Category Archives: Culture

The Booger and the Kiwi

Even classic works occasionally require an update. Today, it’s Aesop’s turn.

Once upon a time there was a professional football player named Anthony Darrell McFarland. His teammates called him “Booger.” He was a star defense tackle at LSU and played on two Super Bowl championship teams in the NFL. He is now an analyst on ESPN.

Last Wednesday, during a guest appearance on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” Tony Kornheiser asked him whether he thought quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers would retire. Kornheiser prefaced his questions by quoting former San Francisco quarterback Steve Young who once compared retirement to death.

The quarterback position is a little bit different. I saw football as a means to an end. I wasn’t in love with the game. The game was not something I stayed up at night and dreamed about. For me it was an opportunity to take care of my mother and my family. And it gave me the platform that I continue on, even to today.

For me, once the means to the end didn’t make sense anymore, when the last contract I was offered wasn’t beneficial to me, I knew it was time to move on and do something else.


Halfway across the kingdom there lived a princess named Jacinda Ardern. She was known to her subjects as Madam Prime Minister. Announcing her abdication, Princess Jacinda told her subjects:

I am not leaving because it was hard. Had that been the case I probably would have departed two months into the job. I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility, the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also when you are not. I know what this job takes and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.


After Booger achieved his original goal, ensuring his family would never again want for food or shelter, he hung up his helmet and shoulder pads. For Princess Jacinda, ridding her country of assault weapons following a mass shooting of school children was the accomplishment of a lifetime. It was someone else’s turn to wear the crown. Despite Booger’s absence, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won another Super Bowl. New Zealand remains a desirable place to visit, work and live under the new monarch.

I thought about Booger and the Kiwi while watching news of the January 20 “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. Would the Dobbs decision be the law of the land if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had stepped aside when Barack Obama could have appointed someone with equally strong women’s rights credentials to the high court? Would Donald Trump been able to appoint three justices if his 2016 opponent, despite all her qualifications and experience, had recognized voters suffered from Clinton fatigue? And, in turn, would Trump himself go down in history as a disgraced, twice-impeached seditionist if he had been content living a fairy tale in his palaces in Manhattan, Palm Beach and Bedminster?

A wise mentor told me the day I accepted the position as director of the entrepreneurship center at Miami University, “The first thing you need to do is find your successor.” He knows I do not always take his advice, but on this occasion I did. And when I moved on nine years later, I did so knowing the program was in good, if not better, hands. The transition was seamless. And, to this day, I have no regrets about leaving a job I enjoyed.

I wonder if Brady and Rogers will ever experience that same sense of personal satisfaction. Or, for that matter, will Joe Biden if he chooses to run for a second term? Last night, Biden’s departing chief of staff Ron Klain ticked off the Biden administration’s accomplishments over the past two years. Even those who disagree with the content must marvel at the skill with which his team marshalled the president’s agenda through Congress with little room for error in a 50/50 Senate and an equally divided House of Representatives. No one would think less of Biden if he rested on his laurels and rode into the sunset.

At some point in every life, a person faces a similar decision. It does not matter whether it involves retirement from a prestigious post or knowing when it is no longer safe to drive a car. He or she can emulate McFarland and Ardern. Celebrate past success and move on. Or keep hanging on. Sports is a perfect lens through which to view one’s options. Look no farther than Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays or Mohammad Ali. The only opponent they could not defeat was Father Time.

The moral of this story: Actors who believe they are irreplaceable are those most in need of exiting the stage. Don’t take my word for it. Ask Norma Desmond.

For what it’s worth.

A Fool and Your Money

Every year, about this time, we are treated to images of three wise men on camels following a star to Bethlehem. This year is no different. However, this December there is a different triad of not so wise men, and the only star they are pursuing is their own. Instead of Magi, I prefer to call them “The Unholy Trinity.” Or “The Axis of Weasel.” Or “The Three Jackasses of the Apocalypse.” You may know them better by their real names: Elon Musk, Sam Bankman-Fried and, of course, Donald J. Trump.

The stimulus for today’s blog was an encounter with an elderly man leaving “Kendall’s Bagels and More” in Palm Coast, Florida. He appeared somewhat disgruntled so I asked him, “How are you?” He replied, “Fair to middling, but the day is still young.” Not wanting to assume what he meant, I continued, “Young in a good sense or bad sense?” His cryptic answer, “I read the newspaper this morning.”

Sadly, many of today’s headlines are not likely to be the harbinger of good feelings. What might he be referring to? I thought I would share my reasons for being less than forlorn. “You know, any day you do not hold Tesla stock or invest in cryptocurrency is a good day.” He chuckled and we departed, still not knowing whether he shared my relief at not having spent $800 for a share of Tesla stock or $64,000 for one Bitcoin. Or whether he rued having made the same mistake so many others have in search of a quick return on investment.

Which brings me to the three perpetrators. Compared to Bankman-Fried, Bernie Madoff was a piker. Madoff’s mere $64.8 billion in fraudulent transactions on behalf of 4,800 clients is sofa change when stacked up against the 1.2 million registered users of Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange. Two participants, Silicon Valley venture capital fund Sequoia and Singapore based investment company Temasek, stand to lose more than $200 million each following FTX’s bankruptcy filing. To promote his Ponzi scheme, Bankman-Fried recruited celebrities including “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David and sports figures Tom Brady (is he now an actual goat in lower-case letters), Steph Curry, Shaquille O’Neal and Naomi Osaka.

Talk about karma, when Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried gave birth to a son in 1992 who chose to take both his parents’ surnames, the die was cast. I anxiously await the banner headline in the Wall Street Journal upon this scammer’s conviction on 1.2 million counts of financial fraud. “BANKMAN FRIED!”

On the other hand, Elon Musk would do well to heed the advice of Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, the M*A*S*H character portrayed by the late David Ogden Stiers. When asked to hurry up with a patient to assist with another, Winchester replies, “I do one thing at a time. I do it well. Then I move on.” We now know TWO things at a time (Tesla and SpaceX) were Musk’s limit. Forays into social media, cryptocurrency and high-speed transportation (the Hyperloop) took his attention away from the enterprises that were paying the bills.

Musk, Tesla owners and Tesla stockholders have all suffered. Tesla recalls have increased ten-fold in the past two years. And brand loyalty has suffered from more competition in the EV car market as well as Musk’s success in offending demographics who were the most likely purchasers of his pro-environmental poster child. Note to Musk’s secret Santa: Give him a copy of King Midas and the Golden Touch.

I have saved the Donald for last for one simple reason. Adding the NFT Trump Superhero trading cards to all the other grifts associated with the Mar-a-Lago Prosperity Church is clearly one more act of a desperate, modern-day P. T. Barnum. I would not be surprised if the plaque on his desk reads, “A sucker is born every minute.” And while sane people may consider Trumpism an on-going threat to democracy, Trump loyalists’ more pressing concern should be Barnumism, a clear and present danger to their wallets.

There is one more thing these three incorrigibles have in common, an affinity for using the internet and social media as an instrument to promote their various hustles. Musk now has Twitter and StarLink. Trump created Truth Social. And before his arrest, Bankman-Fried talked about partnering with Solana Breakpoint, the blockchain provider for FTX, to extend use of the same technology to gaming and other on-line activities.

Maybe they could pool their declining resources and establish a single website where gullible investors could be recruited. Except for the fact it is already registered to a major sporting goods retailer, the obvious domain name for their site would DICKS.COM. NOTE: Dick’s Sporting Goods purchased the domain from its original owner (you don’t want to know), and it immediately redirects the user to

For what it’s worth and Happy Holidays,

Artificial Intelligence

ALICIA FLORRICK: Mr. Dudewitz, are we in danger of A.I.?

ANTHONY DUDEWITZ: I think its getting smarter every day. Learning our boundaries and its boundaries. It’s evolving. I think there will be an adjustment period after it takes over. But eventually…

FLORRICK: Wait, I’m sorry to interrupt. What do you mean by “takes over?”

DUDEWITZ: The singularity. When the system is capable of recursive self-improvement, when it is better at recalibrating, expanding and spawning than we are. The brief blip of humanity’s reign will reach its inevitable conclusion…I’m just saying, they won’t have much use for us.

The good wife, Season 7, Episode 5, “DRIVEN”

The above exchange occurs during a deposition in which Florrick is questioning Dudewitz, who was responsible for designing the driverless software being tested by a fictional Tesla doppelganger. A version of the test car is involved in an accident in which the corporation claims one of its employees failed to override the software when it did not operate as programmed.

Dudewitz is a modern day Victor Frankenstein. Except his monster is not made of body parts. His creation consists solely of zeros and ones. However, his testimony becomes much more relevant if you stop thinking about artificial intelligence as a mechanical substitute for the human brain. It becomes a metaphor for today’s body politic when you view the adjective “artificial” as the opposite of “actual.”

To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, you might be an example of artificial intelligence if…

  • …you run for the U.S. Senate from Georgia but take advantage of a homestead exemption in Texas which you must claim as your principal residence. (Herschel Walker)
  • …you compare the Russian invasion of Ukraine to asylum seekers on the U.S. southern border. (Marjorie Taylor Greene)
  • …you oppose forgiving $10,000 in student loans after supporting forgiveness of COVID relief loans which totaled in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for some individuals. (GOP Governors, Senators and Representatives)
  • …you tell Pennsylvania voters to go to the polls before Sunday’s Steelers’ home game on their bye weekend. (Mehmet Oz)
  • …you advocate establishing a mandatory retirement age of 70 for the president of the United States, but never mentioned it when TFG ran for re-election at age 74. (Local newspaper columnist Howard Pine)
  • …you run for governor on the platform “Keep Florida Free” but punish businesses that do not support your policies. (Ron DeSantis)
  • …you do not understand how you can lose the Arizona governorship after telling former McCain supporters to get lost and mock the 82 year old victim of a violent attack in his home. (Kari Lake)
  • …you admit TFG was largely responsibility for the January 6th violent insurrection but would still vote for him if he is the 2024 Republican nominee. (Mitch McConnell, Mike Pompeo, Bill Barr, etc., etc., etc.)
  • …you run on a promise of bringing down inflation, reducing crime and securing the southern border, then announce the day after winning control of the House your priority is impeaching Biden administration officials and Hunter Biden’s laptop. (Kevin McCarthy and the GOP Freedom Caucus)
  • …and finally, to be non-partisan, you think your party lost House seats in competitive districts because the candidates were not progressive enough. (Extreme left-wing Democrats)

Anthony Dudewitz may be right. These purveyors of artificial intelligence have made it pretty clear. 2020 was a learning experience. They are capable of recursive self-improvement. They will have a better understanding of voters’ boundaries and their own. They will adjust. And when their singularity arrives, they will have little use for us.

For what it’s worth.

The Intercourse Tax

Eleven years before Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the case in which the Supreme Court sanctioned same-sex marriage, my students at Miami University reached the exact conclusions it took the U.S. Senate another seven years after Obergfell to adopt.

In 2004, I taught a summer session of my “Imagination and Entrepreneurship” course which included the following exercise based on the false concept “there are two sides to every story.” There are always more than two sides. To prove this, I asked the students to explore a controversial topic and identify the extreme positions, i.e., the two sides. Their choice? Same-sex marriage which was viewed on one extreme as an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, and on the other, an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness delineated in the Declaration of Independence. I then told them they should not seek a compromise on that continuum. Instead, they should look for answers ‘outside the line.’

If you think all universities are bastions of liberal dogma, you do not know Miami University. The student population is 72 percent white and they come from households with an average annual income of over $200,000. Sixty-two percent of the students are Ohio residents, a state we know from the recent mid-terms is ruby red. Not surprisingly for a school with these demographics, College Values Online ranks Miami as the 11th most conservative university in the United States.

In that environment, I feared our discussion of marriage equality would be a dogfight. Not even close. As is so often the case, the critical point came when a student asked an important question. What is the purpose of a marriage license? A not unexpected response came from class members I knew to be actively engaged in religion-based student organizations. They viewed government sanction of a marriage secondary to that of God’s. Which led to the suggestion it was not about the license but the fee to obtain the license. In other words, this was just one more way for local governments to raise revenue by taxing the formation of a household.

Yet, they pointed out lots of non-married couples form households. College students live together in off-campus rental housing. Co-workers form households to share the cost of shelter in cities where the sale price or rental fees are beyond the reach of many who work there. Why shouldn’t they be taxed as well? Which brings me to the title of this post. The tax was only applied to those household occupants the government assumed were having intercourse. Without stating the obvious, you can see where this is going. Government regulation of relationships makes no sense.

And that is EXACTLY what the Senate compromise on an amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act proposes, an amendment that garnered the bipartisan support of 62 senators including 12 Republicans. An amendment based on the same conclusion reached by my students 18 years earlier. The First Amendment prohibits Congress from mandating that any sectarian institution which opposes marriage other than that between a man and a woman must conduct a union for a same-sex couple. But those who had their marriage ratified by either a civil or religious authority must be honored nationwide. The government should keep it nose out of the marital business.

I know some may be offended by the fact the revised bill codifies the right to religious discrimination. But that has always been the case. Most orthodox rabbis will not officiate in an interfaith marriage. Catholic priests will not bless a second marriage unless the first has been annulled. And somehow there are still interfaith unions and second Catholic weddings. In other words, “forum shopping” is not reserved for those in search of a sympathic judge to hear their case.

My wife occasionally reminds me how often, as an agnostic, I cite scripture to make my point. And I am sure she will remind me again when I point out, the Senate amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act is just one more example of the Biblical underpinning in Matthew 22:21 that justifies the separation of church and state. “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Perhaps, the spouses of the 27 GOP senators who voted against the amendment need to remind them to open both their Bibles and the pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution they always carry with them.

For what it’s worth.

The FIRE Didn’t Start the Fire

With great power comes great responsibility.

Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson), Spider-man 2002

Last Thursday, my alma mater the University of Virginia hosted its second annual Oratory Competition. Conducted underneath the dome of Mr. Jefferson’s historic Rotunda, 10 finalists addressed the question, “Is free speech important at a public university in our democracy – and why?”

The winner, third yearman Jered Cooper, began by quoting Richard Nixon’s first inaugural address, as follows:

In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.

Richard M. Nixon, January 20, 1969

I am sure Jered chose those words to remind listeners the vitriol in today’s political rhetoric is nothing new. He then suggests the United States has seemed “…to have collectively forgotten something that is key to a healthy democracy: free speech.” Words that are right in line with those of a Philadelphia-based non-profit, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). Their mission? “…to defend and sustain the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty.”

Sounds admirable. And in many instances it is. For example, FIRE has defended students and faculty at American universities who have been punished for their personal opinions. For example, this year FIRE provided legal services to a Collin College professor who was reinstated after being fired for union advocacy and supporting removal of Confederate monuments.

However, the First Amendment is not absolute. In 1919, Supreme Court Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in response to speech designed for the principal purpose of creating panic, famously opined the right to free expression does not include “shouting fire in a crowded theater.” Neither should we blindly accept advocacy of free speech as absolute. My right to free expression demands that I address the flaws in both Mr. Cooper’s and FIRE’s position on the topic.

First, reread the Nixon quote. He is not advocating free speech as an absolute right. Just the opposite. He is siding with Ben Parker. The First Amendment gives every American “great power.” But it also demands citizens wield that power responsibly. Nixon simply pointed out three instances in which he believed individuals had abused the power and shirked their responsibility–inflated rhetoric, angry rhetoric and bombastic rhetoric.

Second, FIRE’s website makes no reference to responsible oratory or behavior. Are they not concerned expression based on demonstrable lies is not what the founding fathers had in mind? By their silence, do they not see how the “big lie” is the epitomy of Justice Holme’s dire warning that shouting “Hang Mike Pence” in a crowded Capitol Building is not protected under the Constitution.

Third, I would be more sympathetic to FIRE’s efforts if they were more consistent in the application of their principles. In their press release announcing Suzanne Jones’ reinstatement at Collin College, FIRE attorney Greg Greubel proclaimed:

Censorship is un-American. FIRE is proud to defend people of all political views who are punished simply for speaking their minds. And we’re not stopping now.

Among things Collin College cited as leading to her dismissal was the fact she signed a petition requesting the McKinney, Texas city council remove a Confederate statue. Yet, FIRE did not offer to defend three University of Florida professors when they were barred from testifying in a lawsuit to overturn newly enacted alleged restrictions on voting rights. However, FIRE was quick to applaud Florida governor Ron DeSantis when he announced the state’s university system had adopted a free speech resolution based on the University of Chicago’s “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression,” often referred to as the “Chicago Statement.” Perhaps FIRE’s new mantra should be, “Watch what we say, not what we do.”

The U.S. Constitution is a unique and wonderful document, a model for governance. But it was flawed. It permitted slavery. Overuse of punctuation makes some passages ambiguous. Those shortcomings can and, on occasion, have been addressed by the 27 amendments adopted since 1789. The most grievous flaw, however, is its one-sidedness. It delineates multiple rights each of us as citizens retain and specifically prohibits government from restricting those rights. “…Congress shall make no laws…”

Yet it says nothing about each citizen’s responsibility not to abuse those rights. Instead, we are expected to align the Constitution with our personal value systems. Let me close by pointing how confused this makes me when it comes to elected offiicials such as Marjorie Taylor Greene who espouse Christian nationalism. The term suggests they are bound by two documents: the Bible and the Constitution. As originalists they believe they must adhere to the written word of the Founding Fathers, yet apply it selectively when it comes to judicial interpretations.

The same holds true when it comes to the Old Testament which they accept as the virtual word of God. If only they did. I guess when it comes to election fraud and the attack on Paul Pelosi, the 9th Commandment does not apply. “Bearing false witness” seems to be their stock-in-trade. Furthermore, based on what we’ve seen the past two years, if God him/herself issued a subpoena for them to bear witness (false or not), they would fight it tooth and nail.

FIRE did not start the fire. But its absolute defense of free speech encourages others to stoke the flames which may eventually incinerate Madisonian democracy.

For what it’s worth.