Warmly Ruthless Holiday Greetings

By J.F. McKenna

As the old year winds down, if not outright unravels, here’s to happy holidays and a warmly ruthless coming year.

Sure, I know such end-of-the-year sentiment won’t make me the No.1 draft pick at American Greetings in 2015. But it’s a sincere wish for the hometown and the nation, even as I review the collective disaster generated by cop-citizen controversies, a generally party-pooped economy, a well-earned wimpy image on the international stage, and a generally lousy national self-image that has replaced self-evident truths and the securing of “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

All that noted, you ask, why stock up on ruthlessness for the new year? A fair question deserving a reasonable response.

What initially triggered my novel holiday greeting was the reading of these lines from speechwriter and author Peggy Noonan’s Character Above All: “Ronald Reagan is always described as genial and easygoing, but [economist] Marty Anderson used to call him ‘warmly ruthless.’ He would do in the nicest possible way what had to be done. He was nice as he could be about it, but he knew where he was going, and if you were in the way you were gone. And you might argue his ruthlessness made everything possible.”

The Reagan legacy of peace and prosperity, of course, has migrated from the pages of contemporary history to the Big Book of Legendary Leadership. As even one of his successors—the current President—acknowledged, “When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I had to give the old man his due, even if I never gave him my vote.”

It may be a Paine to admit; but these are most certainly the times that try men’s souls. So a generous dose of so-called Reagan ruthlessness—that vision for the better America, one that must trump the vain and the venal—is my holiday wish for the nation that the 40th President called the “the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.”

Without question, a Reaganesque renewal of American commitment to freedom on the world stage must top the coming year’s agenda. Nothing continues to blur our notion of war’s frontline more clearly than the jihadists’ perversion of the old Disneyland saying “It’s a small world, after all.” Yeah—small, lethal, unmerciful and aimed right at us.

For all those in office now, as well as for all those considering leadership roles in the future, Ronald Reagan’s words from May 1993 remain a guide to future success: “Despite the spread of democracy and capitalism, human nature has not changed. It is still an unpredictable mixture of good and evil. Our enemies may be irrational, even outright insane, driven by nationalism, religion, ethnicity, or ideology. They do not fear the United States for its diplomatic skills or the number of automobiles and software programs it produces. They respect only the firepower of our tanks, planes and helicopter gunships.”

President Reagan likewise recognized that a strong nation requires a strong economy, aka free enterprise. For that chief executive, there was no substitute—especially government. And the former movie star knew first-hand the personal tragedy of a weak economy. In a town of deals and connections, he was a ruthless advocate of the American worker, the man or woman who had to bring home the paycheck.

“To me, there is no greater tragedy than a breadwinner willing to work, with a job skill but unable to find a market for that job skill,” Reagan recalled in a 1976 speech. “Back in those dark Depression days I saw my father on a Christmas Eve open what he thought was a Christmas greeting from his boss. Instead, it was the blue slip telling him he no longer had a job. The memory of him sitting there holding that slip of paper and then saying in a half-whisper, ‘That’s quite a Christmas present,’ it will stay with me as long as I live.”

And undergirding the Reagan Era’s strong nation and robust economy were always the people who cherished the values that guarantee a lasting civilization. As Reagan recalled in his autobiography, “I learned from my father the value of hard work and ambition, and maybe a little something about telling a story. From my mother, I learned the value of prayer, how to have dreams and believe I could make them come true.”

If that be the portrait of the ruthless man, the nation needs many more ruthless folks, this holiday season and beyond.

Former West Park resident J.F. McKenna is a journalist, copywriter and communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh, to which he serves as Cleveland’s unofficial foreign minister. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com  .

 

‘Thanks—But No’: A Beltway Tale

By J.F. McKenna

The day in post-election Washington, mimicking a classic description from British novelist Somerset Maugham, “broke gray and dull.” Every indication was for more of the same until sunset. At least that’s what the longtime popular couple in town sensed, especially as they reviewed their holiday-dinner guest list.

“I just got a call from Harry and his wife, dear,” the lady of the house told the husband, her usually annoying self-confident tone ratcheted down to a simple whine. “They can’t come to Thanksgiving dinner, either. Some lame excuse about having to see the folks back home. What’s going on? That’s the seventeenth cancellation since yesterday. We’ve got a holiday table that’s two-thirds empty right now!”

“No good. No good,” replied her husband, a firm believer that rhetorical repetition more than compensated for actual content in almost all circumstances. “It’s one thing to have the tables run on you in an election. But it’s really bad optics to have NBC showing a Thanksgiving table this big and only half-filed. Appearances have consequences.”
Loyal as well as shrewd, the lady asked, “Does that mean?…”

“Yes,” he cut in. “We’re going to ask some regular people to dinner.”

After conferring with the ideologues and demographic geniuses that had guided the couple through so many other social engagements, the couple opted for a full-court press of invitations handled by phone. Given the impending holiday deadline, they extended the invitations personally. Just to speed acceptance.

“My wife and I would be honored to have you join us for Thanksgiving dinner,” the husband told the suburban widow. “You’ll love our chef’s sweet-potato recipe. Goes great with the entrée. May we count on you?”

“Just can’t come—sorry,” the widow said. “Got a houseful of family coming here. That includes my two boys and a niece. All three can’t find jobs. One actually hasn’t worked for two years. Just for the record, my sweet-potato recipe is the best in the country. Also for the record, my recipe is the entrée.”

Steve, a long-distance truck driver who never takes off his 101st Airborne cap, was as gracious as possible in declining a seat at the table. “It sounds quite nice, very festive,” Steve explained, “but I simply have to pass with thanks. I promised the Lewis family I would take their holiday shift at our Neighborhood Border Watch. They’ve got three little kids, and I’m a bachelor. You know how it is with these neighborhood watches—if they think you’re not keeping an eye on things all the time, those dangerous types just slip right across. What a mess.”

But the tone of enthusiasm shown by Professor Jerry quickly made up for Steve’s rejection. “Wow, dinner at your house! Who’d believe it!” Jerry cried over the phone. “Would it be possible to sit across from John and Mitch? John and I, as I’m sure you know, are fellow Buckeyes. We’ll have all sorts of things to talk about, from industrial policy to education reform.”

“Well…neither Mitch nor John will be in attendance,” quietly admitted the lord of the manor.

“Can’t come?” Jerry asked.

“Weren’t invited,” came the answer.

Jerry’s enthusiasm died. All that was left was the sound of the dial tone.
Jerry’s sign-off story was matched by Owen’s. The young retail manager, a former high school football all-star, was eager to tackle an old-fashioned Thanksgiving feast, saying that he “looked forward to a grand dinner, with a second helping of everything…big as the first.”

“Well actually, Owen,” said the hostess with the leastest, “we have decided to follow the recommendations of the Holiday Nutrition Task Force that I helped to establish last year. Belly-busting meals, even on Thanksgiving, are a tradition the nation can do without. I just know you’ll be thanking me when you wake up the next day and look at that bathroom scale!”

Hours later, the final invitation of the day was issued to Francesca, a pious, soft-spoken Midwesterner who had embraced her adopted nation 20 years earlier.
“I am honored to break bread with you on this most-important American holiday, a day when we give thanks to our creator for all the blessings he has bestowed on us,” she told the Beltway twosome. May I offer my services in repeating the very proclamation that George Washington offered to the country in 1789? I can repeat it from memory.” And she did, right then and there:

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
When Francesca finished, the longtime popular couple in town politely thanked her for the fine recitation, but added that “we’ve already staffed out a dinner message that is more contemporary, more inclusive in keeping with the times.”

That’s when the longtime popular couple in town heard that familiar and annoying dial tone.

J.F. McKenna, a former resident of Cleveland’s West Park, 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. The Cleveland native and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

Cuyahoga County in the Balance

by Doug Magill

When scrutiny is lacking, tyranny, corruption and man’s baser qualities have a better chance of entering into the public business of any government. Jacob K. Javits

All of us who live and work in Cuyahoga County are delighted at the new and exciting things that are happening. From the development of the Shoreway district, the Flats and the lakefront to the Opportunity Corridor we are seeing important investments and significant progress for the Cuyahoga County of the 21st Century.

But what about our political framework? We have just emerged from a decades-long history of corruption and mismanagement, and while more than 60 people have been convicted in the scandal what do we do to insure that the roots of all of these criminal activities have been eliminated?

Corruption on the scale we have seen in Cuyahoga County doesn’t begin with a plan. It is a series of decisions by individuals who feel they can get away with something for their own benefit. Then it becomes a group activity, with self-reinforcing events and discussions and actions that draw more and more people into the web of deceit and lies. It is reinforced by only hiring friends and relatives that will continue to contribute and benefit to the exclusion of those that wish to truly serve the people that pay their salaries.

Above all, it is the political party that filters those willing to forgo public service for self service, to the detriment of all. In Cuyahoga County, as in the notoriously noxious bellwether of corruption – Cook County in Illinois – it is the Democrat Party that has served as the enabler, conduit and source of the corruption.

We know that not all Democrat Party members were part of this. But, when the county has been dominated and controlled by one party for so long, it is not surprising that corruption ensues. It all becomes part of the framework of the government, personnel, policies, supporters, vendors, voters and media which purports to represent the best interests of the electorate.

While we are tired of being the object of attention from the FBI, IRS and U.S. Attorney, other than a permanent, ongoing investigation of the county the best remedy to insure integrity in our government is to change the political party of those that lead and represent us. We know that party patronage is still alive and well, even though we have changed the structure of our government. With the new charter form that we have just recently adopted, it is time to begin the long and rigorous process of evaluating the priorities of those in key positions to insure that their commitment is to the citizens of Cuyahoga County.

Not only will Jack Schron bring a business and economic development perspective to the role of County Executive, he will bring in the best people possible to run the county, regardless of political affiliation. That cannot be said of his opponent, who stubbornly prides himself on being a Democrat first and who will undoubtedly continue the long history of patronage that has led us to the recent national embarrassment.

Jack has publicly pledged to serve two full terms, because the work of streamlining county government and attracting and developing the best and the brightest won’t be done in a single term. His focus is on his home, Cuyahoga County, not on using the position of County Executive as a stepping stone to other political jobs.

The people that Jack will hire and develop to make this county an exemplar of local government will in turn be rigorous in their hiring and review policies, a personnel ripple effect that will shake up and revitalize the entire structure of government. It will also serve as a beacon of expertise and government entrepreneurship that will attract our young people to government service, and allow us to implement that vision of a lakefront dynamo that will be the turnaround story of the next decade.

The future of the county is too important to leave to the old, tired, corrupt interlocking framework of corruption and patronage that we have seen. We cannot afford to let the balance of progress we have made swing to lethargy because of a return to old habits. We not only need new leadership, we need a new team of dedicated professionals to insure the excitement we have seen in our county continues and grows.

Jack Schron will swing the balance of Cuyahoga County to the future.

 

Doug Magill is the Communications Director for the Cuyahoga County Republican Party.  He can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net

Ominous New Meaning to ‘Hot in Cleveland’

Northeast Ohio has been unintentionally cast in a supporting role in the Ebola crisis, illustrating without question that our contemporary world is a very small place indeed.

And in many ways no less mortal than the pre-digital, house-call world of our grandparents.

When it comes to disease and medical treatment, life in 2014 is a mixed blessing, with fantastic therapies existing alongside potential epidemics. No starker example of this dichotomy is the story of former Akronite Amber Joy Vinson, a 29-year-old health care worker who assisted in the care of Liberian native Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die from the deadly virus while in the United States.

Duncan had traveled from Liberia to this country earlier this fall after being in contact with a patient caught in the worst Ebola outbreak since the disease’s discovery in 1976. Vinson was among the health care team that treated Duncan in a Dallas hospital before he died October 8.

According to current medical knowledge, those infected with Ebola are not a danger to others until symptoms begin to appear. Symptoms include fever, body aches and stomach pain. To date, Vinson, another nurse from Dallas and a heath care worker in Spain are the only confirmed Ebola contractions outside West Africa.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—as ambitious a big-government title as you’ll find anywhere—has been walking point for the nation in terms of Ebola and public-health policy. From this corner, the reviews on the CDC’s performance have been mixed, to be charitable. Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, initially pitched an all’s-well theme to America; joining in the chorus were the President and his team, who continue to reinvent that questionable tagline We’re from the government, and we’re here to help.

Then Duncan died. And now Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh and the rest of world are learning that Nurse Vinson, after caring for Duncan, flew to Cleveland to visit her mother and plan her wedding. She reported no symptoms at the time of that flight. However, as media report across the globe today, “the news got worse with the revelation that she had flown with a slight fever from Cleveland to Dallas on a crowded airliner barely 24 hours before her diagnosis” earlier this week.

Vinson and her colleague are currently being treated in Atlanta and Maryland respectively, and people who may have had contact with them are being identified and monitored for suspicious symptoms. The press is helping get the word out about this deadly virus. And, no surprise, public officials are experiencing a marked increase in finger-pointing even as they keep a close eye on election-year polls.

What those officials should keep in mind, and borrow from the medical community, is the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. While they’re at it, they might engage the First Postulate to the Hippocratic Oath: Quit posturing and actually take actions that do no harm. A great first application of that postulate would have been an immediate White House travel ban from the African countries that make up the hot zone for Ebola. As of now, and only after much open criticism of the government, the administration has announced tightened restrictions on those arriving from the West African countries dealing with the Ebola outbreak, sending them to five airports for additional health checks.

A virus doesn’t vote, and a virus doesn’t care. People do, though—from Monrovia in Liberia to Mentor in Ohio. LaStar Goss, a resident of West Akron, was speaking for much of the world when she said, “Before…this was just some faraway problem. Now it’s on our doorstep.”

Let’s carefully and thoroughly wipe our feet.

J.F. McKenna, a former resident of Cleveland’s West Park, 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 jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

Welcome to Ebola World
When it comes to disease and medical treatment, life in 2014 is a mixed blessing, with fantastic therapies existing alongside potential epidemics.

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 doug@magillmedia.net

Marred-keting

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 jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

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 oxforddictionaries.com 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 jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com 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 doug@magillmedia.net

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 jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

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 jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 93 other followers