speech to his parents, "when I say that we cannot wait for the moment when you are reunited and your son Bowe is back in your arms."

I, for one, cannot wait, as an American, until their son Bowe is in prison for his crimes, and the five generals Obama traded to get him back meet an inglorious end on the battlefield.  I can't wait until that political beast in the White House is retired to past-presidents' pasture where he can no longer jeopardize the lives of his fellow citizens.

Other than that, I'm a reasonably happy guy today.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Can the Feds Be Grabbing Our Cash?

Among the profiling techniques that law enforcement is intending to use is, apparently, to target withdrawals of cash from banks.  Yes, don't drive while black, and now apparently, don't take inappropriate sums of money from your bank unless you are OK with having it seized.

In this piece, written by Paul Watson, we find that the watchful eye on withdrawals is not being driven by your local police department, but is a pending edict from the Department of Justice, led by that paragon of virtue, Eric Holder, at least it is led by him until someone else can be confirmed.

According to the article, a senior Holder associate at Justice spoke recently to a group of bankers, recommending that they call in local law enforcement every time anyone withdraws $5,000 or more in cash.  That suggestion to the bankers came from assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell, who urged banks to “alert law enforcement authorities about the problem” (i.e., rat out their loyal customers) so that police can “seize the funds” or at least “initiate an investigation."

Now, I have absolutely taken $5,000 in cash out of a bank account in the past, and certainly more than once.  I don't recall the reasons, but in at least a couple of the cases it was to enable me to put funds in an account at another bank to cover a payment that needed to be made from that other account for business reasons.  By using cash, the funds were immediately available, faster than a cashier's check and a lot cheaper than a wire.

But according to Eric Holder and his minions, irrespective of the fact that there was absolutely zero illegal tinge or anything remotely unethical about what I did, in Holder's view it is perfectly fine for the bank to call in the Fairfax County sheriff's office and have me chased down before I can deposit the funds in the other institution.  They could then seize my personal assets and kill my business, make me late on payments and all the other results of having money stolen from me -- but legally.

So Eric ... tell me this.  What profiling mechanism do you plan to have banks use to determine whether it's just honest old Bob Sutton taking cash out to pay a bill from his business bank or maybe buy a used car privately, or whether it's criminal Charlie pulling money to buy drugs?  Ever watch "Storage Wars"?  Those guys are required to pay in cash, are you going to pull over Jarrod and Brandi on the way to an auction?

How dare the Justice Department take it upon themselves to decide that a $5,000 cash withdrawal is, in and of itself, sufficient justification to seize the money from a presumed law-abiding citizen?  How dare the Justice Department solicit -- and thereby pressure -- neighborhood banks to rat out customers for actions which, absent any indication of any criminal activity, have perfectly rational, non-criminal justifications?

You know, it makes you think.  The current president, socialist that he is, believes that all money is his, or at least the Government's -- which in his view means "his".  Private property has no meaning for him (except for maybe Hillary's email server -- and his paycheck).  The Constitution has a pretty specific rule against illegal search and seizure, but let's just say that Obama and Holder are not very big fans of the Constitution.

Nothing seems very surprising, once you think about it.  A band of socialists thinks that any step that involves taking from Americans for any reason is reasonable.  If they don't get away with it this time, they'll at least have had a position staked out allowing them to try over here next week, in this other case where they can seize someone's private property (except for Hillary's email server).

I do really want to hear from them how they want banks to profile, when a $5,000 cash withdrawal is made, if they need to rat the customer out to the cops.  Race?  Hat pulled down over the eyes?  Nice car?  Ratty car?  Or do they not recommend profiling and just rat every withdrawal out?

I'm imagining sitting here with President Washington, visiting from Heaven for a day to have coffee and see what his country has become.  "Mr. President", I might ask, "Your 43rd successor wants his Attorney General to seize cash from citizens solely because it was taken out of a bank.  What do you think, sir?"

"Bob", he would reply, "Make the coffee a little stronger.  And next visit I think I'm going to try going to Canada.  If they can't even manage to trust the Fourth Amendment, we've obviously failed here."

In Holder and Obama we so, so do not trust.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Apologies We Don't Expect to See

Monday afternoon, the police department in Charlottesville, Virginia, held a press conference to announce the results of its investigation into claims by a "reporter" for Rolling Stone magazine that a horrific rape had taken place on the campus of the University of Virginia.

Much like the contemporary newspapers that put their retractions back on page E37, the post-hype aspects of the case may have escaped the average news consumer.  Suffice it to say that the "reporter", Sabrina Rubin Erdeley, made up a story, purporting to have quoted the alleged victim, called "Jackie" in the article, as having been effectively gang-raped at the UVa Phi Kappa Psi house.

Once the Phi Psis started to notice that elements of the story didn't add up -- starting with the fact that there was no party at their house on the night the party where it was supposed to have happened took place -- all the facts of the case subsequently fell apart.  The person described as the leader of the "assault" was supposed to have worked at a place where no one in the fraternity worked, for example.  Phone calls she said she made that night didn't match her cell phone records.  And interviews with fellow students started to paint the picture of someone who, politely, had issues with reality.

So it was no surprise when the Charlottesville police explained that, after careful investigation, the story in Rolling Stone was in their words, "suspended", because there was zero evidence that anything had happened and, while they could reopen it if anyone came forward with additional evidence, the allegation was made up and a waste of their time.

Rolling Stone had already admitted as much. Back in December, they published a statement that “in the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account" and, hilariously if it weren't so tragic for the accused, "we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.”  They then added that the whole fault lay with the magazine for not properly reporting it, and absolved "Jackie" of blame.

Let us set aside for the moment the fact that "Jackie" exists, but refused to speak to police after December, and set aside the fact that the reporter, Miss Erdeley, should not have a job in journalism anywhere again, even in Yahoo News.  Let us set aside the fact that by "absolving Jackie of blame", the magazine has effectively said that something actually did happen -- leaving open the rape narrative even in the absence of an actual rape.  Let us also set aside the fact that the entire Greek system at UVa was shut down for weeks in the aftermath of reporting on an event that didn't occur.

Journalistic ethics demand that the Rolling Stone magazine stand up and have the brass cogliones to apologize profusely to the members of the UVa chapter of Phi Kappa Psi for the worst, most shameful false accusation -- that of allowing forcible rape to have occurred in their chapter house.  The editor in chief of Rolling Stone is obligated, by all that is right, to take full blame for its own slanderous fake reporting and for allowing the ridiculous punishment of the Greek system in general, and Phi Kappa Psi in particular.

It won't happen.  Liberals don't apologize because they think they're never wrong, and the media rarely do, because it devalues the product they are selling.  By failing to put any of the blame on this "Jackie" or, worse, protecting her name from publication, they have not only not apologized, but left out there the shred of possibility -- even though there is none -- that "something" must have happened.

Still, the Rolling Stone should start a trend and stand up and say "We facilitated a lie.  We apologize profusely to the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and the University's Greek system.  We will take proactive steps to ensure that falsehoods do not appear in our magazine again."

We will be waiting a long time for that one.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Enemy of My Enemy

Come 2016, if things have come to no good end in the Middle East, and territory is lost, and territory is gained, and nothing has much changed, the USA will come to a very interesting crossroads.  We will have to take a stand.

A dozen or so Republicans and one Democrat will be vying for the presidency of the United States, and the Republicans will be wending their way through a convoluted primary and caucus system, trying to gain enough votes to be the one to keep the Clintons out of the White House.

The Republican campaign will -- or should -- be a fascinating forum.  Not about getting rid of at least the worst aspects of Obamacare (please give me back my low-cost, high-deductible plan!), or seeking a balanced budget, or getting rid of the Department of Education; those are a given.

No, I would like to see a healthy, productive debate in the Republican primary campaign as to what constitutes "right" in the USA's role in the Middle East.

The facts are not as complex as the morality, so it is difficult to say with reflexive accuracy what "right" even means, which is why I'm hoping it will be the key issue in the campaign.  We have to discuss facts like:

- We have a committed Arab friend in Jordan, and less-committed friends in places like Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia
- We have a formerly-committed Jewish state friend in Israel, the only strong democracy in the region, which the Obama Administration regards as an impediment to peace
- We have relationships with nations such as Turkey and Egypt that have to be restarted somehow because the Obama Administration has had no idea how to manage them
- There are virtual non-countries like Yemen and Iraq, which have barely-existent governments
- There are Palestinians without land but with a government associated, for the moment, with terrorists like Hamas
- There are countries openly hostile to the USA, like Syria and Iran
- There is a non-state actor called ISIS committing murder and seizing territory in the name of an Islamic Caliphate
- There is a state actor, Iran, which is not only hostile to the USA, but which is using front organizations like the Houthis in Yemen, to carry out territory grabs
- There is frightening poverty in almost every one of these countries.

And oh, by the way -- as we all know, the Iranian (Shiite) form of Islam is diametrically opposed to the Sunni form practiced by ISIS, so the Iranians and the ISISites, both evil, hegemonistic Muslim groups, are fighting each other in northern Iraq, as they holler "Death to America" and hate the Israelis at the same time.  Whom do we root for?

The Iranians are busily trying to build a nuclear bomb to use on ... I don't know whom, but I'm guessing it is not New Zealand.  And we have a president trying to create a legacy by signing am agreement with them, no matter the consequences or the enforceability of it. Whom do we support?

So what should we be doing?  What is, to make it easy, "right"?

I do not know the answer to this.  There are very few fundamentals to start with -- security for Israel, that sort of thing.  But after that, what is needed is a real discussion, so we can decide as a country what "right" actually means in the context of what is good for the USA.

The Democrats are stuck in a lock-step goose-step with their president as, defying our Israeli allies, he tries to get an agreement with Iran that has little chance of being ratified and no chance of leading to peace in the region.

It is left to the Republicans to have a reasonable debate as to what the future Middle East needs to be, and what, if any, is our role there.  We can successfully get ourselves out of worry about supporting countries there just because they have oil -- we pretty much don't need their oil.  We can start worrying about what is actually the right thing to do.

So let's do it, GOP.  Let's have that discussion and that debate, and create a well-formed, well-informed policy that your 2016 standard-bearer can present to the USA and speak to with passion.  The opposition will look like the uninformed, politically-driven hacks that they are.

Would that be too much to ask?

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton  

Friday, March 20, 2015

Dick Durbin and the Hypocrisy of the Race Card

The Democratic senator from the formerly great state of Illinois, Dick Durbin, is also the second-ranking Democrat in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body.  I don't know why I should think that would impose a level of reasonableness on his statements, but at 70, he is old enough to have earned the right to be stupid.

He has not earned, however, and never will, the right to be a hypocrite, not on race and not on anything else.  But there he is, according to the Washington Post, protesting the deliberative process on the nomination of Loretta Lynch as Attorney General:

“And so, Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar,” Durbin said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. “That is unfair. It’s unjust. It is beneath the decorum and dignity of the United States Senate. This woman deserves fairness.”

Now, I don't pretend to speak for the folks in control of the Senate, but we do know that Eric Holder is not going off into the sunset until a new AG is confirmed.  We also know that every Senate Republican and probably half of the Democrats can't wait to see the back end of the horse that Holder rides out on.  So they'd love to confirm a replacement.

No, the delay and the deliberative process has far more to do with the Senate not wanting to make a mistake on Miss Lynch that leaves our country with the Justice Department under a race-baiting ideologue, criminal socialist and Sharpton pal of the type it has been led by since 2009.  Let's face it, they can't wait to get rid of Holder, but not at the cost of, well, another Holder.

But no, Durbin goes off in public and does his "back of the bus" thing as if he has been the champion of black female Cabinet appointees since he came to the Senate in the Harding Administration.  Yeah, well, no on the "champion" thing.

Now, the Democrats are the champions of form-over-substance, as exemplified by the current president, a man who brought to the White House no experience to speak of, and won based on his skin color and the novelty of it (and the fact that in 2008 he was not George W. Bush), and mastery of the TelePrompTer.  Everything with Democrats is about form, because the substance of their ideas hasn't worked, ever, anywhere.  But you have to be the "right" form, too. 

Condoleezza Rice, the daughter of a Birmingham, Alabama minister, got to college when she was 15.  By 26 she had earned a doctorate in international affairs and became an expert in Soviet issues -- and, not that it mattered, an accomplished pianist.  It was she who provided the tutoring for George W. Bush on Russia and other key foreign countries during his first election campaign, and became his national security adviser.

Condoleezza Rice is also black.  She also does not sit in the back of the bus, and earned her place in history for her intelligence and knowledge in foreign affairs, and the content of her character, far more than the color of her skin.

That does not appear to have mattered to the race-conscious-when-it-suits-him Dick Durbin.  When Dr. Rice came up for Senate confirmation in 2005, as noted in the contemporary account on cnn.com:

"Dr. Condoleezza Rice was in the room, at the table, when decisions were made, and she has to accept responsibility for what she said," Durbin said, whereupon he voted "no" to Dr. Rice's candidacy.  However, smarter heads prevailed and she was confirmed as the first black Secretary of State.

Dick Durbin has every right to vote for whomever he chooses and against whomever he chooses.  He does not, however, have the right to be a race-baiter -- no one does -- and to stand up and be a hypocrite, playing the race card when a black female candidate replacing a very controversial incumbent is examined carefully, but blithely opposing another because her ideology doesn't suit his tender sensibilities.

The Senate is not "Borking" Loretta Lynch.  The majority members, all of whom would dearly love a new AG and the exit of the incumbent, are carefully making sure that the proposed replacement would not do things like trying to take over a town's police department based on an event magnified by a totally false account.

Loretta Lynch could be of Italian descent, or Chinese, Hispanic or Pakistani.  She could be a Martian, for all anyone cares.  The color of her skin is about the least important attribute the Senate is looking at in deciding to whom to entrust the reins of Justice.

All the Senate should care about is that she is not Eric Holder.  Or Dick Durbin.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dynasty Fatigue

One of my sons --well, both of them, but one happened to be talking about it -- values the privilege of voting extremely much.  He gets frustrated when an American actually talks about not voting for any reason whatsoever.

You remember when Mom told you to eat your string beans because there were children starving in India?  Well, eating string beans wasn't going to make them any less hungry, but you'd think so from the way that people have an analogous response -- "I'm not voting, my vote doesn't count any more than those string beans would have helped little Rajesh, they're all the same, they're all politicians, blah, blah, blah ..."

I'm thinking there will be a veritable epidemic of that type of attitude, in the event that in the Fall of 2016, we have a second Clinton and a third Bush as the major-party candidates for President of the United States.  We're already hearing it -- "wah, wah, if it's those two, I'm not voting, wah, wah."

Is that ballot actually likely?  Well, it's pretty hard to imagine anyone but Hillary Clinton running on the Democratic ticket.  Astonishingly, not a single person has risen to any conscionable level in the polls, not necessarily because of the inevitability of the nomination of the former first lady, but because, well, there isn't anyone intelligent and charismatic enough to have captured the interest of Democrats; anyway, charismatic, intelligent people know that contemporary Democratic dogma -- socialism -- doesn't work.

Additionally, Mrs. Clinton, as front-runner, has the backing of a slavish press.  No, they have not been very kind to her in the email scandal -- actually, we should correctly say that "a few of the normally leftist media (kudos to Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post) have not been kind to her in the email scandal" -- but on the whole, the press is perfectly happy to save their slings and arrows for the contenders on the other side.

With a slavish press, Mrs. Clinton doesn't have to go through the "Oh, God, we have to destroy [leading Republican candidate X] before they can get their message out" gauntlet.  That's the one Scott Walker is going through now.  Without that, not only does no other conceivable Democratic contender get ink to get known, but the lead dog isn't continually jumped on to be beaten back to the rest of the pack.  So, at least as a candidate, Hillary is inevitable.

Then there is the former governor of the state of Florida, Jeb Bush -- the son of one president and brother of another.  Unlike Mrs. Clinton, he actually has executive experience; like Mrs. Clinton, a significant part of public perception is that he would not be a candidate were he not related to someone who has been.  Unlike her, his likelihood of gaining the nomination is far from certain, with a large cadre of equally likely candidates, especially here, a year before the primaries.  He is also not universally popular with likely Republican voters.

Now, one could make the case that it's more likely that people who are married, like the Clintons (or like normal couples) have similar political views than relatives do.  If I ran for office, and anyone expected me to hold views like my mother, who was quite liberal, or my father, who was almost as much so, well, they'd be pretty surprised.  I have one brother, and conversely he is even to my right in a few things and we're both very, very different politically from our parents.  Of course, the Kennedys were all pretty much ... you get the idea.

So how, then, should one react if that were the actual final ballot, another Bush vs. Clinton campaign?  Well, in my case it would be very easy, as easy is it would be if it were Smith vs. Jones or Signorelli vs. Wojciechowicz.

I would simply vote for the candidate who matches the most of my views on the issues of the day, as I wrote in my very first essay here last September.  I will vote for the candidate who, as president, will be harder to push from those views.  I will vote for the candidate who will incorporate those common views into his or her platform more often than the other will, and press for legislation implementing them -- particularly fiscal sanity -- more than the other.

Whichever that candidate is, I don't care if their grandfather was president, their eleventh cousin once removed was, or their philandering husband was.

My vote is far too vital to be tossed aside.

Far too many people died to give me that vote and protect my right to it.

Far too many people around the world do not even have that right.

Come next November, I will be in line at the Broad Run Middle School in Chantilly, Virginia, with my ID in hand, to cast my vote, no matter who the nominees are.  I will hold up my metaphorical inked thumb thereafter with pride.

Stay out of my way.  I'm an American, and I vote.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Remembering the Boston Light Opera

It struck me a short while ago that next Wednesday is the 25th of March.  That is not a date that should be expected to evoke any passion for most people, but it has a bit of a wistful zing for me.

Forty years ago on that date, the Boston Light Opera performed its first operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury", a special version that commemorated 100 years that week from the grand opening of "Trial" in London, England.  It was not the first of Gilbert and Sullivan's 14 operettas, but it is the oldest surviving one still able to be performed, as the score to the very first, "Thespis", was lost to the years (though the libretto survives).

One hundred years later, the opera company I co-founded became a real, actual, honest-to-God performing enterprise.  I had left medical school in 1974 to move to Boston with the intent of starting such a company to perform the English comic operas I loved and, after the usual bizarre machinations, well, there it was.  And now I look back on it from the perspective of 40 years since.

I'm thinking today of the friends and associates who helped get it off the ground.  We lost Norman Nuber, our principal comedian, thirty years ago and far too young, an all-too-common scenario in the theater community of the time.  A few of the soloists, Cullen Casey and Marguerite Coughlin, also left us too soon.

Others have gone on to successful careers in the arts, and I salute them for their diligence.  Chip Piatti, who helped so much to get the Company launched and directed productions, has continued to impart his wisdom to young men and women in the school systems and community in Boston.  Linda Cameron is still performing on stage; director Kathleen Huber is indeed still directing.  Chris Blair, the musical director, is still practicing as an acoustical expert.

Philip Baas, the first principal baritone, became a lawyer, but not all of us can remain pure :)  Denise Freeland, principal soprano, is still teaching voice.  Kathy Kluger helped found the company, and while I have not heard from her in a long time, I know things are doing well.  Tim Kirwan remains in the hospitality industry managing one of Boston's largest hotels.  Brian Rehrig, a close friend and accompanist, is still a close friend despite the distance.

The Company survived several years.  We made some mistakes -- not extending our initial three-week run of "Pirates of Penzance" in year two when it started to sell out the last weekend, for one.  But we were young, we learned, and hopefully everyone who was a part of it and enjoyed their association remembers fondly an incident or two ... and remembers all their colleagues as I enjoy thinking of them.

I sang my last performance of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas in 1978, the last of 75 productions.  Each and every one of them means something to me, but this week I will remember especially a double bill of "Trial by Jury" and "HMS Pinafore" done by an underfunded new company to celebrate the 100th anniversary of "Trial."  As Edwin, the lead tenor, I lost the soprano in the end (whom I had "tired of") to the Judge, but I won a different battle that day.

I helped bring a fun art form to a community who enjoyed it.  And now I appreciate all who helped do that.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Disruptive Coffee

There is a term used in the industrial world, "disruptive technology."  Disruptive technology is the contemporary analogy to what the old Total Quality Management movement meant when they referred to "paradigm shifts", the approaches to doing things differently, or looking at them differently, vs. the way we have done something or thought of something, for a long time.

A technology is disruptive when it changes the paradigm in which we do something, so regularly that we would otherwise take it for granted, leaving behind it an obsoleted predecessor that we come to laugh at, like the telephone booth, or the typewriter, or one day, socialism.

Or the coffee pot.

The workplace environment was once populated by the ubiquitous coffee machine, with the equally ubiquitous glass pots with never enough coffee left or, if the office was populated by salesmen, no coffee left in them but a layer of char at the bottom of the pot and the smell of javanesque napalm permeating the air.

So I pause from my daily screeds on the incompetence of college administrators, on the secrecy of Hillary Clinton and the scourge of Obamacare to salute -- Salud! -- the disruptive technology that makes my life fractionally easier when I'm paying my health insurance bill doubled by Obamacare.

I refer, of course, to the Keurig machine.

Yes, I salute you, o ye single-cup coffee brewer and your K-cups.  I salute the fact that from here in my upstairs home office I can walk downstairs and, at a whim, literally make a cup of coffee up to 14 ounces.  And that coffee flavor can be amaretto, wild mountain blueberry, chocolate cannoli, chocolate mint, chocolate chip cookie, gingerbread, hazelnut, cinnamon roll, maple, or french toast.  There are K-cups for each and every one of those flavors in a rack next to the brewing machine here and, thanks to the ability to buy them by the large box, they go about 40 cents a cup.

Remarkably, each time I order K-cups from the online retailer now owned by Keurig themselves, as many as five more new flavors appear, and I start to get antsy until the FedEx person arrives with them.  Each time I brew a cup of delightful cinnamon roll or amaretto coffee -- and they are delightful -- I think how much better coffee has become without the messy glass pots with their charred bottoms.

Maybe there is something romanticized about glass coffee pots in places like police departments and car dealerships.  Let them be consigned to old movies.  Coffee in the 21st Century has been transformed as surely as surely can be.  "Keurig" is, of course, a Dutch word meaning "proper" and, Lord knows, nothing is more proper than not having a pot to clean.

Oh, yeah, they make K-cups with ordinary unflavored coffee.  Who cares?

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Monday, March 16, 2015

Black Privilege, Oklahoma Style

“Today, President David Boren accepted the recommendation of the Director of Athletics and the Head Football Coach to suspend Joe Mixon from the football team for the entire season. He will be excluded from all team activities, including being removed from the team roster. With appropriate conditions, he will be permitted to continue as a student, eligible for financial aid.”
- - - - -

The above statement, as noted in this article from last August, is from the president of the University of Oklahoma.  It was made in regard to the actions of Joe Mixon, who was charged with "'acts resulting in gross injury", a misdemeanor, by the Norman, OK Police Department after Mixon was involved in an altercation with a 20-year-old woman inside a restaurant.  The alleged victim, Amelia Rae Molitor, suffered broken bones in her face as a result of the fight; apparently Mixon punched her in the face, resulting in a fractured jaw, cheekbone, sinus and orbital bone.  According to the affidavit, Molitor told officers the altercation stemmed from the use of a homosexual slur directed at one of her friends.

Last week, as I wrote several commentaries in its regard, the selfsame Dr. Boren threw two OU students out of the university for good, threw the fraternity chapter of which they were members off campus, and  put out of jobs two full-time employees of the chapter house, one black.  Their crime?  The two sang a racially tasteless song on a bus.

Let's see ... offensive song equals expulsion.  Breaking a woman's jaw in the context of a gay slur, that equals suspension from the football team, but still able to go to class; still a member of the OU community, penalized only by whatever the laws of the city of Norman came up with.

I'm hard pressed to come up with the moral compass in which it is a worse offense to make bad racial slurs, than it is, in the context of gay slurs, to break the jaw of a fellow student who, by the way, is a woman.  But David Boren, who as a former governor and US Senator should have at least some sense of morality, has decided that the punishment for the racially-insensitive song singers and SAE, their fraternity, must be worse.  Joe Mixon, by the way, is back with the football team, and each racist singer is ... well, no longer an OU student.

Obviously more people than I made the connection, to the point that Dr. Boren had to make a statement.  He tried:

“There is no double standard at the University of Oklahoma. We punish bad behavior without regard to race. He [Mixon] was suspended from the team for a year and was not allowed to play. He was also ordered to perform community service, which he has completed. We punish bad behavior without regard to whether a person is an athlete or non-athlete, black or white. It is sheer and utter nonsense to make such a statement. We are colorblind at the University of Oklahoma and make no distinction between athletes and non-athletes. We have even taken one case to the state Supreme Court to enforce the findings of our internal disciplinary process under Title IX, in a case involving a student athlete.”

David Boren is almost 74 years old.  He has earned the right through his age and through long years of public service, even as a Democrat, to say stupid things.  But the above really takes the cake.  However, we'll take him at his word and stipulate that the fact that Mixon was a football player had nothing to do with his relative slap on the wrist -- so light a slap that all he had to do was pay his own way at the University this year -- in contrast to the two SAEs, who were kicked out of the school.

But I have to infer, then, that the color of Mixon's skin was the vital factor, not his athletic prowess.  It couldn't be that he is a football player, right?  He isn't any more valuable to the University than the two former SAEs, is he?

Really, I have a hard time with this, and so should you.  The University of Oklahoma, of which I count one of my closest friends as an alumnus, last August set a standard for punishment for students for the offense of "being whatever-you-call-bigots-against-gay-people and then breaking a young woman's jaw".  The punishment is a year of paying your own way and not getting to compete -- excuse me, we'll use Dr. Boren's word -- play -- with the football team.

The two SAEs, half a year later, cannot be argued to have done even as much.  They made bigoted remarks (songs) against blacks with no remorse.  Mixon made (or at the least, countenanced) bigoted remarks against gays with no remorse.  Then Mixon went three miles further and punched out a woman.

If the standard for punishment that Dr. Boren set in suspending Mixon from the football team is indeed the standard, then the SAEs should also have been allowed to stay in school and do some kind of community service as Mixon did.

In fact, the problem is the standard itself.  The University of Oklahoma should have kicked Joe Mixon permanently out of the university, which would have given them the flexibility to punish the SAEs with the expulsion they may have deserved.  But it didn't.

Why did it not?  Why, in fact, is racial bigotry punished worse by OU than anti-gay bigotry?  There seems no doubt that blacks in the USA have attained the curious status of being privileged -- the very word the Sharptonian race industry is trying to shove into the vernacular as applied to whites.  If you are black, you can use the "n-word" and make millions selling rap performances.  If you are white and use it, you will be kicked out of OU.  If you are black, you can make hateful aspersions toward gays and not be punished for it until you follow it up by punching a woman and breaking her jaw.

David Boren was far too lenient on one student in August, which makes him look immensely hypocritical when he is forced, clearly by fear of the race industry, to treat white offenders who injured nobody far more severely than a black offender who added assault and battery to his bigotry.

And it worked.  Al Sharpton had nothing to do, nothing really to say on this one.  He has already won one battle.  He has created a very interesting flavor of black privilege.

And David Boren's next comment?  "Go Sooners", I guess.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Friday, March 13, 2015

What Price the Fraternity System?

The logical aftermath of the story about the racist song sung by some Sigma Alpha Epsilon members at the University of Oklahoma has played out.  A few of the identified students were expelled from the University, the SAE chapter there has been de-chartered by SAE Headquarters and the members were forced to leave their house, including the non-racists you can be assured were also part of the membership.

And, of course, there are voices, particularly amongst the liberal elite, asking why in 2015 we still have a fraternity system in our nation's universities.  So someone needs to alter the narrative, and who better than yours truly, who spent every single day of his college existence living inside a fraternity house.

The difficult part of this piece is that so, so many people who were never members already have a fixed impression of what it means to be in a fraternity, and what fraternities are.  That impression is formed on a combination of a movie-fueled stereotype -- drinking, debauchery, slovenliness -- with a layer of specific incidents propagated by a hungry news media for which incidents of racism, hazing or alleged sexual assault -- even when they turn out to be faked -- make for good copy that bears out the liberal narrative the media promote.

Good news seldom leads, especially when it isn't really new, and so the aspects of the Greek system that are far more meritorious are often known only to those who participate in them -- and their beneficiaries.

Moreover, the fact that most fraternities on a given campus are actually part of larger, multi-chapter organizations that have existed for well over 100 years, is given no positive ink, nor any room to have its merits promoted.  SAE, for example, has existed since its founding before the War Between the States, over 150 years ago.  Phi Delta Theta, of which I am a member now 45 years, dates back even earlier, to 1848, and has 160,000 living initiates.  One of our first 20 members, in fact, joined in 1849 and went on to become the 23rd President of the United States.

In Phi Delta Theta, to use an example, we have three core principles -- friendship, sound learning and rectitude.  Most other large fraternities have comparable guides for solid citizenship, educational advancement and growth as a human being; it is actually why they are founded in the first place.  Then, subsequent chapters arise at a college because groups of like-minded young men (I assume the same applies to sororities, which MIT did not have when I was a student but does now) choose to associate.  They decide that the cardinal principles of, in our case, Phi Delta Theta, are the grounds on which they wish to build their society (local chapter).

I can guarantee you that is only the first step; it typically takes upwards of two years before the Fraternity agrees to present a charter to a new group, and only then after stringent scholarship, community service and other requirements are met and sustained.  Phi Delta Theta was the first national fraternity to ban alcohol from its houses 15 years ago, and you might well understand that the type of person willing to join a fraternity chapter that is "dry" is, let's say, a bit different from one who would choose not to join because it is dry.  Our membership has never been stronger.  By the way, one of the interest groups recently seeking to become a chapter was at Delaware State University, a historically black school.

One of the brothers who was actually from my own chapter is a gentleman named Drew Houston, whom you may know as the founder and CEO of Dropbox, the cloud-storage facility that has dominated the cross-platform storage market.  In 2013, my own 40th reunion, Drew was the youngest ever commencement speaker at MIT, and made it a point in his speech to note that he "didn't expect to get his MBA on the roof of Phi Delta Theta, but I did." In other words, the social relationships of his fraternity spawned the maturity needed to develop an amazing product and company.  He's worth an amazing fortune now, but when his speech was over he went straight back to the Phi Delt house to meet chapter alumni celebrating our reunion, and I can tell you he was just as respectful of those of us who came before him, as we older alumni were impressed by Drew.  Fraternities create men.

I need to impart more about what it means to be part of a community of brothers, while one is far from home.  For me, a freshman living with 40 other guys who had the commitment of brothers to help me and my classmates adapt and grow, well, that was important.  As children, we grow up seeking boundaries from our parents, and even in college we are learning them.  That's called "gaining life lessons", and as fraternity men we gain that from our environment.  We learn the work ethic from having to maintain a chapter and a house together; we learn from the association with others who have recently trod the same path.

Indeed -- we learn the responsibility for the management and maintenance of a large house -- from financial to janitorial -- and how to conduct ourselves personally when our actions reflect 40 others who wear the same letters.  We learn our responsibilities to our campus community and the greater community as well, by adopting charitable and good-will activities as part of our life and part of our calendar.

The man who graduates from a college with years of fraternal life is far more often a better person for it.  His decisions reflect the impact that his actions -- and his words -- have on others as well as on himself (which is why we particularly have contempt for the actors in this week's OU episode).  In Phi Delta Theta, we recruit with the phrase "Become the best version of yourself."  That is not the motto of an organization trying to find guys who can take down the most beer.

The stereotypes will always be there, because when push comes to shove, 18-22-year-old kids are at a very transient time in their development.  They're going to do things that maybe they shouldn't, and don't always have someone around to advise them, and don't always listen when they do.  Fraternities have a role in preventing that, far more than facilitating it.

For every OU incident, there are hundreds of chapters and tens of thousands of young men who are doing better academically because they get guidance from brothers who care; who are working in community service projects because the chapters believe it part of their mission; who understand what it is to be a gentleman because they are taught to be gentlemen.  They are becoming better versions of themselves.

You won't see it on the evening news.  When a fraternity -- mine -- was a driving force behind the $5 million raised for ALS in the viral 2014 ice bucket challenge, our name was almost never noted.  But let a couple bad apples get drunk and go all KKK on a bus, and everyone on earth knows who did it.

Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon) ... Benjamin Harrison (23rd president) ... Adlai Stevenson, Sr. (23rd U.S. vice president) ... a long, long list of distinguished Americans and Canadians have been my brothers, and each, like Drew Houston, became who he was in part because of his fraternal experience.   SAE's list is equally impressive -- William McKinley ... Robert Goddard ... Ross Perot ... and the couple dozen other large fraternities can each boast distinguished graduates who wore their badges.

Someone has to stand up and defend the institution so vital to us as college students and beyond in life.  I'm proud to do so.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Weak Excuse for Journalism

No, we're not talking about the pandering the press does to the sitting president compared to his predecessor.  There's little new to say on that one.

I'm referring to the kind of prejudicial battering that was supposed to pass for a 15-minute "interview" this week, as executed by a woman named Bianna Golodryga, who does some weekend work at ABC, and whose online title is "Yahoo News and Finance Editor."  Miss Golodryga was supposed to be interviewing Brandon Weghorst, the Associate Executive Director of Communications for the Sigma Alpha Epsilon national fraternity, known familiarly as SAE.

You're doubtlessly aware that members of the University of Oklahoma chapter of SAE were shown this week in a video on a bus, singing a verse or two to a song that, to be polite, suggested that there would not be a black member of SAE, and included an allusion to lynching.  It was a particularly unpleasant thing to see and hear on many levels.

Here's my disclaimer.  I am a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, MIT chapter, and have been for 45 years.  The SAE chapter there were rivals of ours, and I sort of grew up detesting SAE institutionally, as young men will do, though with grudging respect.  Of course I had many good friends there, and met and/or knew other SAE members -- including the late Marcellus Anderson '69, who was one of the first black initiates of SAE anywhere.  Regardless, I still feel a bit of guilty schadenfreude when something bad happens to SAE. But I am a strong proponent of the fraternity system.

I certainly won't diminish the stupidity of the actions of the OU SAEs.  But let's see what happened immediately afterwards.  The national SAE organization yanked the charter of the local chapter in no time, and the University promptly kicked its members off campus and closed the house, and has since expelled at least two of the identified students.

I should add that one of the unintended consequences of all that is that the house's black cook, Howard Dixon, is now out of a job that he served for 15 years.  Baby, meet bathwater.

But back to Bianna Golodryga and her interview of Brandon Weghorst.  I would have to ask what the purpose of talking to him was.  Her first question, which was essentially what he thought of the video, got the expected response -- Mr. Weghorst described it as "... shocking, disgusting and unacceptable", which it certainly was, as in enough to disgust the national organization into pulling the charter of the chapter immediately.  Pretty much "game over" at that point.

Having an agenda, though, Miss Golodryga did not want to end there.  She pointed out three instances in the past few years of issues at different SAE chapters -- one of dressing up like gang members, one other of racial slurs, one of members assaulting members of a Jewish fraternity.  With 15,000 undergraduate members, 18-22 years old, across the country, there are bound to be collective acts of stupidity.  I get it.  But it's not, as Mr. Weghorst pointedly noted, what SAE is about.

We subsequently got questions from Miss Golodryga like:

"You seem to be reactive and not proactive in these situations" ... OK, that wasn't a question, but Mr. Weghorst had not said a word at that point about member education, nor been asked, so there was no reason at all to presume they had not been proactive -- in fact, as he later noted, they are very proactive in educating and continuing to educate chapter leaders and members on behavior.  It doesn't always take.

"Can you tell me how many African American and minority members are there" ... the "Yahoo News and Finance Editor" was clearly not tolerant of the fact that SAE does not actually count its members by race, and that Mr. Weghorst could only answer that, in general, the diversity of the chapters reflected the diversity of the campuses where they exist.

"What are you doing to attract minority members?" ... "Can you understand why people in 2015 [don't understand why you don't have such racial composition statistics]?" My answer would have been "We are an integrated organization.  Unlike Yahoo, we as an organization look at the content of people's character and don't feel there is anything to be gained by counting our members by race.  There is nothing positive in doing so."  I doubt Mr. Weghorst could have gotten away with that, though he probably would loved to have said it.

Referencing the fact that SAE was founded at the University of Alabama, "... there was a dark chapter in our history as well [referencing the War Between the States] ... do you think your fraternity does enough to accurately portray both sides of the story?" ... OK, wait, what?  Because SAE was founded 150 years ago at a college in Alabama, they have an obligation to portray some kind of a story that fits a contemporary narrative?  How dumb do they think college kids are today?  Even the idiots in the video came to OU knowing there was a war.  SAE has no more obligation than any other organization to teach ... whatever it is that Miss Golodryga thought they should teach; I have no idea what she meant.  Just saying.

"What are the discussions that are going to happen at chapters [of SAE] across the country tonight?"  ... OK, I put that in because she asked a perfectly good question.  Even a blind squirrel finds a nut.  And Mr. Weghorst nailed the answer, as he did the other agenda-driven questions shot at him.

"Given that these incidents have been going on for a few years ... do you think that your [national] president, Bradley Cohen, has to resign?" ... No, seriously, she asked this.  An adult president of an organization with 200 college chapters or so, and many alumni clubs, with 15,000 undergraduate members who are -- let's remember -- college students -- should step down because he is unable personally to prevent idiots, who joined one of its chapters and ignored fraternity standards, from doing stupid things?

Is that what we have come to, that the wolves need blood before they move on to the next victim?  Here's a thought, Bianna -- the black unemployment rate is over 10% -- probably over 15% when you count those no longer looking for work -- and Barack Obama hasn't fixed it in six years.  He's got more control over that than the president of SAE does over a bunch of 19-year-olds.  How about you ask him to resign?

"Do you think maybe that fraternities are antiquated as a system on the whole?" ... Perfect.  Here is what she wanted to get to all along; not understanding the value that a positive fraternity experience brings because never once did she ask what the good is that fraternities do.  Had she once asked the question, one could have deemed this a reasonably balanced discussion.  But if you infer that she detests the institution because it has the gall to decide who its own members are, every single question makes sense for her.

My own fraternity's alumni include Lou Gehrig and, for that reason, Phi Delta Theta has adopted the ALS Association as our charity of choice, as it has been for decades.  You might have seen the whole dumping-ice-on-the-head thing to raise money for ALS research.  Take a look and see how much of the momentum of that was associated with undergraduate Phi Delt chapters and alumni clubs nationwide.  Then look at what was raised (hint -- well over $5 million).

I give Mr. Weghorst a lot of credit.  He answered the questions calmly, intelligently, reasonably and without confrontation.  Some members of the society he helps lead did stupid things, and his leadership acted to remove them swiftly.  He never defended the students, and presented his case as to what SAE is doing to prevent such things, has done and will do.

I doubt he will be taken as seriously in his job as the interviewer with the hatchet will be, though on reflection, he clearly did a better turn at it.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Nixon in a Pants Suit

So we'll now have weeks upon weeks of spitting in the media in regard to Emailgate and whether this botched foreign affair has any emails from the secretary of state, or that botched foreign affair has any emails from the secretary of state, etc.

The secretary of state in question, of course, is Hillary Clinton, who desperately wants to be president, possibly to show she could do the job better than her philandering husband.

But if we were to separate out the content of the missing emails and the foreign issues, affairs and even the mundane correspondence still publicly undescribed, we are still left with the remaining issue which the former first lady will have to deal with, namely, what kind of president would she be?

Let's see ... fastidiously private, controlling, wanting to ensure that only what she wants seen will be seen ... yeah, sounds a lot like a female version of the guy that Democrats have been holding up as a paragon of secrecy and deception for 40 years -- guy by the name of Nixon.

I don't even care what was in the emails left over after she turned over 50,000 carefully-selected-to-have-nothing-in-them messages.

What I care about is that by owning the server on which they were stored, it was Hillary Clinton, not the Federal Government, not the Department of State, not State's Inspector General and not even the Justice Department, who decided which emails were to be turned over.

What I care about is that she anticipated the need to protect her own communication from the public by setting the server up the day her confirmation hearings started.

What I care about is that she anticipated the need to protect herself from an investigation of her record as secretary of state, and got away with it until now (and may still).

What I care about is that even the President of the United States, the most powerful position in the USA, knew about all that from way back, but was clearly too scared of the Clintons to make an issue of her private server in public -- or probably in private either.

All you with your Hillary '16 bumper stickers, please think about the things you disliked about Richard Nixon many years ago.  Try, please, to explain to me how what Mrs. Clinton did, proactively to prevent anyone knowing what she was doing before even doing it, is not even worse than Mr. Nixon's covering up misdeeds of his associates after the fact.

She knew she would be doing things for which she wanted to protect the information trail.  With a press salivating over the possibility of a female president, and the armor that the Clintons carry, she really thought no one would be able to launch a successful challenge to her obsessive secrecy and likely felonious handling of Government data.

Oh, the press will still slavishly protect her, same as they do for the first black president.  But they're going to have trouble kicking Nixon around anymore, because they'd now be backing a pants suit version of the guy they kicked around in 1973.

Rose Mary Woods would be proud.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Guest Column: Redistricting by Legislatures

I'd like to welcome Anthony Scandora, a friend for over 40 years, as guest columnist today.  Tony is a native of the Chicago area and long-time resident there, an intelligent and talented gentleman and a fine writer and observer of the world.  Tony can be reached at scandora@alum.mit.edu.
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Redistricting, covered in this column last week, is a subject near and dear to me.  The late former mayor Ed Koch of New York once said the nation’s most corrupt state government is in Albany.  He apparently neglected to look west.

Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) has been Speaker of the Illinois House for the past 30 years, except for one freak two year term when Republicans had a majority.  Representing a struggling, once solid working-class district on the Southwest Side, he is the capo di tutti capi, possibly the most unchallenged dictator in the nation.

How?  Primarily by controlling legislative district mapping.  It's simple; just rejigger the electoral boundaries so that two Republicans have to run against each other in the next election (unless one of them moves), and any non-servile Democrat has to run against one of his minions in the next election.  With boundaries optimized in his favor, he and legislators of fealty can control endorsements and campaign cash -- and have -- in enough districts to keep him with a veto-proof majority.

In addition to campaign cash, he and his gang have consistently pandered to large voting blocs that keep the votes coming, without any thought about where the money comes from.  Make huge pension commitments to teachers’ and other public employees’ unions?  Check.  Make appropriate payments to the pension funds?  You gotta be kidding.  Maybe years of insignificant (and no) payments might explain why those funds are more than $100 billion, yes, billion, underfunded, the worst in the nation.  
That’s not all.  Even without making necessary payments to pension funds, the state’s budget is so overspent that bills don’t get paid.  Some impoverished rural counties have no physicians because they can’t survive on state Medicaid late and non-payments.  I personally know a printer who went bankrupt upon failure to collect for work done for the state.

Allied Van Lines reported Illinois was #1 in the nation for outbound vs. inbound moves in 2014.  Climate is only a secondary reason, after the state’s financial fiasco, taxes and overall hostile business climate created by the legislature.  Cities can go bankrupt, but states cannot.  What happens to retirees with their pension funds being $100 billion underfunded?  How many more jobs will continue being lost from businesses fleeing the state?

Judges are elected here, and then every few years they face retention votes.  Vote "Yea" and they keep their jobs; "Nay"and they get replaced in the next election.  Madigan’s machine has retained a judge who was on well-paid administrative leave after physically assaulting someone she didn’t like in her courtroom.  She was finally kicked off the bench, but it took several years.

Twelve years ago Madigan installed his daughter, Lisa, as Attorney General of the state.  She has actually done a generally decent job during that time, but for the latest election the Chicago Tribune declined to endorse anyone for AG, because the Republican challenger was clearly incompetent and unqualified, and the incumbent, Miss Madigan, has most carefully avoided any notice of what Daddy and his cronies have been up to ever since she was in high school.

Congressional districts are mapped by the same cabal.  Can they remap two GOP representatives into the same district?  Check.  My favorite was when then-Alderman Luis Gutierrez wanted to run for Congress.  To ensure his election, they drew a district from his Latino area on the near-NW Side, then down an expressway where nobody lives to a highly Latino suburb, and then back to the near-SW Side for another largely Latino region.  More recently he moved to a better neighborhood, so the map was adjusted to include his new digs.

Chicago works the same.  By legislative mapping of wards to eliminate dissenting aldermen, pandering to the same blocs as the state, and pulling the same financial stunts, the city has created the same financial debacle for itself as the state has.  I love that the Chicago Public Schools have spent 14 months of tax revenue -- this fiscal year.  That leaves them a cool billion short for next year’s budget, with no clue where the money will come from.  

The Federal Government can print all they want, but states and cities can’t.  The city has done so much long-term borrowing for short-term operating expenses that one service recently lowered the city’s bonds to a rating barely above junk.  Unlike states, cities can go bankrupt.  Detroit was much worse off, but if Chicago continues doing what it’s been doing ...
Can anyone think of anything good that comes from allowing legislators to choose their voters?

Copyright 2015 by Anthony E. Scandora, Jr.