The Expanding Absurdity Postulate and the Pandering Paradox

By Doug Magill

The deeper the experience of an absence of meaning – in other words, of absurdity – the more energetically meaning is sought. Vaclav Havel

Newspapers hate to print corrections. Unfortunately, once something is printed and distributed, correction becomes the only recourse when the story is proved to be demonstrably wrong or false.

The digital world, however, creates opportunities to never be wrong. All one has to do is “update” a story, and previous errors disappear as if they never were. That makes editors smile, and ideologues feel omnipotent.

Consider the recent imbroglio concerning the visit to the White House of an uninvited guest – Omar Gonzalez. While the media did not go to the quantum ethnicity distortion effect as in the Trayvon Martin case and call him a “white Hispanic”, there seems to have been some changing the “side of history” revisionism in reporting on the matter.

Original reports showed our non-accidental tourist had not only entered the White House but overpowered a female Secret Service agent before being tackled by another, presumably male, off-duty agent. Within hours, both the Washington Post and The New York Times had changed their online stories to omit the word “female” when describing the agent that had been physically dismissed from the incident.

Curious. Yet important to the question of how best to protect the President.

Upon further investigation one finds that the Secret service has lowered its standards for female agents versus male agents. Ah, affirmative action. What’s a physical standard when concerns about providing opportunities for females are more important?

Except when the safety of the President and his family is at stake.

One begins to wonder if there is any limit to which political correctness will not stretch reality regardless of consequences. If the President or his family had been hurt by Mr. Gonzalez, would anyone in the media begin to shine a light on the deterioration of the security provided them by lowering standards for the Secret Service? And advocate for meaningful standards?

At some point the Expanding Absurdity Postulate begins to grow more important to the story. One would hope the original physical fitness standards for Secret Service Agents were sufficiently difficult to keep out dilettantes and those unable to render the best security possible for our leaders. One might surmise that such standards generally precluded females. Perhaps not all, but certainly the vast majority.

It is not known at this time whether the movement of the Secret Service from the Treasury Department to Homeland Security has anything to do with diminishing standards and the recent problems with the agency – but one has to wonder.

Someone in authority at some point decided that having female agents was more important than providing the best protection available in the world to the most important leader in the world. One might consider that absurd. But, confound that absurdity with another: Let’s not report on that because it conflicts with the politically correct theme of opportunities for women and the mythical supposition that there really aren’t any differences between men and women except those that we construct in society.

Mr. Gonzalez didn’t particularly care about political correctness and tossed our no-doubt sincere Secret Service agent aside like yesterday’s newspaper and wandered further into the White House. In this case there was a substantial difference between male and female agents, and the one that tackled him probably didn’t care: he just happened to be fit enough and determined enough to stop Gonzalez.

But this is where we have come to in regards to the silliness of affirmative action. It creates a situation that clearly shows that it was not the best solution to the real issue – security for the President – but let’s not talk about that. Let’s cover it up! And so on. Soon, there will be discussions of roadblocks further down Pennsylvania Avenue to prevent such things from happening and laser-loaded drones and heat-seeking darts and whatever else can be dreamt up concerning White House security, without ever asking about the real issue: the decline in standards and professionalism at the Secret Service.

At some point, the Expanding Absurdity Postulate leads us to the question: what are standards for anyway if they interfere with some larger politically correct goal? I mean, if they are different for men and women, why?

Recently our moonbeam-obsessed governor of California signed a law that allows one to change his/her/? birth certificate. So, if you decide you feel female you can change your birth certificate to reflect that. Or vice versa, or both, or soon to be whatever (I assume that all of the Vital Records departments throughout the tarnished Golden State are undergoing system changes to make gender a multiple choice with sub-categories entry). There is no objective reality (DNA notwithstanding).

So now we are entering the world of the Pandering Paradox. Once you begin pandering to a group (one of the officially recognized groups of moral sympathy as defined by liberal groupthink) you can never pander enough to the point that the Expanding Absurdity Postulate becomes unable to be computed as the pandering defies logic, understanding, practicality or usability. And ultimately loses meaning.

The problem is that most people know that this is absurd and that pandering ultimately leads to so much distortion in the social fabric that it degrades society as a whole. And hurts those who we genuinely need to protect. Such as children.

There is a middle school in Lincoln, Nebraska that is now advising teachers not to use the term “boy” or “girl” because that conflicts with the desire to promote gender “inclusiveness”. There are two massive problems with this: One, boys and girls know who they are and will undoubtedly be confused by the absurdity of the adults supposedly helping them learn, and two, for those few that are genuinely gender-confused we have now created enormous future psychological problems that puberty generally otherwise resolves.

The problem is, who speaks for society, and who speaks for the now-developing young boys and girls that need certainty and clarity in their lives to help them through those difficult times in middle school? This will all lead to an explosion in psychotherapists for the emotional and psychological damage being done to our young people.

And if you don’t think that this will hurt those tiny few who will supposedly be helped by this you don’t have a clue how things work in middle school or high school these days. Anyone who has children in high school can tell you that after years of unending propaganda about the “normalcy” of homosexuality will find that the word “gay” is not a compliment.

Modern liberalism at work. To hell with the majority, let’s find a miniscule minority whose interests we can champion to benefit our sense of moral entitlement to the detriment of everyone else.

And ultimately, the Pandering Paradox means that the idiocy of the attempt to help a few at the expense of everyone else means everyone gets hurt.

Okay, let’s take the Expanding Absurdity Postulate down another level. Suppose a healthy former high school football player that isn’t too keen on exercise decides he wants to be a Secret Service agent. Knowing that from an official recognition standpoint male and female are relatively elastic terms these days, he changes his birth certificate to say he’s female. Then he applies and takes the fitness test, failing the male standards but barely passing the female ones. Denied entry by an old-school examiner who thought he saw a male, our applicant sues the agency and under the Expanding Absurdity Postulate has to be considered female because what he feels he is is undeterminable objectively and so he says he is a she but doesn’t want to go through the hassle of gender reassignment so he should be accepted under the lower standards for females. And figures he should use the female bathrooms to prove his supposed sexual-identity transformation.

Somewhere in all of this we find that the original mission – security of our leaders – isn’t relevant any more. And rather that climbing up out of the abyss of absurdity, they’ll probably cancel all physical fitness standards to avoid the litigation, “labelling” and hectoring by liberal congresspeople.

Someday, as the American Experiment collapses into that abyss, history will render a verdict on affirmative action and political correctness by those who kept to their original mission.

Until then, it’s just absurd.

Doug Magill is a communications consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at


By J.F. McKenna

Back in the day when “the next economy” was a matter for grand speculation, management sage Peter Drucker diligently preached the gospel of knowing and understanding “the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.” Simple advice. Timeless in fact.

Fast forward to that next economy, our razzle-dazzle age of social media and viral marketing. We all agree that the breadth and speed of marketing has increased exponentially. But the basics remain rock-solid, starting with knowing today’s customer as well as he was known in Drucker’s 1970s.

Virtually everyone in business, from Cleveland to Chandigarh, embraces customer-focused, customer-sensitive marketing as the first principle in business. Everyone, that is, except Urban Outfitters, which just tried to construct a marketing tactic on the infamous tragedy at Kent State University.

Yes—linking “marketing” and “tragedy at Kent State” in that preceding clause not only boggles the mind of this veteran business writer but also hikes the blood pressure of this KSU graduate. What the hell was Urban Outfitters thinking? Even positing that rhetorical question credits the company with more sense than is deserved.

As The Washington Post—among scores of other press outlets—reported this week, “‘Get it or regret it!’ read the description for a ‘vintage,’ one-of-a-kind Kent State sweatshirt that Urban Outfitters briefly offered for just $129. However, the fact that there was just one available for purchase is far from the most regrettable part of the item: the shirt was decorated with a blood spatter-like pattern, reminiscent of the 1970 ‘Kent State Massacre’ that left four people dead. The sweatshirt, reported by Buzzfeed after a screenshot made the rounds on Twitter, is now ‘sold out,’ according to the site.”

As most northeast Ohioans can tell even the densest marketer on the planet, the Kent State tragedy remains one of the deepest scars of state history—a reminder of a nation torn apart by the Vietnam War and a classic study in the mishandling of public protest. As of today, any form of black humor remains tasteless when it comes to what happened in Kent on May 4, 1970.

But the marketing geniuses of Urban Outfitters were not to be denied a second dance on the graves of the four dead of Kent State, as the Post further related: “As outrage spread, Urban Outfitters issued an apology for the product on Monday morning, claiming that the product ‘was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection.’ The company added that the bright red stains and holes, which certainly seemed to suggest blood, were simply ‘discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray.’ The statement added: ‘We deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively.’”

How else could it be perceived?

Dean Kahler was paralyzed by Ohio National Guard bullets that spring day 44 years ago. He said the sweatshirt “shows the continued lowbrow of Wall Street, and Urban Outfitters continues to perpetuate a low standard of ethics.” He spoke for a lot of Ohioans and many more Americans. And he spoke to any business that considers today’s marketing a high-tech parlor game played for cheap laughs.

The university itself said “this item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today. We invite the leaders of this company as well as anyone who invested in this item to tour our May 4 Visitors Center, which opened two years ago, to gain perspective on what happened 44 years ago and apply its meaning to the future. 

Urban Outfitters should consider accepting that invitation as its next, and its best, marketing move.


J.F. McKenna, a graduate of KSU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, has worked as a reporter, business editor and communication specialist. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. A native of Cleveland, he and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at .

And Now This Back-to-School Advisory: Oxford Dictionaries Online Is Hot Mess

By J.F. McKenna

My friend Sam, notorious for sneaking timeless truths under the cover of satirical humor, was quite serious when he railed against the lack of international copyright as the open door to cultural perdition, declaring that it ushered in a mismatch between “an ounce of wholesome literature to a hundred tons of noxious.” Sure, noted Sam Clemens—aka Mark Twain—the nation’s readers “do get cheap books through the absence of International Copyright; and any who will consider the manner thoughtfully will arrive at the conclusion that these cheap books are the costliest purchase that ever a nation made.”

Makes one wonder what Huck Finn’s father, the celebrated Lincoln of our literature, would say about Oxford Dictionaries Online—a digital jargon junction passing itself off as the panjandrum governing linguistic probity. Twain was once quoted as saying that he studied his era’s traditional dictionary often, but could never discover the plot. In the case of ODO, the beloved writer might declare that both plot and characters have been buried beyond rescue.

What has triggered my musing about ODO and Mr. Twain is the appearance of a newspaper article that describes the online depository “as a hot mess of definitions that capture the zeitgeist of today in a baller way.” As the article reports, ODO’s list, “updated four times a year, consists of words that are chosen based on the Oxford Corpus, a database that finds words in various places on the Internet. If a word is used enough and in a variety of places, it’s eligible to appear in the online dictionary.”

Considering the methodology as described, I find myself drawing another Twain quote from the mind’s well: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—‘tis the difference between the lightning-bug and lightning.” Promoting such a verb as mansplain for testosterone-driven condescension, or giving credence to amazeballs as a substitute for writing amazingly good, ODO offers neither lightning nor the lightning-bug; frankly, it just traffics in etymological and cultural blackouts, high-speed delivery of this gobbledygook notwithstanding.

Not too surprisingly, Oxford Dictionaries Online has more than enough eager defenders, underscoring writer George Orwell’s 1946 observation that if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.  One fan of tells the neighboring Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “As computer technology permeates into the mainstream of the culture, it’s going to reflect in the language. We’re sort of hitting a new generation that has values and experiences, and one of the experiences is the Internet, and these words started as slang and have been accepted as mainstream discourse.”

“One of the things that’s changed is in the old days the print process took a really long time for a print dictionary,” an ODO executive adds. “There was also the factor of a print dictionary having limited space. The online dictionary is infinite, so we can publish things faster … and slang spreads faster because of the global nature of the Internet.”

Likewise, miscommunication moves apace. Just ask the general contractor of The Tower of Babel.

Enough said. It’s only fair to let old friend Sam have the last word…or words, from his imaginary 1905 tale “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes”:

Oh, that worthless, worthless book, that timid book, that shifty book, that uncertain book, that time-serving book, that exasperating book, that unspeakable book, the Unlimited Dictionary! that book with but one object in life: to get in more and shadings of the words than its competitors. With the result that nearly every time it gets done shading a good old useful word it means everything general and nothing in particular.


CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor and marketing-communications consultant. He also attends all meetings of the Mark Twain Society of Penn Hills, a small literary gathering near Pittsburgh. Reach him at or through his LinkedIn profile: Jos. F. McKenna.

We Were Boys

Mike-Hawaii copy

(Carl Wilson’s son with Mike)

by Doug Magill

His name was Frank Langstrom III, but to me he was always, and will forever be Mike.  We became friends when we were both five, after my family moved from Bethesda, Maryland to Birmingham, Michigan.  He and I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was safe, all the adults were our parents, and every house was a home.

We were boys, so we liked to make lots of noise, blow things up, shoot things in random directions, build stuff, explore, get dirty, and play.    It is amazing that we survived with all of our limbs and digits, because we liked to play with fireworks that were real explosives, and tried to make them even more powerful.  There were a number of mailboxes and trash cans in our neighborhood that ended up being unsuitable for their original purposes.

Later we took wood and pipes and made homemade cannons that were surprisingly accurate.  Many plastic models were constructed with built-in explosives so we could film them exploding.  From match heads and ballpoint pen rockets to some relatively large and powerful missiles we graduated to some pretty amazing vehicles.  More than a few small creatures had the rides of their short and unconventional lives due to our work.  And, there were a few automobiles that had unexplained dents in them from minor guidance inaccuracies.

We made model trains, small-engine aircraft, and built and listened to ham radios.  We constructed a sound-powered telephone system between our houses.  We learned to shoot BB guns to pellet rifles to guns.  More than once Mike’s father angrily complained about some projectile whizzing by him or his house.  We built the infamous Goodbye-Grackle machine that was a marvel of ad-hoc engineering and complex ostentatiousness.

As we got older we got telescopes to explore the heavens and cameras to film our lives.  We bought motorcycles together and expanded our travels.  But we also loved being home, playing bridge or poker or other games.  He loved to be vague about the rules until he won, or sometimes just cheated.  With a grin.

He and I shared so many interests, but we were different in so many ways, as well.  Mike liked to talk me into doing something while he would hang back, and laughing as I – usually – got into trouble.  I would scheme and he would build; I would talk and he would think; I would lead and he would watch.  I never met a smarter person, or a quicker wit.  His sense of humor never quit, and he could use the saltiest of language but never leave you feeling insulted.  Every time I think of something quirky I see his little smirk, and smile.

But, underneath his dark humor and clever asides, he cared and supported and helped – but never in any way that drew attention to himself.  When I broke my jaw he kept an eye on me at school so I wouldn’t get injured further.  When I broke my leg he was the one that carried my books, got his father to drive me to school, and kept me company wherever I went so I wouldn’t break my other leg.  As our careers took us further apart he was the most supportive when I had to deal with adversity.  And, at unexpected times he would send me or email me something that would make me laugh, and look at life differently.

He got involved with the charities of the Wilson brothers (of Beach Boys fame) and donated significant time and money working judiciously in the background.  Upon hearing of his passing the Carl Wilson Foundation honored him.

And, he made it part of his life to help his family far beyond what could be expected.  Even though sudden cancer claimed him, his final battle was valiant, and he never will finish that article on why kamikaze pilots bothered to wear helmets.

In all, in so many ways he was the best a friend could be.  And through it all, from childhood to the end, we were boys.   Requiescat in Pace, Mike

Doug Magill is a consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent who can be reached at

Similia Similibus Curantur

By J.F. McKenna

Sitting in The Clock diner on East 4th Street, I watched Richard M. Nixon depart the White House for good August 9, 1974. Neck-deep in political scandal and facing Clio’s eternal scorn, the 37th President of the United States announced his decision to resign the office the night before, skipping over any admissions of guilt while shamelessly borrowing from Teddy Roosevelt’s celebrated “man in the arena” address.

Every patron contributing to that lunchtime crowd was investing full attention in the TV near the bar, realizing that as a citizen he was certainly a part of the Watergate story itself. The moment was the most interesting sidebar story coming from my reporting internship at the weekly Universe Bulletin. Russ Faist and Jim Kramer, old hands at the craft I was learning, offered comments as Nixon left the world stage by helicopter; I simply absorbed this slice in time.

The common opinion generated from that scene, as I recall now, was that the President had chosen the best course for himself and for a constitutional republic whose structure was wobbling. This callow apprentice journalist (and, I should add, a Kent State history minor) finally asserted to his elders that such an event could never happen again in America.

Those memories came to call this week as I read and watched 2014 pundits consider the new White House crisis, its historical ties and the long-term implications.

Duquesne University’s Ken Gormley, in a Sunday op-ed, summarized the potentially nation-busting shenanigans of the Nixon Administration, from the third-rate burglary of Democratic headquarters in 1972 to subsequent obstructions of justice that provoked bipartisan ire across the Beltway and generated three articles of impeachment from the House of Representatives. “The final straw for Nixon,” the constitutional law scholar wrote, “was the landmark ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Nixon. In that unanimous 8-0 decision, handed down during the final hot weeks of July, the Supreme Court held that no person, not even the President, was above the law.”

What was obviously clear to any bright seventh-grader back then was the source of non-stop social and political discord in America. Up to his final departure, POTUS 37 was saying clever things such as People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.

But Nixon, himself a lawyer, was not a stupid man. As Gormley explained in his article, “Richard Nixon’s agonizing decision to resign, while he continued to deny any wrongdoing in the Watergate affair, was likely driven by the calculation that it might be the only way to keep himself from going to federal prison.” President Ford pardoned Nixon shortly thereafter, and excused the rest of the nation from an even longer national nightmare.

Which brings me to another current op-ed, this one written by Andrew P. Napolitano, a sage judicial analyst and a former Superior Court judge in New Jersey.  Addressing every President’s constitutional duty to faithfully execute the nation’s laws, Judge Napolitano wrote of POTUS 44:

The word “faithfully” appears in the oath of office that is administered to every president. The reason for its use is to assure Americans that their wishes for government behavior, as manifested in written law, would be carried out even if the president personally disagrees with the laws he swore to enforce.

President Barack Obama has taken the concept of discretion and so distorted it — and has taken the obligation of faithful enforcement and so rejected it — that his job as chief law enforcer has become one of incompetent madness or chief lawbreaker.

Time after time, in areas as disparate as civil liberties, immigration, foreign affairs and health care, the president has demonstrated a propensity for rejecting his oath and doing damage to our fabric of liberty that cannot easily be undone by a successor. He has permitted:

  • unconstitutional and unbridled spying on all Americans all the time
  • illegal aliens to remain here and continue to break the law, even instructing them on how to get away with it
  • his Internal Revenue Service to enforce the law more heavily against his political opponents than against his friends and to destroy government computer records in order to hide its misdeeds

Obama has done these things with a cool indifference and he has threatened to continue to do so until the pressure builds on his political opponents to see things his way. The Framers could not have intended a president so devoid of fidelity to the rule of law that it is nearly impossible to distinguish between incompetence and lawlessness. But the Framers did give us a remedy — removal from office. It is the remaining constitutional means to save the freedoms the Constitution was intended to guarantee.

Almost immediately after reading the judge’s opinion, I heard the voice of Mark Twain—who, by the way, would have enjoyed the company at The Clock in downtown Cleveland. “History,” Twain observed, “doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

In 2014 ours is an unhappy rhyme, and one whose next lines will have to be written by the President himself.

The 24-hour news cycle and the venal political pros relish the drama of battle between the factions, but they have yet to weigh the constitutional consequences. Just as the nation was challenged back in the Watergate Era, so the nation is challenged today. The only difference is that ours is a world after 9-11, a largely angry place that watches and waits for democracy’s finest model to stumble and fall. To borrow a phrase from historian Joseph J. Ellis, “the awkward truth is that we have been chasing our own tails in an apparently endless cycle of partisan pleading.”

“Obama has lost much of the country’s support and the world’s trust—but he does have a phone and a pen,” a friend recently remarked to me. “He should call the Speaker and ink his resignation. It’s time.” A harsh analysis and remedy, certainly. And one that can be executed only by a leader generous enough to put immediate concern for constitutional integrity above personal and political aims.

To be sure, the nation finds itself at a Watergate-like juncture—only with greater possible, and likely destructive, consequences. But the age-old Similia Similibus Curantur—Likes Cure Like—remains a valid option of homeopathic remedy. As our history has shown, the carefully dosed constitutional disruption can save the patient in the long run.


J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a veteran business journalist and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. The Cleveland native and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at .

The Extraordinary Fellow From Down the Road

By J.F. McKenna

Being born on or near the Fourth of July is widely considered a good omen for any American. Making his July 4 exit from life’s stage was particularly fitting for Richard Mellon Scaife—Pittsburgh publisher, celebrated philanthropist and conservative philosopher. Scaife, who died one day after his 82nd birthday, was the extraordinary fellow from down the road, the citizen who meant it when he spoke of “limited government, individual rights and a strong defense.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which Scaife acquired in 1969 and from which he charted the course of Trib Total Media, needed a special section of its Sunday edition to squeeze in the many tributes to the Ligonier, Pa., native. Ironically, the most-telling picture of the man came not from others but from one of his recent columns:

Even today, when so many kinds of media offer endless information, newspapers are unique and invaluable: They provide the most substantive, trustworthy reporting from the most experienced, reliable writers and editors;they consistently break more of the important stories, investigate more of the critical issues, and expose more of the secrets that we need to know. Newspapers, more than any other medium, keep a watchful eye on government at all levels, on business and technology, medicine and science, and other aspects of our lives.

Certainly sentiments one would expect from a spiritual descendant of our Founding Fathers. Not sentiments one would particularly expect from an heir to the redoubtable Mellon family fortune.

Like the nation itself, Scaife represents the exceptional case.

A shy person whose family name remains linked to Alcoa, banking and Gulf Oil, a Yale flunk-out who earned a degree in British history, a libertarian newspaperman who suffered no illusions that ours is a dangerous world, a generous citizen who saw value in encouraging the arts for this generation and future generations—that was Richard Scaife.

“By the time the 1950s ended, Mr. Scaife had also viewed and opposed a liberal shift taking place in the country, which included a stronger government role apparent in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations,” wrote the rival Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He supported the ultra-conservative Mr. Goldwater’s failed presidential bid and the successful presidential campaigns afterward of Richard Nixon, to whom he gave $1 million in 1972. More relevant to his local roots, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 1990s to spur creation of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, which became a conservative voice on Western Pennsylvania issues long dominated by liberal or centrist Democrats.”

Likewise, Scaife was an original money-man behind the conservative Heritage Foundation. The foundation president’s Jim DeMint and founder Edwin Feulner described Scaife as a “man of vision as well as conviction,” adding:

“Dick Scaife was instrumental in creating a new breed of public policy institute in Washington that many deemed ‘‍risky,’‍ even ‘‍ill conceived.’ Dick’s steadfast support since 1973 allowed Heritage to become not only a permanent institution in Washington, but a permanent player in the public debate.”

Yet, as a savvy newsman, Scaife recognized the value of genuine content over mere labels. In its obituary of Scaife, the Post-Gazette noted that the philanthropist “was reported in 2010 to have become a six-figure contributor to the William J. Clinton Foundation, the ex-president’s charity to work on global improvements.”

Not long ago, Scaife announced publicly that he had untreatable cancer. Weeks later, the man with two deadlines was writing about the world’s future—from Pittsburgh to Prague and from Cleveland to Chengdu. One of his legacies was this warning to all.

“If we’ve learned anything in the Obama years, and with every president in my lifetime, it is that trying to appease our enemies does not succeed,” Scaife wrote. “Appeasement killed 60 million people in World War II;millions more have died or suffered terribly because of it in the decades since.

“I hope the next president we elect understands the threats…as resolutely as Ronald Reagan did. And I hope the next president realizes that appeasement—particularly of a nation like Russia or a leader like Putin—is one of the gravest threats of all.”

Rest in peace, extraordinary fellow from down the road.


J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a veteran business journalist and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. The Cleveland native and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at .


Last Competition

by Doug Magill

Edisto Beach lies south of Charleston, and has a reputation for being undeveloped and out-of-the-way.  The locals call the pace there, Edis-slow.  It was a perfect place for my two brothers, my sister and I to gather in late September to connect, spend time together and celebrate our now aging family.

Late in our week together my older brother Bob and I played golf on the Tom Jackson-designed Plantation Course on the island, and my younger brother Tom joined us – though he couldn’t play.  It was especially poignant, as Tom has been an avid – some might say obsessive – golfer since childhood.  He carried a 6 handicap for a while, and had a smooth and powerful swing.  He and I would compete intensely against each other every fall when we got together, just because we were brothers.

The Plantation Course is a lush and winding delight, with water hazards – it seemed – on every hole.  The Par 3 3rd at is a gently sloping 142-yard hole, with traps guarding the approach.  Tom asked if he could play this one hole with us, borrowing my rental clubs.  I outdrove him with a nice, arcing 8-iron that happily found the trap in front of the green.  Tom’s swing was awkward, creaky and bouncy, but his ball made it out about 120 yards.

Tom was thin, pale, and had an old man’s gait, due to the rod in his leg from the cancer that had caused part of his femur to be taken.  His hip hurt, he had trouble breathing due to the cancer in his chest and he had scars from chest surgery.  He also recently had surgery on his jaw due to calcification from the radiation treatments for his neck cancer.  His swing was a shadow of what it once was, but he was still in the fairway.

My second shot didn’t clear the trap, and Tom’s looked like one of his normal chip shots onto the green.  His short game was always better than mine, as he had learned long ago that chipping and putting saved his game –  and he worked at it.  When we competed I usually won, as I found that negotiating strokes beat technical skill any day, and Tom would be overconfident and lose angrily.  There’s nothing else like competition between brothers.  But, in the last few years that changed, as he learned to negotiate to how I played and began winning more often.

Three years prior Tom was diagnosed simultaneously with neck and kidney cancer.  His kidney was removed immediately, and he began radiation and chemotherapy for his neck cancer.  It was horrific, and left him weakened, scarred, and without taste or salivary glands.  He endured, with grace and humility.  And, he never complained, or felt sorry for himself.  He later developed jaw problems that required multiple surgeries which left him unable to open his mouth very well.

I finally found the green and two-putted.  My little brother had two putts as well.  His grin was pure Tom, and for that moment there was joy, and we were brothers just playing golf.  And as he laughed he said, “You know, Doug, if this thing gets me you’ll be the youngest, but I’ll always be the favorite.”  And so it is.

Tom died a week later due to complications from the kidney cancer that had invaded his lungs.  Now, the final scorecard reads, Tom 4, Doug 5, in our last competition.  So, for the rest of my life there will be no rematch, but every game of golf I will play from now on I will see Tom’s grin at besting me once more.  Wherever he plays now, may his swing be supple and true, the fairways long, the rough high, the sand fine and the greens fast.  Requiescat in Pace, Tommy.

Tom- Edisto

Tom Magill left a wife and three children and joyful memories. Doug Magill is a communications consultant, writer, and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at

Of Duty and the Well of Fortitude on the Fourth of July

By Doug Magill

On a moonless Pacific night during World War II, the pilot of a Hellcat fighter returning from a routine patrol desperately searched for the comfort of an aircraft carrier he would never find. My father, directing fighter operations on the ship that was the home of the lost plane, listened in horror to the static-roughened panic in the young man’s voice. His radio direction-finding equipment had failed and fleet orders prevented the carrier crew from illuminating the ship due to nearby Japanese submarines.

Disappearing into the blackness of the sea, terrified and alone, the pilot was not considered a coward by his shipmates. My father first told me this story when I was young, and I asked him how a brave military pilot could panic. With a soft and faraway look in his eyes, he replied, “It’s just that his well of fortitude ran dry. We all never knew how deep it really was for any of us.”

Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War I combat pilot once said, “There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” He understood that there is a well of fortitude within that can be drawn upon time and again, under even the most terrifying circumstances.  And yet, military men know that there are occasions when even that is not enough, when fear can overcome even the hardiest soul, when there is no more bravery, no more strength, no more belief. Still they are drawn beyond what can be humanly expected by their sense of duty – to themselves, to their comrades, to their country.

During the war my father was aboard a jeep carrier, the USS Cowpens, which was attacked by kamikaze aircraft, and barely survived the monstrous waves of Halsey’s typhoon (Typhoon Cobra), a ferocious cyclone in the Pacific Ocean that struck the Pacific Fleet with one-hundred twenty mph winds and sank three ships.


USS Cowpens (CVL-25) during Typhoon Cobra
18 December 1944

The Cowpens was also sent as a decoy into the Sea of Japan without escorts.  When I asked Dad if he was scared, he would only say that he was able to draw from his well of fortitude during those times, and hang on. At times he was so frightened that he couldn’t move, but when he saw his shipmates doing their duty he felt he had to do his job and not let them down. He never boasted or showed pride, only relief that he had performed his duty and not failed his shipmates.

Landing on the beaches of Okinawa with the 1st Marine Division, my uncle Tom suffered from migraine headaches which prevented him from seeing. All he could do was hang onto the web belt of the man in front of him. His comrades would tell him where to aim so that he could shoot. Though he didn’t share many details of that bloody island, he told me of times when he was so afraid he couldn’t move, or shoot, and that the chaos of war gave countless opportunities for heroism and panic, often to the same person in the space of moments. He described the jungle and the insects, the heat, and the constant fear. He told me, “I was afraid all the time, and felt suffocated because there was nowhere to hide. It was a relief sometimes to dig leeches out of my legs with my combat knife. The pain was real, and distracted me from the fear.” He drew deeply from his well of fortitude, time and again shaking and panicked. Wanting to do his duty for the men around him he would take that next, halting step which kept him going for one more minute, one more agonizing hour, one more terrifying day.

Proud of their service, both my father and my uncle never described themselves as heroic or deserving of special consideration. They knew that brave men could panic, and cowards could become unexpected heroes. Incredible feats of courage were often not recognized and medals were awarded for trivial things, or for momentary political purposes.

To most veterans, medals and awards are not indicative of the value of one’s service, and do not imply a hierarchy of bravery. They do not judge the value of one’s duty, as they know that even clerks in Washington are important, as are the bases and supply ships manned by tired and overworked sailors and airmen – who will never be recognized. They, too, perform their duty and may have had to draw upon their wells of fortitude due to accidents, weather, or other events that required bravery unrelated to combat.

A childhood friend of mine declined a Bronze Star during his service in Vietnam because his sense of honor caused him to feel that others deserved it more. Dan felt it would have been false pride to accept a decoration that he didn’t feel he deserved, though he knew he had performed his duty and saw combat that tested him.

Most veterans understand that medals aren’t scorecards for manliness. Performing their duty was all that mattered. The rest was randomness and fate.  A man performed his duty when required, regardless of acknowledgement or reward, and without complaint. The concept of duty is something that these warriors passed on to their children.  I have many childhood memories of completing required tasks, hoping in vain for recognition from my father. Acting responsibly was not worthy of note.

Most military men would react with disdain to a leader who attempted to take credit for the actions of men at arms when all he did was to make a politically-calculated decision to send them in harm’s way.  Particularly after requiring the overall commander of the operation to sign a document that would place blame on him should the operation fail.

A leader takes responsibility first, and credit last.

Military men know that courage is what is shown, not claimed.  And, that duty is what takes them beyond courage.

To shiver for days on end while being underfed and improperly clothed, waiting as your comrades slink away, knowing that you will soon be asked again to fight a professional enemy vastly better equipped and trained than you are.

To walk in ramrod-straight pride up a hill in sweltering July heat knowing that those you are attacking are entrenched and will soon devastate your comrades in a hail of grapeshot and gunfire.

To endure endless days and nights of rain and snow while your ship becomes coated with ice and knowing that a relentless foe is marshalling submarines and aircraft to send the ships you are bound to protect to searing moments of hell followed by the iciness of the depths.

To be starving and shivering in the relentless snow, surrounded by arrogant troops believing they will crush your dwindling forces as you run out of ammunition, and finding those last moments of pride when your leader responded to a request for your surrender with a single word, “Nuts!”

To be asked that one last measure of energy and strength to defend a wind-blasted hilltop in cold so deep your weapons have frozen and your arms are so heavy it is a burden to place your bayonet on your rifle to repulse one more charge of a fanatical foe.

To find the heat of the jungle dissipate and the sweat on your body chill as you crawl into a tunnel pursuing a mind-numbed enemy who plants traps to maim you and hides behind children and executes women as an example and who will never stand and fight directly.

To step carefully through the blasted remains of buildings knowing that a relentless foe wishes to take your legs or arms without ever having to fight you as you search through the stench and the garbage in deadening heat for men for whom cowardice is a moral code.

And yes, to feel the vibrations of the helicopter engine in your back as you prepare to leap into the night of a foreign country where you don’t know the strength of your enemy and the deviousness of his waiting traps.

Because your country needs you to.

Because you have been ordered to.

Because your comrades depend on you.

Because in all, it needs to be done.

These are the men who have found the meaning of courage, and duty.  Not those who issue commands and boast in comfort and security behind the protection that they and their comrades provide every day.

These are the men we remember today.

As the young Hellcat pilot found in his last moments before entering the silent embrace of the sea, duty doesn’t always involve the risks of combat. His service and death were nonetheless noble and honorable. Military men will forever salute him because of that. Today, it would be fitting for those who profess to lead us, and for those who evaluate them, to humbly remember all of those who have died nobly, regardless of circumstances. They owe the opportunity to do such things in a democracy to those who performed their duty for all of us, even if their well of fortitude ran dry in darkness and solitude, far from home.


Doug Magill is a communications consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at

Things Not Otherwise Noted: June Edition

By Doug Magill

The response of anybody interested in liberty is that we all have a say and the ability to have an argument is exactly what liberty is, even though it may never be resolved. In any authoritarian society the possessor of power dictates, and if you try and step outside he will come after you.

Salman Rushdie


Lost in all of the crocodile wailing about the Hobby Lobby decision was a case of greater import to our nation in Harris vs. Quinn.  Pamela Harris was an Illinois homemaker caring for her developmentally disabled son.  Because the state Medicaid program valued home care as a way to save money, she received partial funding through that state’s program.  As is typical in the public sector union racket, Illinois gave the SEIU the ability to organize home care workers.  Their interest was simply that home care workers didn’t need much attention from the union, but their coerced dues could be used to help them support more Democrat candidates.  The iron oligarchy of the union-Democrat alliance.

But Pam Harris didn’t feel she needed a union to bargain for her as she only cared about taking care of her son, and who was she going to bargain with anyway?  Still, the SEIU persisted but they happened to push the wrong woman a little too hard on this issue.  She sued all the way to the Supreme Court and won.  Not only does she not have to be coerced into paying dues to a union that would do little for her, neither will any of the other home care workers in Illinois, most of whom are individuals taking care of their own disabled children.

This scenario played out on a state level in Michigan recently as well.  Democrat Governor Jennifer Granholm gave the SEIU a gift in 2005 by enabling the union to organize that state’s home care workers.  Most of them were also individuals caring for disabled family members, but by reclassifying them as public sector workers because they received Medicaid funds then they could be forced to pay 2.75% of their Medicaid reimbursements to a union that would do nothing to support them.  It was simply a dues grab by the SEIU.

Correcting the problem the Michigan legislature passed a law in 2012 that changed the classification of home care workers declaring that they were not, in fact, public sector workers.  In a very short period of time, the number of members of the healthcare union fell by 80%.  Unfortunately, the union managed to coerce over $34 million from those dedicated souls in the interim.

Wisconsin’s Act 10, which was passed in 2010,  has had a similar affect as that state has drops of over 80% in the membership of many public sector unions.   Unions rely on the coercive power of the state to enable them to extort dues which they use for political purposes.  Most union members do not approve of this, and in the next few years we will see additional challenges to forced unionization.  The results will bring much-needed balance not only to our labor markets, but to our politics as well.


What we are now seeing in challenges to coerced unionization is being writ large with respect to corporations.  Unions, taxes and regulations are destroying the ability of many companies to compete domestically and internationally.  Having had enough of California’s corrosive atmosphere towards enterprise, Toyota is moving its headquarters to Texas.  Not only will that affect the economy of the state, it changes the image of California as being the best place to live and develop products.  Despite its politically correct investment and support of green-darling Tesla, Toyota grew tired being used as a convenient scapegoat for local political issues and losing money on mandated vehicles that are neither truly efficient nor profitable.

Toyota Leaves California for Texas


Pratt & Whitney is a venerable name in aviation.  Thousands of U.S. aircraft were powered by their engines during World War II, and they have continued to burnish that already-bright reputation.  Unfortunately, they too have decided that California is hostile to business and have announced that one of their subdivisions will be heading to more encouraging locales:

Pratt & Whitney Subsidiary to Leave California


Once upon a time we were promised changes to health insurance that included the ability to keep our current insurance, pay less, keep our doctors and decrease the national debt.  All of which have now been revealed as lies.  In a dialectic pretzel that would make Pravda proud, the New York Times claims that we have to “break people away from the choice habit.”  Who’d have known?  The ability to make individual decisions is a destructive habit.

Getting Rid of that Pesky Choice Habit


When even the liberal coastal media begins to question the competency of the President and his staff as disaster after disaster rolls across the Potomac, the country begins to wonder just who is occupying the highest office in the land?  It has been well known that Obama doesn’t have much of a work ethic, but unfortunately he has hired a number of people not only of little experience but little education as well.  And certainly little knowledge of how the country works.  There are no staff members with entrepreneurial experience, not military backgrounds, no agricultural work and probably no non-Ivy league perspectives.  Except for the revolving door for Wall Street executives (ever practical they had no problem being captured by Democrats), this may be the most insular and immature group of people ever assembled to run a country in recorded history.  Jonathan Alter, author of The Center Holds: Obama and his Enemies, recalls a conversation with an accomplished CEO where he complained “when we go to the White House, we talk to people we wouldn’t hire.”  Indeed.

The Frat House on Pennsylvania Avenue


Thomas Piketty has become the new darling of the pseudo-intellectual left.  His book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century comes to conclusions already meeting the perspective of the redistributionist vultures.  Presenting data that seems to meet their theme that capital drives inequality and rapacious taxation levels are required to correct these grievous wrongs, he is getting glowing reviews from the liberal press not seen since Hillary Clinton’s first book (or second? or was it an article?  one loses track).   The problem is, like most studies that purport to support liberal fantasies, he couldn’t quite make the data match his conclusions so he either makes it up or modifies it.  He has a future with the global warming crowd.

Financial Times Exposes Piketty’s Data Manipulations


It should never be underestimated how creative Americans can be.  Once we begin to lift the burden and uncertainty of a bloated and misguided government, our economy should boom.  In the meantime, enjoy viewing what one enterprising but lazy dog owner has invented.

Building a Better Dog Exercise Machine


Doug Magill is a communications consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at


The Lerner Phenomenon

By J.F. McKenna

Just in time for Independence Day 2014, Uncle Sam blazes a trail in the forest of bureaucratic apologia, a new and improved version of “The dog ate my homework, teacher.” Like most federal concoctions, this one is wildly egregious as well as potentially expansive, asking the citizen to swallow whole the equivalent of “The dog ate my homework, and then a bear ate my dog.”

And there’s no better site to perfect such a stress test on facts than the Internal Revenue Service, whose unofficial motto is borrowed from that master stretcher-teller Mark Twain, who once declared, “Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.”

Twain, of course, was making a satirical point when he first uttered that bon mot. The IRS & Co.—in particular, former tax-lady Lois Lerner—is in dead earnest about official prevarication.

Allow me to quickly recap several earlier acts of the comic opera I’m From the Government and I’m Here to Help. The IRS has been hip-deep in controversy over disputes about its scrutiny of political groups, especially tax-exempt organizations not in full concord with the current administration.

As the journalistically redoubtable Wall Street Journal recently summarized, “The former IRS Director of Exempt Organizations was at the center of the IRS targeting of conservative groups and still won’t testify before Congress.” OK, to be fair, let’s hear it for that constitutionally enshrined right against self-incrimination. Score one for civil liberties.

At the same time, though, consider Lerner’s overall rights-for-me-but-not-for-thee record, again as laid out by the WSJ in a recent lead editorial: As an IRS director, Lerner “shipped a database of 12,000 nonprofit tax returns to the FBI, the investigating agency for [the Department of] Justice’s Criminal Division. The IRS, in other words, was inviting Justice to engage in a fishing expedition, and inviting people not even not even licensed to fish in that pond.”

Obviously, emails between Uncle Sam’s agencies can fill in many a bureaucratic blank about this situation. Yet, as the Journal wrote, a year had passed before the IRS could locate Madame Lerner’s high-tech missives, which by then had attracted the scrutiny of a House Oversight Committee.

“The Oversight Committee had to subpoena Justice to obtain them, and it only knew to do that after it was tipped to the correspondence by discoveries from the judicial watchdog group Judicial Watch,” the newspaper reported. “Justice continues to drag its feet in offering up witnesses and documents. And now we have two years of emails that have simply vanished into the government ether.”

That’s right—confidential digital documents gone, followed by the announcement that other IRS offcials’ emails had vanished, followed by The White House’s saying that it had “found zero emails” related to Lerner, followed by the latest announcement that the former IRS official’s hard drive had been recycled. (Oh yeah, just for good measure, add in the latest discovery that the IRS cancelled its email-server contract after the reported crash three years ago.)

To borrow one more line from the WSJ, “Never underestimate government incompetence, but how convenient.” The only other dramatic touch this tale lacks is a voiceover from The Twilight Zone host Rod Serling—“For your consideration….”

Speaking of consideration, where does the tax-paying citizen factor into The Lerner Phenomenon, other than picking up the tab for the damages? And the damages will prove to be profound, especially in terms of the open exercise of individual rights.

As noted at the top, this Beltway farce unfolds even as we get ready to celebrate the nation’s independence. It might be worthwhile to re-examine two of the indictments the authors of our Declaration of Independence leveled against England’s king in 1776:

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation.

Generations later, good old Mr. Twain improved on the Founding Fathers’ lyrics but kept the general tone of public dissatisfaction—and certainly anticipated our current dilemma as framed by The Lerner Phenomenon: “The mania for giving the Government power to meddle with the private affairs of cities or citizens is likely to cause endless trouble.”

And that, most definitely, is the unvarnished truth.


J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a veteran business journalist and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. The Cleveland native and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 93 other followers