To: Los Angeles Dodgers Baseball Club

October 22, 2016

attn: Farhan Zaidi, General Manager

Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles, California















Now I have to chose between a team with the most racist logos in professional sports or a team whose ownership is bankrolling Donald Trump.

Its a tough choice.  I’ll go with Cleveland.

After 50 Years on the Final Frontier … sadly still relevant

September 3, 2016

September 8 marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek. Needless to say, I am a huge fan. My first exposure to the show was watching it on Sunday after church on WGN channel 9 (and sometimes on WFLD channel 32) while the family ate brunch at home. It was a show that my dad and I watched … though given my father’s inability to learn some simple messages from the show, I never understood why he liked it so much. Maybe he realized that his attitudes were different, and that he hoped he could be more idealistic.

Trek‘s most enduring trait will be that it showed a world of hope … a future where differences didn’t matter, and that no matter how bad the late 60’s were … things were going to get better for humanity.  In some ways things have gotten better, and in other ways we still deal with some of the same crap.

Trek was science fiction, and had its share of monsters and B-movie plots, but when it was at its best, like all good science fiction, it was commenting on society in ways that could not be done so overtly on film and television without censorship or boycotts.

I celebrate by sharing a list of episodes … not necessarily my favorite, or the best episodes, but those that stood up and said something relevant … ideas that were timely and in some cases ahead of its time for 1960s television … and in many cases very much important today.


1. Don’t buy into propaganda about “the enemy” (“Balance of Terror”)

In any war, even a cold one, it is important for the government to get the support of the people, and the easiest way to do that is to dehumanize the enemy, making it easier to hate the enemy and support a war. In World War II, it was a staple to hate “Krauts” and “Japs” … in the Cold War, anti-Communist propaganda was everywhere. Even in modern times, anti-Muslim speech is hard to avoid, and even more recently, a governor of our most northeastern state has made it routine to dehumanize all of his opponents.

More educated people avoid this. In “Balance of Terror”, we first meet the secretive Romulans, and when intercepting a transmission from a ship that has attacked peaceful Federation science outposts near the border between the Romulans and the Federation (the “good guys”), we learn they are related to Mr. Spock’s Vulcan race. A crew member takes it out on Spock, questioning his loyalty because pointed ears, and Kirk needs to slap him down. Many scenes are set aboard the escaping Romulan ship, and we learn that they are an honorable intelligent, feeling people, even if they are a bit xenophobic, and have fears based on assumptions about humans that are all wrong. This is not a stereotype or caricature of an enemy, but rather a way of showing that the other people on the other side of the gun can be just as noble, fearful, and competent as the good guys … if only we could sit and talk things out, things might end better.


2. One of humanity’s greatest traits is mercy (“Arena”)

One of the great scenes in film history occurs in Schindler’s List, when Oskar Schindler very subtlety tries to teach (and influence) the Nazi commandant that power is not found in the ability to take life, but in the ability to grant life through mercy.

Arena” is not a phenomenal episode, and mostly relies on great music while Kirk engages in a fight to the death against the captain of an alien vessel (a giant lizard man). Using his ingenuity, Kirk manages to defeat his opponent, and this is where the episode elevates itself.  To save his ship he is ordered by some technologically superior aliens to kill the lizard-man. Kirk instead refuses. The aliens are impressed that mercy, an advanced character trait, was being demonstrated by primitive humans, and allows both ships and crews to leave in peace.

In an era where there are people who think that power comes from a gun, and that it is some kind of religious rite to own and keep and display guns … this episode reminds us that this is not power. The ability to show mercy is power.


3. Blind obedience is a really bad thing (“The Return of the Archons”)

Star Trek gets accused in some circles of being blindly left wing, but in an era where Chinese communists were killing and imprisoning intellectuals and Pol Pot and his radicals were coming to power … not to mention the oppression seen in Cuba and Eastern Europe, it would be difficult to say communism and state socialism were wholly good.

In “Return of the Archons”, the good crew investigates the disappearance of a ship (the Archon) which was lost near a planet that is ruled by an unseen leader named Landru who keeps perfect order in what is shown to be a dead, static society free of creativity and normal emotion. To prevent the citizenry from going crazy, once a day there is a Red Hour where raping and pillaging is state sanctioned (kind of like “The Purge” 45 years before the film). Kirk and company need to solve the mystery of the missing ship while avoiding being absorbed into this cult like society (we should mention that this Landru turns out to be a computer … so a bonus lesson on the dangers of technology too!).

Whether you are talking about blind allegiance to a religion, a philosophy, or a political party, or an individual … this episode shows the danger of not thinking when thinking is so paramount.


4. You are more likely to support war when you don’t understand its horrors (“A Taste of Armageddon”)

In World War II and Korea, television wasn’t around, and people got their news from carefully edited newsreels at the local theater. However, as Vietnam started picking up, the front line horrors of the war were being broadcast nightly … and the US government saw that as this was happening, their key pro-war demographic was diminishing.

“A Taste of Armageddon” is one of my favorites because it doesn’t hammer the media slant over your head. The ship and crew come across a planet that is in the midst of a centuries long war with a neighboring planet, yet the planet is pristine and beautiful, showing no signs of destruction. They learn that the two sides long ago realized that real war destroys culture and decimates environments, so they use computers to launch virtual attacks on each other, allowing the computers to decide who has died in each attack, and then asking those people to report to sanitized execution centers where they willfully die for the state. Kirk initially can’t get involved (that whole Prime Directive thing), but when his ship and crew are declared “casualties”, he must destroy the computers that run the war, forcing the two planets to contemplate real destruction, or to finally talk peace.

On the one hand, it is a ludicrous premise, but the point is very far from ludicrous – it can’t be a mistake that places like Europe and Japan throughout the end of the 20th century were consistently less willing to support war. They lived that, they didn’t so much see war as actually felt it, and having experienced real horror, were unwilling to live with it again. When a nation like the United States, blessed with peaceful remoteness from the rest of the world, doesn’t experience that horror, there is a higher likelihood that they will support war without inconvenience of fear of loss of their culture (even more so when the kid down the street isn’t the one dying). Is it coincidence that recent wars have seen correspondents “embedded” with military units for realism … but only under the watchful eye of military minders the whole time? If you want to wage war … the first rule is to reassure your population that everything will be OK, even if the front line looks like a scene from your worst imagining of Hell.  If your population gets too close to the action, their appetite for destruction might suddenly disappear.


5. Differences are not evil (“The Devil in the Dark”)

It has been a dark mark on the soul of our species that we have a tendency to be xenophobic. Perhaps it is evolutionary?  People who look or who act different are generally not welcome, and even if they do move in, they are looked at suspiciously. Their motives must be of the worst kind.


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The Devil in the Dark” takes place underground in a mining colony. Several miners have been killed by an unseen phantom lurking in the endless corridors drilled into the deep rock. Kirk and Co. arrive to solve the crimes, and soon find that the killer is an amorphous silicon creature who can excrete acid to move through rock, and kill humans. It seems cut and dry, the beast must die (at one point, Spock even emotionally pleads with the Captain to kill the thing to save his own life) … until we find out that this creature is in fact highly intelligent, and is also a mother … her eggs have been getting destroyed by miners who didn’t know what they were. Eventually a truce is worked out … the creature and her children dig through the rock, and the miners keep the minerals.

This was the 25th episode of the series, and while not the first one, it is one of the first emotionally gripping episodes. The Vulcan “mind meld” was invented for this episode so Spock could give voice to the tremendous pain of this creature who has been living with the death of her children, and the need to kill to protect them.  The writers did a good job of making this look exactly like a standard B-film “kill the monster” show up until nearly the very end,when they do an excellent job of giving this monster a very human face. Here, the monster is as different as it can get … even its biochemistry is different from ours … yet in the end, all of the prejudice and assumptions were wrong. Perhaps only Star Trek could make a rocky shag carpet-like creature seem sympathetic.


6. Sometimes, even good people with good intentions can be wrong (“The City on the Edge of Forever”)

One of the better films I’ve seen in the last five years was Lincoln with Daniel Day-Lewis. I really like it because it portrays Lincoln not as some Greek deity as the seated statue in Washington portrays him, but rather it shows him as a human being who was indeed capable of wonderful, glorious things, but equally capable of deceit among a host of other weaknesses. Bad things happen to good people is something that was largely missing in a lot of 50s and 60s drama, and only really came out in the 70s (I think “Bad things happen to good people” is on Stephen King’s family crest … its a hallmark of his writing).

“The City on the Edge of Forever”, widely considered one of if not THE best episode of the series, sees Dr. McCoy, in a fit of drug induced madness, pass through a time portal and change history, such that the Enterprise never exists. Kirk and Spock must pursue him to put time back in place. They arrive in New York in the middle of the Great Depression, and move into a homeless shelter run by one Edith Keeler. They discover quickly that Keeler is a great idealist, who accurately predicts that the time will one day come when poverty, disease, and war will be abolished, and that mankind will move on to the stars. Even Spock appears moved by her prescience, and Kirk falls in love with her. Soon, Spock learns the truth. McCoy will save her from being killed in an auto accident, and she will go on to gather a great many followers, striving for pacifism and a focus on helping humanity. She gathers enough power to influence Franklin Roosevelt to stay out of World War II, but in delaying US entry to the war, the war drags on, and Germany completes construction of nuclear weapons before the US, and conquers the world. In the end, Kirk finds McCoy, and stops the doctor from saving his beloved. For those who think Shatner always overacts, the ending to this episode proves he can get it right.

Life indeed can suck … we’ve all been there. These circumstances are not judgment on being a poor person … as the Gospel of Matthew says: (He) sends rains on the just and the unjust alike.  This episode was a landmark for television drama … there was no simple solution, no deus ex machina happy ending.  It also reminds us that we need to be careful in judgement … sometimes good intentions can have poor outcomes, and not every poor outcome is the result of evil thinking.


7. Getting involved in civil conflicts, like Vietnam, always manage to fuck things up more (“A Private Little War”)

Very few TV shows (or films for that matter) would risk touching Vietnam in the 1960s, unless it was to show a purely pro-war stance (See: Green Berets, The). Star Trek was rare in that it not so subtlety talked about Vietnam, but really showed what a shitshow it was becoming … and this was smack dab in the middle of 1968!

“A Private Little War” opens with the Kirk and Co. visiting a lovely primitive planet with lovely stone age people whom Kirk had visited, covertly, years earlier, and who promptly shoot Spock with a flintlock, something centuries ahead of their technology. After saving Spock, Kirk and McCoy go back to get to the heart of the mystery. After some misdirection, Kirk learns from one friendly tribe that their rivals got the guns about a year ago. Kirk and his new friends recon the enemy village and find forges and other technology too advanced for them. Then they see Klingons, and it becomes clear: the planet has a lot of resources, and the Klingons are arming their allies to get control of the planet.

Kirk doesn’t want to interfere (Prime Directive), and contemplates his options. Later, the tribe’s medicine woman gets a hold of Kirk’s phaser, and decides to work a deal with the enemy tribe, because a phaser is a hell of a lot more powerful than flintlocks. They instead try and rape her when she can’t get the weapon to work, and she is killed. With the medicine woman killed, the friendly chieftain, in a fit of anger, demands more weapons to seek revenge. Kirk provides flintlocks that will restore a balance of power, but realizes that all he has done has begun an arms race. They leave, realizing that they have done what they had to, but have likely sentenced paradise to destruction.

Even for all of Star Trek‘s advanced ideas, most episodes ended with a resolution that was favorable to the “good guys”, sometimes with bubble gum music cues and laughter on the bridge. This one wasn’t one of those episodes (even if it isn’t one of the better episodes … it has its faults). It was very much a damned if you do or damned if you don’t scenario, and at no time was there an easy deus ex machina way out. In the end, Kirk saved the village from getting wiped out … but at a huge cost. At one point, in discussing what is happening, Spock mentions the similarity to the “brush wars” that occurred in Asia during the 20th century, so the comparison of this episode, and the destructive nature of superpowers arming far more technologically primitive societies (like Vietnam) was not at all subtle. It was a gutsy episode to make in a time when a large swath of the country was not in the mood to hear anything that was anti-war.


8. Racism is really bad (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”)

In “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, the Enterprise picks up a pair of aliens, one a law enforcement officer, and the other an escaped terrorist. While they claim to come from the same planet, one of them is white on his left side, and black on the other, while the other is white on his right side, and black on the other. Since their planet is so far away, and has no extradition treaty with the Federation, Kirk needs to wait for instructions from Earth before proceeding. Until then, the pair are guests. The police officer, Bele (played by Frank “the Riddler” Gorshin) is a calm man, speaks intellectually, and describes the horrible acts of wanton destruction and murder that his quarry has committed. Meanwhile, the more excitable, passionate Lokai finds a sympathetic ear, from of all people, Spock, as he explains that while he is guilty of these crimes, his people have been systematically persecuted, and murdered in acts of genocide by Bele’s people, and that he committed them only to stop senseless killing. Kirk and Co. have a hard enough time believing that they are so different, the only difference being which side of their bodies is white, and which is black. Both Bele and Lokai agree that the differences are stark!

Sick of waiting, Bele gets control of the Enterprise, and pilots it to their home planet. Lokai escapes to the planet, with Bele in pursuit, only to find the planet has been completely destroyed by war, and their people all dead. Unwilling to listen to anything but their own hate, the pair are abandoned on the cinder of what is left of their home.

This is a great episode except for the fact that it is in no way dramatically subtle about its subject of racism, and it pulls out the hammer, and hammers the audience over the head.  If you watch that clip above, you can hear in Bele’s discussion the same tired arguments used by Confederate apologists to this day.  In this way, the episode has not aged so well, but for its time, when Jim Crow was still the order of the day in the South, it was a ballsy episode to put on the air, with the simple message that racism (or virtually any prejudice) will eventually be destructive.


9. Inequality is a bad thing (“The Cloud Minders”)

The discussion over the poor and the rich, the haves and have nots (or as Mr. Romney once not-so-eloquently put it, perhaps, 53% vs 47%) … inequality has been around for a long time, and continues to be a problem today. Star Trek showed a future where humanity had grown past that … but not every planet in Trek‘s future was so nice and kind.

In “The Cloud Minders”, Kirk and Co. arrive at a planet dominated by a floating city, Stratos. The planet has a rare mineral that is needed to manufacture a drug to stop an agricultural plague on another planet. Stratos is a wonder of the galaxy … an intellectual center of peace and tranquility. It is thus shocking to Kirk and Spock when they need to be rescued by security forces when they arrive on the planet surface and are attacked by miners. Once safely on Stratos, they witness a miner, guilty of defacing art, leap from the city to his death after being captured. We learn that the miners (called Troglytes … yeah, not to subtle) are dullards who are only good for mining, and have been in a state of rebellion of late against the dwellers of the cloud city. While waiting for the mineral shipment to be prepared, a woman kidnaps Kirk … she is a Troglyte leader, and is convinced that Kirk’s presence is to support the city dwellers against the rebellion. Kirk is freed and the woman is tortured for information. Spock connects the lines: Troglytes who come to the city seem to get control of their mind back. The mines are producing a mind altering gas. Kirk orders gas masks down to protect the workers, but they capture Kirk again, and force him to dig. Kirk eventually overpower the woman, seals them into the cave, and orders the ship to transport the city leader to the mine. The city leader and the rebellion leader soon realize that this invisible gas is real, and that the city elites now have to deal with a large segment of the population that will have fully functioning minds and a grudge against their former masters.

This isn’t the best episode of the series, but its message is clear: over time, as so-called under class citizens are permitted opportunities to improve and grow through laws, unions,  etc … don’t be shocked if they also harbor some degree of resentment. Perhaps the best way around this is “don’t oppress in the first place”.


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Hopefully, one day something like Star Trek will itself be declared prescient of a new era when we were able to take care of each other first and not give in to fear and hatred so readily.

Even when the Cub is doing good … they go bad …

August 15, 2016

The Cub is having a good season.  Some think they will go to the World Series .. . others wonder how it will go spectacularly wrong before it is over.  Working toward 108 years without a World Series win … who knows?

That said, the Cub, known for throwing away cakes, having men’s bathrooms that doubles as a kiddie porn set, having a mascot that … less said about the mascot, the better …


You may not believe it, but this was one of the less offending picture of Clark.


… then, when things couldn’t get better for the Cub (they are leading the Majors with a 73-43 record, and have shown no sign of slowing down after a recent ten game winning streak), they decide to go out and hire a new closing pitcher, Aroldis Chapman.

Aroldis has had some problems.  First off, he is Cuban, and after an aborted attempt to defect which cost him a place on Cuba’s national team, he did so successfully in 2008.  Pretty gutsy … except in 2012, he was accused of being an agent for the Cuban government after helping to turn in a fellow defector to Cuban authorities.  These charges were never proven in court.  In 2015, just as he was about to be traded to the Dodgers, it became known that his girlfriend was accusing him of choking her and firing gunshots at her.  He was never convicted, but because MLB has gotten tough on domestic violence, he was suspended 30 games, and this trade was rescinded.  Eventually, Chapman was traded to the New York A-rods Yankees where finished 2015 and started 2016.

A few weeks ago, the Cub obtained Chapman to help their pennant run.  The Cub promised the press that they had talked to Chapman, and that Chapman had assured the Cub that he would be a good citizen.  In his first news conference, Chapman denied this … meaning that the team who hired a wife beater was lying, or the wife beater was lying.  Kind of take you pick.

That takes us to last night, when Wrigley Field got classy.  On Sunday evening, as Chapman was leaving the field, the person in charge of music at the family-Friendly Confines decided that Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” was a good song to play.  Remember, this is the team that actually likes Chapman!

The Wrigley DJ was dismissed today.  It is an amazing contrast.  Back after the 1997 season, the White Sox signed former All-Star Wil Cordero after he had been released by the Red Sox in the wake of domestic assault accusations.  The difference is that Sox fans never really embraced Cordero, and more than a few White Sox fans would yell “Batterer Up!” whenever he batted.

I can hope we can all agree …. North Side or South Side … that men who batter women don’t deserve to be respected as sports stars.  Maybe the Wrigley DJ was simply doing what the fans wanted, or maybe he was taking a principled stand that the Cub ownership hasn’t been willing to take.

So it goes without saying, but stay classy, Wrigley!

Strange Days on the South Side (and for one former North Sider)

July 25, 2016


I’ll start with sports.  The Cub may have started to tighten the stitching on their precious Central Division with the addition of a bonafide closer.  Still plenty of time for something supernatural to happen.

Chris Sale has entered into the fashion world.  For those who didn’t catch it, Chris Sale (and likely other team members) have been displeased with ownership.  This started before the season when under-performig Sox slugger Adam LaRoche retired, giving up over $20 million, because the team would not allow his son to attend every game with him in the club house any more.  This led to Chris Sale (perhaps others) entering into a shouting match with management which many thought doomed the season (something that was quickly forgotten about after the epic April the Sox had).

This time, the Sox were to wear some heavy dark throwback uniforms for Sale’s Saturday start.  By tradition, the starting pitcher usually has final say on the uniforms, but since this was a day where replicas of the 1977 dark blue uniforms were to be given away to fans, the team was to wear the same.  Sale (and apparently others) had complained about the uncomfortable uniforms on a hot, muggy day (it was), and when they did not get satisfaction, Sale began ripping up enough uniforms to force the team to wear more comfortable white uniforms.  Sale was sent home and summarily suspended 5 games.

Strange indeed.  This week also corresponded with the Sox announcing that they were going to blow up the team and start fresh, and that included listening to offers for Sale.  Now, there is concern that Sale can’t be moved because no team will offer fair market value for “Cy Young Award winner presumptive”.  Thus, there is an uneasy uncertainty that has settled over U.S. Cellular.

Going under the radar has been another Sox nugget that takes some explanation:  the Sox left Seattle recently, and refused to pay for clubhouse service.  I’ll explain.

Since time immemorial, teams assign a person to act as the visiting clubhouse manager.  They are responsible for helping the visiting team … hail taxis, get food for the team before or after a game, keep the cooler stocked, make sure the clubhouse is clean, etc, etc.  By long standing tradition, the clubhouse manager gets paid a salary by the home team, but is always paid (clubhouse dues) and tipped by each visiting team … the idea being this guy is taking care of “the enemy”, and if you want to get good service, “the enemy” should pay him.  There is no rule, law, etc that requires this payment.  It is just considered the right, just, and fair thing to do.  The visiting team pays the clubhouse manager directly, and he pays out some of it to his assistants.  The rest covers food and drink for the team.

This year, the Seattle Mariners decided that they would do things differently.  Now, clubhouse dues are paid to the Seattle Mariners, who keep 60% of the dues, and give 40% to the clubhouse manager.  That 60% goes to cover food and drinks for the visiting team, as well as salaries for the assistant clubhouse attendants.  Please note, the home team has never been on the hook for this, so why suddenly are they getting their hooks into this money.

When the Sox stopped into town, they called on the Seattle General Manager, and after their meeting informed Seattle that they were refusing to pay the dues because of concern that the clubhouse manager was getting shafted by the team.

If Seattle can explain how their system is more beneficial to the clubhouse attendants, then I am all ears.  From the looks of it, I think my guys were standing up for the little guy here.  Again, maybe I’m wrong, and maybe this is better for the little guys … but if it isn’t, then I’m glad the Sox players are taking a stand.

Speaking of presumptives and uncertainty, there is politics going on, and it is to be the strangest election in my living memory.  On the one hand, you have Donald Trump.  The mainstream GOP doesn’t like him.  Even … I don’t even know what you call Ted Cruz .. doesn’t like him.  The Tea Party branch of the GOP seemingly won’t vote for him.  By all indications, the GOP is locked in an uncontrolled spin, and with sever doubt as to whether the Tea Party or evangelicals will support Trump, and with it looking more and more the mainstream GOP won’t, there is every indication that Trump is in a can’t win situation.

Leave it to the Democrats to start handing the election back to Trump.

In the stately old political way of things, Hillary Clinton has waited, and after rough starts and failures, felt that this was her year, and low and behold, in a few days, she will become the first woman to be a major party nominee for president.  And yet doubt has crept in.  Part of that doubt was likely caused by some attack politics by the GOP.  Benghazi was likely nothing but conservative hounds trying to attack her integrity.  Maybe they were jumping on the bandwagon before it was fashionable.  Now it appears that the DNC helped to give Hillary a boost when her flag was fading in the onslaught of Berniemania.  On the one hand, she likely still had it in the bag, and at the worst would have gone into the convention needing to make certain concessions to Bernie and his supporters (she still did and does).  On the other, it starts looking like a fix was in.  And now there is real concern about Hillary’s integrity.

To make matters worse for Hillary, there is an army of Bernie supporters who will not vote for her, and are going to make her candidacy very difficult.  It is like one faction of the Democrats is considering putting a bullet in the party just at the same time the GOP is doing the same thing …the difference being that the GOP can’t help itself at this point, ad the Democrats can.  It is the first time when both presidential candidates seem to need to defend themselves from their own party more than each other.

The GOP has set its course.  They have Trump.  Trump has offered little in terms of concrete ideas, even at the convention.  He offers ambiguous ideas, ideas that can’t be carried out, and that appeases the disenfranchised conservatives who hate political correctness, and long for the days when you could go up to a rand om gay person/black person, call them a name, and know the police would take your side.

I’m fairly apolitical.  I don’t embrace what the GOP has done over the last  two decades … not by a long shot.  Yet, President Obama has thrown education up on the rocks, and Hillary has been far, far too close to the same forces which allied with President Obama to do that.  The GOP on the other hand passes laws to block future presidential interference with education, and I have to say that I am grateful for that.

More than I would want to see Hillary Clinton president, I can’t fathom what a Donald Trump presidency would be like.  Off the bat, the uncertainty would likely send Wall Street into a tail spin.  Our allies wouldn’t know what to expect, and our enemies would be happy to dare him to act.  I just don’t see the positive here.

On the other hand, I actually like some of what Bernie Sanders stood for, and I sympathize with his supporters who want to make some changes, and are upset that this doesn’t look like it is going to happen.

If I could talk to Bernie Sanders supporters, I would remind them that barring an apocalypse, either Hillary or Trump will be the next president.  I would ask which of them gives you a bigger chance to work to realize change?  Which will more likely help shape the Supreme Court to see through more liberty and change?

While I sympathize with those protesters who dog her, I cannot help but wonder if they know that they are helping to increase the chance of a Trump presidency, and while Hillary Clinton may not be the best choice for president, she is a much better choice than Trump.

I hope that enough of them will realize this before it is too late.

Freedom of Speech and limits

June 7, 2016

Earlier this year, I was accused of what some folks these days are calling a microaggression(s).  I still have no clue what I was alleged to have done, because a degree of care was taken to safeguard the victims (that is a good thing by the way … if people are actually being wronged by someone with power over them, I’m not big on victims having to put themselves in jeopardy to seek protection).  When my boss and I gave the folks an opportunity to speak up anonymously, there was some pretty vile hatred spewed out, but not a single direct charge of wrong doing.  It led to a lousy year, and I still don’t know who felt vindicated over this.

Over the past few years (and before that) every year around this time there are several stories about colleges who disinvite guests who were invited to speak at their graduations because students in large (or at least vocal) numbers didn’t like them.

I’ve been a supporter of the students on that one.  My argument is that graduation is one of the few times when it is all about the graduates, and if they don’t like who is speaking, they should have a say in that.  It is their ceremony.  In particular, there was a case where Bill Maher was disinvited, and I thought it was fairly cowardly to not comment until he was back in the safety of his studio where he could bash away at students taking away his right to speak.  Bill should know that the First Amendment doesn’t really apply here since it wasn’t the government infringing his right to speak, and that this also wasn’t students turning their backs on a chance to learn, unless they earned a credit for his lecture at graduation, which I think they didn’t.

On the flip side, I’m pretty much against most cases where students would move to block a speaker coming on to campus in other situations:  to address a class, teach a class, give a speech, address a campus organization, etc.  Universities should be where speech for the sake of learning must be guarded preciously, and if it is going to be denied, there had better be under a very short list of situations.

That takes us to two weeks ago here in Chicago, specifically DePaul University.  DePaul is one of the largest Catholic universities in the country, and being Catholic, it will never be accused of being far left in its thinking, but being a Chicago urban school, it is hardly a school embraced by Opus Dei.

Two weeks ago, the College Republicans at DePaul invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus.  I’ve never heard the man speak, but I’ve heard that he is pretty far right, and very much attempts to rile up audiences (the name of his current campus tour is “Dangerous Faggot”, so that all seems to jive with his M.O.)

Given that the City of Chicago had virtually no problem moving in and shutting down a Donald Trump rally hosted by Donald Trump himself, you almost had to predict how this was going to go.  Apparently, in preparation for the talk, as is tradition on college campuses the world over, chalk signs began to appear along the lines of “Blue Lives Matter” and “Trump 2016”.  In my opinion, not that terribly inflammatory, but these were interpreted as microaggressions, and DePaul banned the use of chalk on sidewalks.  The new signs of “Trump 2016” and “Fuck Mexico” were then painted in black paint to make the point that this was not stopping anyone.  “Fuck Mexico”, IMO, crossed the line from “aggressive stance” to “hate speech”.  That was not acceptable on a college campus.

When Yiannopoulos finally arrived, it wasn’t long before protesters broke in and grabbed the microphone.  He then began inciting some of his listeners to stepping outside where a small scale riot broke out.

DePaul’s official position was to apologize to the College Republicans for not being able to hear their speaker, and chastising the protesters.

You can guess where this is headed now.

The protesters, and several members of the faculty are now railing against the administration for not acknowledging the danger they allowed by letting this guy on campus, after they were asked repeatedly not to allow him to speak.


Let’s take a moment and analyse this.

Going back to the beginning, should DePaul’s administration have stopped this?  Under what circumstances should they have stepped in and said “no”?

I think it is universally agreed that “unpopular”, “says bad things”, and “I disagree with them” is not grounds for denying a campus speaker.  Does a speaker have to be “educational” in some way? I would argue that this is shaky ground … we can always learn something from anybody.  Back in 2011, Northwestern University had a class in human sexuality that included a live demonstration of a sex toy. Necessary?  Educational?  Always in the eye of the beholder.

I think one argument for a ban has to do more with the actual purpose of a speaker vs simply what they stand for.  Is the speaker genuinely trying to convey some message (even an unpopular one), or is this person attempting to actually create the potential for a dangerous situation.  SCOTUS long ago set a limit on speech which is “clear and present danger”, which works well for society in general.  Incitement too can lead to restrictions.

It is very possible that this Yiannopoulos guy was not so interested in addressing the troops of Trump 2016 or discussing the cons of a welfare state.  I can’t know this for sure, but having viewed some of his videos and online articles, I get a strong feeling that he tries to get people to act out so that he can then turn around and present proof that his leftist enemies are the hate filled scumbags he professes them to be:  a scientist gathering evidence to support the hypothesis by fixing the outcome of the experiment in his favor.

I would say that if DePaul’s administration vetted this guy (and I think they definitely should have), and it creeped into their minds that this  guy is more about creating conflict than discussing it, then I think DePaul should have nixed this idea.  From a strictly neutral standpoint, it is a bit shocking that the College Republicans would bring this guy in in the first place, because I don’t think he was winning over any fence sitting hearts and minds (if they all really agree with this guy, then I suppose they wanted good theater for the evening, and they got what they wanted).

These days it is far from easy.  I think (and hindsight is 20/20), that colleges need to be more careful about looking into which campus visitors are more about connecting to students with a message or a story or whatever, vs visitors who are more about themselves, and the creation of violence as their own performance art.

The Thinking Man’s Champion

June 4, 2016

When I was in elementary school in a very Caucasian suburb of Chicago, a young lady named Sonia Hassan started going to school (maybe around 3rd or 4th grade, I cannot remember).  She was not Caucasian.  I don’t recall that she was harassed.  I didn’t hang out with her (35 years later I still haven’t figured girls out).  However for some reason or other, it became learned and became a thing that Sonia’s dad was a boxing trainer, and was in fact one of the trainers who worked for The Champ.

I didn’t follow boxing, but everyone knew who was being talked about when you said “The Champ”.  Boxing has had many champions, but only one “Champ”.  Keep in mind that Muhammad Ali was still boxing at the time.  In fact, he had a huge fight that was coming up against Leon Spinks.  Leading up to the fight, I can remember our school receiving form Sonia’s dad an autographed picture, which was displayed prominently for years.  A few weeks after the Spinks fight, the last boxing match the man would ever win, he actually called our school, and our principal had the telephone held up to the intercom so Ali could address the school.  At the time, it could be argued that he was the most famous man (and far less arguably the most famous athlete) on Earth … and he was talking to all of us.


To give you a sense of history, after winning the Gold Medal in Rome at the 1960 Olympics, Ali had his first professional fight in October 1960.  He was 29-0 when, in 1967, he was suspended from fighting because he refused to step forward when his name was called to be inducted into the US Army (I think it was telling that he actually had the guts to appear at the induction site and physically refuse to move when called forward, making it easier to be arrested).  He had to have gone through hell!  How can a man claim to be a conscientious objector and physically beat men into submission as a calling in life?  Today, I think most people understand the seeming dichotomy, but for many people it took someone like Ali to force contemplation.  There is some evidence that it was because of Ali that Martin Luther King, Jr. started risking the support of LBJ by finally speaking out against Vietnam.  Consider that … if this is true, Muhammad Ali inspired Martin Luther King, Jr.  That’s pretty amazing!

It didn’t end there.  between the time he refused induction, and his conviction on that crime, Ali convened a meeting of African-American leaders in Cleveland, specifically bringing together some great athletes.  That meeting took place 49 years ago today (4 June 1967).


At the table from left to right is Bill Russell, who probably did more than anything to bring racial understanding to Boston by leading the Celtics to 11 NBA Championships, Ali (at the large microphone), next to Ali is Jim Brown the running back who was as outspoken about civil rights and racism as any athlete had been to that point.  At the end of the table was a college kid who had just won the College Player of the Year Award, and was still about two years away from a pro career.  His name at the time was Lew Alcindor, but like Ali, he too would convert to Islam and change his name (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).  Willie Davis the Hall-of-Fame defensive end is in that picture as is Carl Stokes who in a few months would be elected mayor of Cleveland, becoming the first African-American tot be elected mayor of a major (population over 100,000) city in the U.S.  Brown had helped put this together and arranged for the press, but it was Ali who was on trial before the public.  There was tremendous animosity directed toward Ali who was not bearing the label of “un-American” and “un-Patriotic” which still gets thrown around by those who insist on conformity to one definition of those words.  Ali faced the press who dished out on him, and he dished back.

Ali eventually got out of prison, and filed suit to be recognized as a conscientious objector, something that culminated in an unanimous (though apparently contentious) ruling by the Supreme Court in his favor (Clay vs. United States).

After returning to the ring in 1970, Ali went 27-5 for the remainder of his career.  These included some of his most famous matches

  • His first lost to Joe Frazier (The Fight of the Century)
  • The rematch (Ali-Frazier II), which Ali won
  • The Rumble in the Jungle (Ali defeats George Foreman)
  • And for the Filippino followers, the immortal Thrilla in Manilla (Ali defeats Frazier for the second time in three tries).

The last man Ali ever fought (in the not so memorable “Drama in the Bahamas”) was Jamaican boxer Trevor Berbick.  Five years after that 1981 fight, Berbick would win the WBC Heavyweight Title … and lose it just 8 months later to a 20 year old who had been fighting professionally for only 20 months … “Iron” Mike Tyson. There is only that one small degree of separation from the end of Ali’s career and the rise of Tyson.  That too is pretty amazing.

Ali’s life has been an amazing thing to look at.  Putting aside his athletic accomplishments, he forced people to contemplate race in America (can you embrace Ali, and still hate Blacks?).  He also created a maelstrom around religion in America when he converted to Islam, and while there were people who turned their back on him, the way he led his life made it easy for people to understand that Muslim was not synonymous with the devil (a lesson that, sadly, seems to be needed again in this day and age).  To some, he was arrogant (he did practically invent modern trash talking, and some of his antics would be considered way over the top by modern standards).

But for a guy whose IQ was once measured at 78, Ali was a thinker, and he did not allow himself to be pushed around.  In addition to the US Army, he was also careful to not let the Nation of Islam use him too much, retaining an independence from the organization, and eventually leaving it altogether.  Ali was a real master at psychological manipulation, but also knew enough to not use it.  Ali was on a news show leading up to the 1976 election, and when asked who he would vote for, he refused to answer, saying he didn’t know enough about the candidates, and that he didn’t want to influence others.  Could you fathom anyone taking that stance today?

In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  It slowed him little, and while many public figures will shield themselves as the disease worsens (I have a great uncle dealing with this now), Ali still made public appearances, and his lighting of the Olympic Cauldron at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta was pretty inspiring.  A lot of people forget that in 2012, the London Olympics afforded him the rare honor of carrying the Olympic flag into the stadium (generally reserved for citizens of the host nation or very high ranking Olympic officials).  He couldn’t do it, but he sat in a special chair near the flag pole, and then briefly touched the flag before it was raised.  I think a lot of us in that condition would have wanted to be out of public view.  Not this guy.

A lot of the reading I did showed that Ali was quietly very charitable.  It seemed to fit with who he was, and it seems that many of his charitable acts were done without cameras around.  In 2006, Cold Spring Harbor, which is a fairly prestigious research lab, began giving out the “Double Helix” prize as part of a fundraising effort to spur money towards biomedical research.  The awards were given for actual scientific work, for corporate work (funding and other support), and for general humanitarian work.  The first recipient that year for humanitarian work was Ali.  Keep in mind that Ali was a devout Muslim, but still was a strong supporter of science and scientific research (something else that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has done).

Before wrapping up, it is important to note that Ali was a human being capable of all the weaknesses of a human.  His second marriage ended because he was having an affair, and in a 1970 article he called for any men and women involved in interracial relations to be killed.  I have no idea how those thoughts changed over time, but it shows that even guys who were kind and charitable in many ways could harbor some problems that got swept under the carpet elsewhere.

Long after becoming the face of those who calmly questioned policy in Vietnam and long after becoming the public face in America of non-violent Muslims, he became the public face of Parkinson’s Disease.  Given the choice of comfort or living by his own standards, he often chose a more difficult path, even if it was the more honest one.

Not exactly an easy life, but one worthy of high respect.

Rushing into things … always the best solution

June 3, 2016

Our school has had one goal recently:  change.  All three of our schools have been award winning schools, and while two of our schools had seen some demographic shift in the past 20 years, this hadn’t been ignored, and all three schools posted metrics that were above the state and national average.  Still, we got a new superintendent, and he started gutting the place and establishing his vision of the schools.

One of the things I learned going through leadership is the contrast between being a custodian and creating a legacy.  Good administrators are custodians.  They realize that they are in their leadership position for only a certain time, and that their department/school/district is not their personal property.  They do want to be people of vision who identify and fix problems.  People who create legacies are people who look at their department/school/district as their personal property to be shaped as they see fit with little or no concern for the future beyond their personal reputation (many retired superintendents do go into academia and “I created change” is a great resumé starter).  We were advised to be the former and not the latter.  Right now we have a superintendent that is the latter.  Change for the sake of change … he speaks of data driven education, but then ignores data when it is convenient.  Before making change, he is careful to consult with none of the people involved to make sure that he is looking at all of the facets of the problem.  It is classic poor leadership.  Since May 1, we have lost 4 math teachers and 3 science teachers, something that marks an unheard of migration from our district in the 20 years I have been there.

I bring this up because I was reading an article about a school that seemed to have set a course not so dissimilar from ours.  Hopefully you can read that article, but to give an idea of what they are doing:

  • Classes are not based on ability.  Each class is differentiated so that students in the same class may be earning honors credit or not based on what they choose to do.
  • The school was set up to specifically create a diverse student population within Denver’s “Choice” system.
  • All students would be taking International Baccalaureate (IB) classes.  For those not familiar, these are a not quite as popular alternative to Advanced Placement (AP) classes that have caught on more in urban settings.
  • Grades would be based more on competency than work.  The teacher sets a base level for a skill based on “mastery” and “competency”.  The student works the skill, an dis evaluated as master, competent, or needs improvement, and the student keeps working until they get the grade they want.  This is a simplified version, and different school approach this grading style slightly differently, but you get the gist of it.
  • There is no time limit on establishing competency.  The teacher may introduce a skill in October, and that student may choose to not get around to working on it until January because they were working on something else first.  In other words:  the student determines when they are assessed, and except for the end of the year, the teacher cannot set a deadline.
  • The school would start later (8:45) and stay much later to give a longer school day, and the year would also run longer.
  • While there would be a principal, the duties of secretary, guidance counselors, and assistant principal would be distributed among the teachers (staff evaluations would also be peer evaluations, meaning teachers would also need to do that).


On paper, this looks progressive and sounds pretty good.  In practical terms, it is problematic.  How problematic:

  • The principal was gone after two months (related to an unnamed discipline issue).
  • An assistant principal and secretary were added to take up some of the work slack from the teachers who (spoiler alert) were likely being overworked)
  • The school changed it start time to an earlier time because of transportation issues.
  • Over half of the staff left after the first year.
  • The population of enrolled Caucasian and African-American students is dropping for next year by about one-third each.

They say Utopia isn’t built in a day.  However, any competent person could have predicted much of this failure long before the school opened.  The school’s central thrust has been diversity and de-tracking students (a nightmare for teachers trying to track progress and communicate with students and parents).  What went wrong.

  1.  (Here’s the biggy): Administrators realize the weaknesses of their plan … they aren’t ignorant.  They also know that if people sit down and analyze those plans they will easily pick them apart, so the trick is to ram the changes through before people can strenuously object by presenting evidence.   Remember saying “I started this radical new school” looks wonderful when applying for an assistant professorship.  The fact that the school damn near collapsed after one year isn’t something you need to mention … and you can always blame the Board/teachers/parents in the interview.
  2. Much of the change wasn’t even planned out.  The article was clear about this:  teachers were not only expected to teach five diverse classes and advise kids and help run the place, but were also planning out how this was supposed to work.  Parents and students don’t want to hear “we are working on this as we go along” because that reeks of a fly-by-night unprofessional organization.  Why is it this way?  See #1:  if the planners had given the proper amount of time to plan everything out (at least two years), it would have been time for people to realize that this wasn’t likely as Utopian as the paper makes it sound like, and might have stopped it from getting off the ground.
  3. No level of communication can properly prepare students and parents (especially parents) for what is happening.  Schooling is one of those things that essentially we all kind of get.  Even when we improve how we teach, the idea of kids sit down and take tests or submit to practical assessments of skill and earn points and we compute a percentage are pretty universally understood.  Now enter a whole new world:  students, a large number f whom are notorious for not being able to plan time well, are in an environment where they never really have to manage their time, because they can refuse assessments as long as they want.  The meaning of grades, even on a “competency” scale start to lose meaning, and when teachers need to talk to parents about progress, more often than not the language becomes far more imprecise because the teacher has no real idea how the kid is doing (and the whole point of competency based grading is that it is supposed to be more precise).  At least part of this school’s problems  seemed to be parents who were sold a bill of goods, and part way in began complaining and demanding the school board enforce changes (which they started to do).
  4. A pint can’t hold a quart.  You simply cannot expect a human being to competently teach five classes where students are working on different levels of work that you need to plan on the fly, and then expect them to simultaneously figure out how to run the school, and then run the school.  This was a doomed proposition from the start and should never have been approved.  This is the one thing that our school district is not doing, because the superintendent is in fact micromanaging most things, and our principal is micromanaging most of the rest.  In an academic setting, you do need to allow teachers a degree of freedom to teach and experiment to find what works for students, and to learn from each other.  But while micromanaging is grossly unhealthy in an academic setting, handing the reigns to a runaway horse to the staff is not a good alternative.

Why is this being permitted?  Simply put, there are not enough people yelling “STOP!”.  In a politically charged environment where you can get 5,000 anti-Trump protesters to show up at the drop of a pin, people do not come out and check on the people lording over their children.  School boards are often trained to listen to their superintendent (In Illinois, newly elected school board members are mandated to attend training before assuming office … this training is run by (wait for it) the Illinois Superintendent’s Association, which teaches Board members to listen to one person and one person only … The only way to snap Boards out of their hypnosis on this is to have a lot of angry parents show up to Board Meetings and say “NO!”  Board members are politicians, and if enough people show up to force their hand, they will back down.

Our society needs more sane people to show up to School Board meetings and then question what is happening and sound the alarm when something bad is happening.