Category Archives: Culture

What You Don’t See

There should be some limits to the kinds of weapons we can own but the gun people don’t think so. “I need an automatic weapon to defend myself.”  Really?  You can’t defend yourself with a pistol?  You have a constant onslaught of enemies rushing onto your lawn so you need 100 rounds a minute to mow them down?  If you’re that much of an ass you shouldn’t have a butter knife.

~Comedian Costaki Economopolous on the 2nd Amendment

In my “Imagination and Entrepreneurship” class at Miami University, I would start any discussion about the importance of observation with the following mental “warm-up” exercise.

Which way is this bus moving?

The solution is simple once you recognize this side of the bus is all windows. Can you imagine what the other side of the bus looks like?  There would be doors as well as windows.  Where would the front door be?  Opposite the window on the left, i.e. where the driver sits (unless you live in Great Britain or other countries where the driver sits on the right side of the vehicle).  Therefore, the bus must be moving to the left.  Consider this as the visual equivalent of reading between the lines of a manuscript to fully understand the author’s meaning.

Sadly, I was reminded of this exercise over the weekend while watching a video clip of a 21-year-old assailant with an assault rifle entering a Dollar General store in Jacksonville.  Why?  Because there are two perspectives from which we can examine this event. How many times have we been exposed to “this side of the bus” since the national assault weapons ban expired in September, 2004?  A well-armed loner, on the offense, staking out a location where he is sure to find his intended targets.

Now imagine the other side.  Instead of a front page headline or breaking news on CNN about a gunman (and they are almost exclusively male) leaving his residence with  an AR-47 to “hunt” his prey, how many times is the story about a property owner holding off a horde of invaders with his assault weapon? I found just two instances via a Google search.  These are the rare exception.  In every other case, a shot gun or handgun was sufficient deterrence.

I also Googled the question, “Why do you need an assault weapon for protection?”  Among the numerous hits was a March 2021 interview by then Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace with (drum roll) South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham.  Graham explained:

I own an AR-15. If there’s a natural disaster in South Carolina where the cops can’t protect my neighborhood, my house will be the last one that the gang will come to because I can defend myself.

To be clear, Graham claims it is the intersection of these four factors that justify his packing an assault weapon.

  • He lives in an otherwise unprotected house.
  • Gangs are a present danger in his neighborhood.
  • South Carolina law enforcement is inadequate to handle an emergency.
  • A natural disaster creates the environment for violent crimes.

Graham resides in a 10,000 square foot McMansion in Clemson, South Carolina estimated to be worth $18 million.  Although I could not confirm whether the house is in a gated community, it is surrounded by equally impressive residences.  Most such communities have private security to guard the entrance and patrol the neighborhood.  Additionally, I am sure Graham’s home has its own electronic security system.

How about those ever present gangs (a dog whistle if I ever heard one.)  The crime rate in Clemson is less than half of that for the state of South Carolina.

Even if there is no private security, Clemson, like many college towns, has more police and emergency personnel than the average city.  Law enforcement in Graham’s jurisdiction is provided by the municipal police department and Clemson University’s security force.

All of the above would be irrelevant if there were no natural disasters to trigger Graham’s anticipated crime wave.  But this is the one thing he got right. Since 2000, South Carolina has had more than its share of hurricanes, tornadoes and coastal flooding, many of which resulted in FEMA emergency declarations.  Hurricane Kyle (2002).  Hurricane Gaston (2004).  Hurricane Hanna (2008).  Hurricane Dorian (2019) Hurricane Earl (2010).    Hurricane Zeta (2020).  Hurricane Ian (2022). A series of tornadoes in April 2020.

And yet neither the Senator or any other South Carolina resident is reported to have needed an assault weapon to deter those pesky “gangs” during any of these disasters.  Considering its projected path, Hurricane Idalia will again test Graham’s hypothesis sometime around noon on Thursday.  However, based on his behavior since January 6, 2021, we are more likely to find the Senator hunkered down at Mar-a-Lago than playing Rambo at his Clemson residence.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

The REAL Pronoun Issue

To clarify, I was betrayed by a fake friend and that’s what I meant with ‘they’ not anything more.

~Jamie Foxx/Instagram/August 5, 2023

The above quote is an excerpt from Foxx’s online apology for an earlier Instagram post which could be interpreted as anti-Semitic based on its historical use to blame Jews for the crucifixion. 

They killed this dude name Jesus … what do you think they’ll do to you???! #fakefriends #fakelove.

~Jamie Foxx/Instagram/August 4, 2023

As seems to be the case these days, celebrities, regardless of occupation, seem incapable of simply saying, “I know I screwed up.  I’m sorry.  And I know I need to work at being a better person.”  Instead, Foxx’s explanation only made the matter worst.  Why? Because his explanation makes sense only if one of the following must be true.

  • His #fakefriend is non-binary and refers to himself as “they.”
  • By simple deductive reasoning, if “they” refers to Foxx’s #fakefriend, Foxx accused this individual of killing Jesus.  Should we, therefore, expect a new comedy album in which Mel Brooks, in a role reversal, is the straight man to Foxx’s #fakefriend, the new 2,000-year-old man?
  • Foxx refers to every individual as “they,” as in “Joe, how are they doing this afternoon?”

Of course, Foxx is not alone, Donald Trump and his campaign played “can you top this” over the weekend.  It began with Trump’s now infamous post on “Truth Social.”

If you go after me, I’m coming after you.

~Donald Trump/Truth Social/August 4, 2023

Jack Smith correctly pointed out in a filing to Judge Tanya Chutkan it took Trump less than 24 hours to violate a federal magistrate’s warning not to intimidate or threaten anyone associated with his obstruction and conspiracy indictment.

It is a crime to try to influence a juror or to threaten or attempt to bribe a witness or any other person who may have information about your case, or to retaliate against anyone for providing information about your case to the prosecution, or to otherwise obstruct the administration of justice.

Her concern was not unfounded. This unusual admonition was likely tied to findings by the House Select Committee to Investigate the Attack on the United States Capitol’s finding Trump had contact one of their witnesses prior to that individual’s interview with committee staff.  And once Trump’s legal team realized their client might be in jeopardy of having his bond vacated, they backtracked quicker than Vin Diesel in the latest Fast and Furious movie.

The Truth post cited is the definition of political speech, and was in response to the RINO, China-loving, dishonest special interest groups and Super PACs, like the ones funded by the Koch brothers and the Club for No Growth.

~Unsigned Statement from Trump Spokesperson/August 5, 2023

If that is who Trump meant, why did he not mention them specifically?  I thought maybe he might have referred to the one security officer at his hush money arraignment in New York who did not cry when he was led into the courtroom.  The irony is Trump’s lawyers did not appreciate that the very statements and ads sponsored by the Koch Brothers and others, which so upset their client, are the “definition of political speech,” without the “fire in a crowded theater” threat to avenge a perceived wrong.

Despite the MAGA-verse “war on woke,” the real problem is not whether an infinitesimal percentage of Americans who could be described as gender fluid choose to attach a non-traditional pronoun to their persona.  The real problem is the use of pronouns such as “they” and “you” which are bandied about as a façade for moral fluidity.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

A Majority of One

I am considering asking the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins University for a refund for selling a defective product.  In the course of earning three degrees in political science at these two institutions, I was taught America is a democracy where policies and programs were based on the will of the majority.  In elections, the person with the most votes won.  Legislative actions were determined by a majority of the members in each chamber (except in Nebraska which has a unicameral legislature).  Judicial review of federal laws and executive orders was based on deliberations and the opinion of a majority of a panel in the court of jurisdiction.

The one exception, best articulated by Abraham Lincoln, is the president of the United States.  He (or someday she) is the sole elected member of the executive branch. Lincoln was always open to advice from members of his cabinet.  He would even request votes on topics of the highest importance.  But he was (as W. would say) the “decider,” once demonstrating that authority while considering military options during the Civil War.  Lincoln summarized the vote as follows, “The vote is seven nays (his cabinet) and one aye (his).  The ayes have it.”

The last time I checked Republican Alabama Senator Tommy Tubberville was not president of the United States. Yet, single-handedly he is holding up over 100 military promotions including one for the next commandant of the U.S Marines and the first female nominee for a member of the joint chiefs of staff.  Tubberville is not the brightest bulb in the Senate as evidenced by his recent defense of white extremism.  How depressing is it that someone, who thinks white Americans who claim Caucasians are superior to other races does not make them racists, is a member of the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest deliberative body.”  The fact he has veto power over military promotions is unconscionable.  Why would he ever believe he wields such power, even if it is consistent with the antiquated Senate concept of “unanimous consent?”

Maybe because he watched his GOP colleagues in the House of Representatives change the rules so that any one member of their caucus can move to vacate the chair of the party caucus. When that party holds the majority, the new rule includes the Speaker of the House, a constitutionally created position.  Or maybe he read that a single Trump appointed federal judge in Texas could suspend the sale of the abortion pill mifepristone which had been approved for use for more than two decades.  Or that Governor Ron DeSantis removed the elected district attorney in Hillsborough County and replaced him with a DeSantis loyalist.  Or one parent can decide if a book should be removed from a school library.

In each of the above cases, the rest of us are being ruled by a majority of one.  One senator.  One lower court federal judge.  One governor. One parent.  Despite the majority’s wishes.  And we wonder why any American believes he or she has the right to use a firearm at the first sign of a perceived slight or to resolve a grievance.  All in the name of “individual freedom,” something they claim is implicitly codified in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Except nothing in either document explicitly authorizes any single individual to decide what is good for the rest of us.

Thomas Jefferson admitted his choice of words when it came to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” was influenced by the language in the Virginia Statement of Rights, drafted by George Mason and adopted on June 12, 1776.  That document states citizens are entitled to “the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” So, number one it affirmed that personal assets did not remain under the control of the Crown.  (Should property not include one’s own body?) Number two it simply stated individuals have a right to be happy and safe.  Being who they are and not be gunned down while at school, watching a movie or shopping for groceries.  Notice what is missing?  Nothing about the right to do anything they damn well please.

Heaven forbid Joe Biden stands up for the majority on issues like gun safety, equal protection under the law or women’s health care.  These same individuals are the first to accuse him of overreaching and abusing his authority.  Just one more example of the hypocrisy all-star tour which will be visiting a town near you between now and November 2024.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

Quantity v. Quality

Things that are not important are easy to measure.  Those that are important are hard to measure.

~Michie Slaughter

As long as the Supreme Court is taking up cases based on imaginary plaintiffs and defendants and no longer requires that plaintiffs have standing (i.e., personally suffered some harm), I thought I would jump on the bandwagon.  Therefore, I present the case of Quantity v. Quality in hopes the high court might understand the folly of their ways and put common sense ahead of ideology.

Cases between this imaginary plaintiff and his equally imaginery defendant are adjudicated almost daily in a number of venues.  One, in which I was actually a participant, involved the United Way, for which I served on the local board in Oxford, Ohio. We constantly sought better criteria for making funding decisions.  Applicants had reams of quantitative data about the number of people served (e.g. Meals on Wheels) or membership in their organization (e.g., Boy Scouts).  They took pride in demonstrating their financial efficiency by touting cost per person helped.  The board, however, wanted answers to a different question, “Did it make a difference?” A non-profit could provide mental health care for thousands of clients.  But if they continued to act irrationally or presented a danger to themselves or others, maybe it was time to fund someone else.

There is no better example of quality trumping quantity than “Project Choice,” a program of the Ewing Kauffman Foundation which covered the college expenses (tuition, room and board, and books) of at-risk youth if they graduated high school on time, were drug free and had no record of illegal activities.  The cost per participant could be exorbitant. One graduate’s benefits included a full-ride through medical school.  Another, who pursued a career as as a preacher included bible studies in Israel.  Sadly, new leadership at the foundation determined the per student cost was an inefficient use of foundation resources (an endowment of $2.7 billion at the time of which the total cost for Project Choice covering 1987-96 was $22.4 million).

As a vice-president at the foundation, I often attended the annual banquet for “Project Choice” alumni.  Many shared how the program had not only changed their life trajectories, but those of others in their family or community.  I specifically remember one successful female “Kauffman Kid” (as they were affectionately known) telling the audience she emulated “Project Choice,” providing financial support for a nephew’s college education.  It reminded me of the final scene in Schindler’s List  in which descendants of the 1,000 plus Jews Oskar Schindler saved from extermination placed a stone on his grave site. How many times will the investment in one child result in an exponential impact on others for generation after generation?

Which brings me to the actual Supreme Court decision which might as well have been called Quantity v. Quality. In Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard University, a 6-3 Supreme Court majority decided a private university could not use race as a (not the) factor in admissions.  The justices sided with “quantity” even though that issue had already been adjudicated in Regents of University of California v. Bakke.  “Quotas” were ruled unconstitutional but “affirmative action” for some applicants was not.  In other words, as long as preferential treatment was not a numbers game (i.e., established quantity), subjective consideration of the impact that admission of a minority student (i.e. quality), until last Friday, was still allowed. [Note, this is the same majority that minutes earlier said it was okay for a private business to discriminate against protected populations, in this case the LGBTQ community.  Maybe the decision issued in response to 303 Creative’s refusal to design wedding websites for same-sex couples should henceforth be known as “Project Choice for Homophobes.”]

Each year, when Ewing Kauffman, would introduce “Project Choice” to the newly enrolled freshmen at Kansas City’s inner-city Westport High School (from which he graduated), he told them, “When others thought you did not have a chance, we want to give you a choice.”  American universities had a chance to make a multi-generational difference in the lives of at-risk youth and their descendants.  There was no mandate.  Universities were free to decide if and how much they wanted to take race into account when it came to admissions. Unfortunately, six members of the Supreme Court looked at the numbers, not the potential impact, and took away that choice.

POSTSCRIPT

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans supported Affirmative Action program for racial minorities including 51 percent of white Americans.  A similar June 2023 poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, now shows 33 percent support by all Americans and only 29 percent by whites.  I cannot prove causation but I believe some of this shift in sentiment has been the concurrent re-emergence of white nationalism including public pronouncements of racist memes such as “you will not replace us” as well as MAGA-worlds tacit approval by failing to push back against the rise of white extremism.  One more example of the power of people’s exposure to fearmongering, regardless whether the specific threat is real or merely perceived.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Affirmative Entrepreneurship

Friday, June 30, 2023, will be remembered by those most affected as the day the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) turned its back on those less-advantaged Americans for whom admission to one of the nation’s premier colleges and universities could provide the resources and mentoring by which they have a chance to fully develop their innate interests and talent.  But it is about more than education.  When a Harvard or North Carolina used race as a (not the) factor when considering a potential student’s application they were practicing what could be called “affirmative entrepreneurship.”

The curriculum in every American institute of higher learning with a major or minor in entrepreneurship includes a discussion of risk and reward.  It goes something like this.  You can do what everyone else is doing and make a decent profit.  But if you can see something no one else sees, even though the risks to pursue it are high, the rewards can be even greater.  Affirmative action in education was the willingness to see the less than apparent (through SAT scores or being president of the French club) potential of an applicant and produce something that was more unique and of higher value than what was readily available in the marketplace.  In other words, the justices who made up the 6-3 majority in Friday’s decision sent a second, more covert message.  American universities need to be more like risk-averse, large corporations, rather than entrepreneurial ventures.  Stick with the proven commodity, not identify and develop the market disruptor.  Be more like American Motors, TWA and Sears (remember them?) instead of Apple.

If you really want to know how affirmative action can work, one of the best examples is not in education, but in sports.  It was called “the Royals Baseball Academy.”  When Ewing Kauffman acquired the rights to a Major League Baseball (MLB) team in Kansas City, he chose not to repeat the dismal tradition of new franchises.  For new MLB entrants, initial rosters consisted of cast-offs and has-beens waived by the more established teams.  Mr. K (as he was affectionately known to his business associates and citizens of his hometown)  decided to take a different approach.  In 1969, the Royals held tryout camps in 41 states, the only attendance criteria being athletic ability regardless of sport.  Of the 7,682 attendees, 42 were chosen to attend the baseball academy at which they were mentored by the best in the business such as Ted Williams.  Of those 42, eight had never played on a high school or college baseball team.  Three of the 42 ended up playing for the Royals, including Hall of Fame inductee Frank White.  Mr. K knew there were potentially great baseball players out there.  You just had to look for them and offer them a path to reach their potential.

Perhaps those who oppose affirmative action would be less antagonistic if they considered how they have benefitted from the practice.  You do not have to be a minority, as my own experience demonstrates.  Based on my undergraduate GPA at the University of Virginia, I should never had been considered much less accepted into the Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University.  However, I had the good fortune to have John Ellwood as one of my professors.  John earned his doctorate from Hopkins and wrote a recommendation in support of my application.  He told the admissions office, although I was not much of a traditional student or test-taker, he thought I would thrive in the seminar-dominated environment for which the political science department was known.  I know I was given an opportunity I probably did not deserve based on objective criteria such as test scores or GPA.  I also know, an equally qualified (or in my case under-qualified) minority candidate would never have had a John Ellwood as a mentor.

I am not alone.  Every successful individual, if perfectly honest, can identify one or more instances where they received some immeasurable, subjective advantage in life.  Often due to nothing more than being in the right place at the right time.  And though they might not want to admit it, that hand up was a form of affirmative action, something that gave them an advantage over equally or more qualified competitors.

One last point.  Economically, affirmative action is not in the best self-interest of great universities.  Endowments, which are becoming an increasing portion of a school’s financial resources, come largely from successful alumni.  When a university admits a student from a family of less means or whose lineage does not consist of multi-generational success, the school is less assured that graduate will have the means to make a major donation in a future campaign.  Yet, successful minority graduates continually show their appreciation for the life-changing effect of a college experience offered them, often at a giving rate higher than non-minority alumni.  As an example, Morgan State University alumnus, Calvin Tyler, who worked as a UPS driver to pay for his education, parleyed his degree in business administration to become a senior vice-president at the delivery company.  In 2021 he and his wife Tina added $5 million to an endowed scholarship fund, bringing the total to $20 million.

Any major university in America, before Friday, could have taken that same risk and reaped the same rewards.  Today they are less likely do so.  And future Calvin Tylers, the universities they might have attended and America are more disadvantaged as a result of SCOTUS’ repudiation of “affirmative entrepreneurship.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP