Vanity of Vanities

Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.  Jane Austen

By Doug Magill

One of the things that seems saddest to me is those who profess disdain for the available candidates for President and proclaim that they are sitting out this election or voting for a third-party offering.  This is often proclaimed in a tone of intended seriousness or anguished thoughtfulness.

While dissatisfaction with the options is perfectly understandable, and most of us probably voted for a different candidate in the primary, this is what we are offered.   It is the way our electoral system works, and has always.  One can almost hear the anguished moans of citizens throughout history as they complain about having to vote for Adams, or Jackson, or Herbert Hoover.  Let alone the modern parade of politicians.

Today’s cry is heard loudly throughout the land: Why can’t we do better than this?

I suppose it is built into the American psyche that there is a desire for a more-perfect candidate, and disdain may be the default for the humanity of who we have to vote for.  Sometimes the system does produce a candidate worthy of the office, and we are better off for it.

When all is said and done it is voter vanity at work: I could do better than that guy, I don’t want people to think I would vote for him, I’m too smart to be associated with him, our system is terrible and I don’t want to be associated with it.

It is especially telling when I hear from those who love to profess their own wisdom how stupid Trump voters are.  See, I’m smarter than they are. Proving, of course the effectiveness and wisdom of the Democrats’ campaign of attacking Trump and avoiding issues, let alone the qualifications of their candidate.  Along with a compliant media which is uninterested in reporting facts, let alone trying to provide clarity on issues.

When the day is done, there really are only two issues, vanity aside.  In reading the party platforms one is astonished at the contrast in vision, and the reality of the assault on life, freedom, liberty, and self-determination that the Democrats profess.  The platforms represent the core of each party, and the vote in this election really is about what that core will lead us to.

The second issue is the candidates themselves.  Trump fires verbal volleys that one has to wince at.  But those pale to insignificance when compared to the deep and powerful politicization and corruption in our government, and in the Democrat candidate who wishes to politicize and corrupt it further.

A friend who is generally apolitical remarked that she hopes Trump will win just to blow up the government and bring in people dedicated to serving the county.  His outsider status would lend itself to that indeed.  As opposed to someone who understands how to use cronyism, bribery and graft to enhance power.

For those who would rather spend time stroking their egos and wallowing in vanity I don’t suppose there is much to be said.  Avoiding choices is to make a bad one.  For the rest of us, we need to work on and vote for someone who at least understands the need for change, and is comfortable in causing it.


Doug Magill is the Communications Director for the Cuyahoga County Republican Party, a consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent.  he can be reached at




Raftin’ with Huck and Andrew

By J.F. McKenna

As American literature’s widely acknowledged platform, Huck Finn’s raft remains our sturdiest conveyance of native genius even as it continues to receive endless inspections. Mark Twain’s 1885 novel delights youthful readers, furrows the brows of many ahistorical souls, occasionally tempts the misguided toward censorship and always demands undivided attention as a singular case of the human condition.

Now Andrew Levy, whose imposing academic title at Butler University belies his own gifts as a storyteller, gets the latest last word on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—and, as last words go, he has fashioned a fresh view of the novel that Ernest Hemingway christened “the best book we’ve had.” It’s no overstatement in this Land of Hyperbole to declare Huck Finn’s America, published by Simon & Shuster, an enlightening if challenging journey on that old raft.

Looking far beyond Twain’s liberal application of the epithet “n****r” in a oft-called children’s classic, Levy writes that “his work is a cultural biography of Twain in his era, one that shows how Huck Finn is the great book about American forgetfulness, and how our misjudgments of the book’s messages about race and children reveal the architecture of our forgetting.

“I started it twenty years ago with a dim idea that there was something about the child in Huck that was misunderstood and something in the argument about the book’s treatment of race that had reached an impasse. I spent months in the late 1990s reading ancient newspapers, tracking Twain as he toured America in 1884 and 1885 alongside Louisiana writer George Washington Cable in a show he called the ‘Twins of Genius,’ which was intended to help Twain promote the publication of Huck Finn. I explored the debate about children and schools that raged at the time to see if Huck Finn entered into it. And I explored what black readers of the day said about Twain’s book, scouring through the frayed remains of black newspapers from the 1880s. Yet what stayed with me was the milieu, not the thesis: the whispers of a lost, dying America, and an America uncannily like our own. A lot had changed. And nothing had.”

Point-blank the writer-scholar insists: “After years of reading, teaching, and writing about the book, though, I’ve come to believe that we got this backward—that our understanding of what is comic and what is serious in Huck Finn says more about America in the last century than America in the time Twain wrote the book.”

Not exactly a simple tale about a seemingly inconsequential boy, a runaway slave and their adventures on a raft, is it?

As is illustrated by the analysis of Butler University’s Anna Cooper Chair in English, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has continued to grow even more remarkable as a cultural gauge since its first days in print, when readers initially agonized along with the abused and semi-educated Huck about his letter telling Miss Watson the whereabouts of his friend and her slave, Jim.

“It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was trembing, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then I’ll go to hell—and tore it up.”

The best way to read Huck Finn, Levy advises his 21st century audience, “might be to see that Twain found the borders that divide parents and children as false as the borders that divide black and white—and that he even saw the way those borders overlapped. In turn, he attacked both with the same rough play, a tricksterish mix of comedy and political se­riousness that meshed with the stereotypes of the time but fought them, too. And now we are indulging in more rough play—myths of nostalgia and myths of progress, and the instinct to classify, classify, classify—that inspires modern politicians, critics, teachers, filmmak­ers, and readers to divide the book into two books, one funny and ‘harmless’ and one not. Huck Finn can show us more about how we keep the discussion of childhood stalled, and the engine of racial difference humming, than any other book in our canon. To benefit from that insight, however, we would have to admit that it is not a book (flawed or otherwise) about children and adventure, or about racial progress. It is a book about what Junot Díaz calls ‘dedicated amnesia’ on a national scale. It is a plea—as is this book—to remem­ber, and a fatalistic comedy about how we don’t.”

So allow me to recommend climbing on the raft and carefully listening to Levy’s eloquent observations about Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—observations such as “If we are concerned about the uses of Huck Finn, we might fairly ask whether such moments of wit and artistry can be distilled from their murky and tricksterish origins, and turned into polemics, or whether those murky and tricksterish origins are the point. Does the ‘assault of Laughter’ really win the game of history, as he claimed? It makes a difference.”

Samuel Langhorne Clemens—aka Twain—certainly knew a lot about making a difference. The great Anglo-Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once declared that Twain was one of this nation’s greatest literary assets, noting that the American writer did not give his countrymen “much chance of ignoring him.” In 1907 Shaw wrote Twain himself: “I am persuaded that the future historian of America will find your works as indispensable to him as a French historian finds the political tracts of Voltaire.” Prima facie proof of that assessment is Andrew Levy’s latest last word on Huck.

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 and informal literary gathering near Pittsburgh. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at .

The Dream Wasn’t “Burn This B**** Down!”

By Doug Magill

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When writing to white religious leaders in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.was clearly angry about discrimination. While acknowledging that his fellow clergymen were “men of good will,” he nonetheless rejected their concerns about “outsiders coming in.” Elevating his emotions, he described the injustice, brutality and “smothering in an airtight cage of poverty” that members of his race were subjected to and to which he must address his efforts.

Clearly incensed, he articulated why there is a time “when the cup of endurance runs over.”

In light of recent demonstrations and violence concerning the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, preceded by the highly publicized death of Trayvon Martin, one has to wonder if we have not reached another inflection point, where endurance has indeed overfilled its available capacity. And, the question lingers as to what Martin Luther King himself would have made of these events.

When writing from his jail cell, King clearly spoke of the times when the law must be, and should be broken. Drawing upon Catholic theologians, Augustine and Aquinas, he clarified circumstances when injustice and adherence to a higher morality not only encourages us but requires us to follow our principles, even at the expense of incarceration and a criminal record.

Our media pundits breathlessly tell us today about the actions of the crowds that have recently been protesting, and imply that there are just grievances which cause these seeming eruptions of anger and destruction. The results are reflected in polls which show that confidence in the progress of race relations is declining. An unusual trend.

The primal scream of Michael Brown’s stepfather urging destruction of Ferguson, Missouri was glossed over in the media, but it clearly represented a feeling shared by many residents of that city. The looting and destruction which followed the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Brown was the culmination of that atavistic instinct.

Since then there have been at least 25 violent incidents in shopping areas all over the country that have not been well covered by the media: Ann Arbor, Ocoee, Conyers, Cheektowaga, Albany, Indianapolis, Salisbury, Fresno, Toledo and many, many others. The one thing they all had in common was that the individuals involved were black.

While members of the media either ignore or distort such incidents, they don’t reach for context. One doesn’t expect erudition from journalists and most have clearly not really read King’s writings. In that same letter King identified the four basic steps of a nonviolent campaign: collection of facts, negotiation, self-purification and direct action. Nothing in these recent events comes even close to following his vision. It seems that many prominent black people want to jump over all of that, past the non-violent requirements and right to violence, destruction and revenge.

Something that used to be called a lynch mob. Only now it’s for a black cause.

In Reverend King’s dream of judgment based on character, how is it that a black man is to be judged immediately innocent because of his color, and a white police officer guilty because of his color? And violence is to be ignored because of the color of those engaged in it?

One cannot hope for progress when it seems that those who should know better, and at least pay lip service to Martin Luther King’s beliefs, are so ready to make immediate racial judgments and throw away all the progress that has been made.

As America tries to gain perspective on the Martin, Brown and Garner cases, there are additional and powerful questions to be raised that cannot be ignored: the incredible amount of ongoing violence of blacks against blacks in our cities, the wholesale slaughter of black children in the womb, the cataclysmic breakdown of the black family and the miserable state of the schools that their children must deal with. A staggering circle of poverty, misery and despair. And yes, the Obama economic policies have been devastating to employment of black youth.

All as if to diminish the sense of outrage that many black people feel about the recent deaths of young black men.

King is often quoted not as a defense of these circumstances, but as an explanation of why black people shouldn’t be held to the same standards as others. I am not sure he would have that same perspective. I think he would have expected more of the people to whom he witnessed.

And yet.

I have a very intelligent and insightful black friend who immediately claimed that Michael Brown was murdered before hearing any of the evidence. Who still will not let go of the Trayon Martin verdict.

Another sensitive and passionate black friend made a blistering and staggering comment when told of a recent Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria that she guessed that black lives didn’t matter there either. The equivalency is incomprehensible.

Others are sure that murder was committed in the Eric Garner case and are apoplectic about the shooting of Tamir Rice here in Cleveland.

These people are educated, intelligent and often wise. Yet, these situations are immediately judged as racial in nature by them and their aggrieved sense of minority injustice is palpable.

I know them, trust them and believe in them. So, I cannot shrug off their evaluations as irrational, with some lingering racism in their hearts. There has to be more.

There are things that I have not experienced that affect their perceptions in ways that I cannot know. My friend that jumped on the Michael Brown bandwagon as murder was twice pulled over while driving black last summer. In the space of two months. Without doing anything wrong other than driving by a white police officer in a not-so-new sedan and being dressed in a style that might be considered modern pimp. Still, he was dragged out of his car, handcuffed, made to sit on the curb while his car was searched.

He is a Christian young man who rarely drinks, doesn’t smoke and who doesn’t do drugs and would be the first person I would turn to in a fight. Who I know would be there for me regardless of circumstances.

His shame and embarrassment must have been immense. And not for the first time.

A woman who I work with at a non-profit pregnancy counseling center recently described to me how her son was stopped blocks from her house several times by police because he was young, and black and in a car. This is in a city that prides itself on diversity and peaceful relations between races. She called and complained without effect.

I recently gave a ride to a hitchhiking young black man whose car had broken down and who immediately thanked me for not being afraid of him. And then apologized for the way he smelled because he worked on a road crew.

There are many, many more of these stories, but the issues are the same. Black people being told in unsubtle and stinging ways that they are suspicious, not good enough, and to be considered guilty even though innocent.

I don’t know that it’s racism. Police are not fools, they know who to be suspicious of with good reason most of the time. Yet the pattern is ultimately destructive to both black citizens and the police (black or white) who struggle to maintain order in dysfunctional neighborhoods. It is experience laced with bad assumptions and inherent suspicion.

I was young when the riots destroyed black neighborhoods in Detroit. But I saw the destruction and the shock of seeing armed federal troops on street corners and automatic weapons on the rooftops of nearby buildings. It was called a race riot. It wasn’t. It was a mob, an orgy of violence with no purpose and no results other than the harming of innocents and further deterioration of struggling neighborhoods as businesses moved out. Barry Gordy took Motown records to LA afterwards because he feared for his life. And Detroit has been in a downward spiral ever since.

The tragedy of Reverend King’s death at age 39 is that his work was undone. It still is. He has not been replaced. We all cry out for his moral leadership, and a way to restore families and give hope through education and opportunity. People that put fuel on the fire like Obama, Holder and Sharpton create issues. They do not want to assume moral leadership and certainly don’t know how.

More than anything right now we all need a black leader who can move the tide of history. To live and give substance to Reverend King’s principles and belief. And more than anything his faith: not only in God but in the basic decency of human nature.

I don’t know that we are struggling with race issues, but we are all certainly wrestling with black ones.


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


‘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 .

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

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.

The Consequences of Honor

By Doug Magill


The most tragic thing in the world is a man of genius who is not a man of honor.  George Bernard Shaw

It is one of the dismaying things about our President and his minions: their inability to understand the deeper meaning of things.  They use words to win, not to explain; images to demonize, not to elevate; power to bully, but not to protect.

Yet it all fits with the image of those raised after the World War that defined our country.  Everything is exigencies and now.  Self-aggrandizement as an art and a life goal at the expense of character and probity.

One must weep for those fallen in our name to have their sacrifice conflated with someone like Bowe Bergdahl by a thoroughly dishonest academic like Susan Rice, who commented about Bergdahl’s enlistment qualifying him for having served with “honor and distinction”.  Those who have served know honor is earned, not a decision that may lead to an opportunity for honor.  There is an understanding of this even in pop culture, as this quote attributed to Midori Koto clarifies “Honor isn’t about making the right choices.  It’s about dealing with the consequences.”

No one in this administration understands the consequences of policies, the effects of dishonesty, the obligations of failure or the acceptance of responsibility.

Honor is a recognition of service, of integrity, of duty.  Concepts that do not have a place in the list of virtues desired by this administration.  American military personnel have known since the founding of this country that sacrifice is an essential part of service, and that the result may be death.  But they have willingly taken that journey because of the idea that this country represents, and its uniqueness in the history of the world.

My father and uncle served in combat in the Pacific in World War II, and they understood honor.  It was earned, even by those that served in roles that did not involve combat.  They did their job and helped secure victory.  Even those whose well of fortitude might have run dry in the screaming hell of combat are remembered with honor.  They were there, they did their job, and if they fell, overwhelmed, their sacrifice is something greater than anyone serving this administration will ever know.

Honor could never be about nominating oneself for medals as the bumbling narcissist John Kerry did before disappearing from duty and viciously attacking those who had served with him.  It could never be about the solipsistic demand for recognition obtained by others and the fanatical washing of hands relative to consequences never acknowledged like Hillary Clinton.   It could never be about awards given for political purposes rather than accomplishments, as when our preening President received a Nobel Peace Prize.  And it will never be about burying distasteful things in the weekend news cycle or imposing mandates that were never understood or accepted by the country.

It is for those who know honor to rebuild and renew this country, and protect it from the consequences of the Obama years of illusion.  It is for us to make sure that happens.


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


The Clarity of Kansas in Cleveland

By Doug Magill


I think we need stories, and we need to tell the stories over and over and over not only to remind us, but to be able to have that clarity of experience that changes us, so that we know who we are now because of who we have been at some other time.  Colum McCann

Recently Alternaterm held its 30th anniversary Spring Gala.  The event featured a talk by Alveda King, niece of the Reverend Martin Luther King, as well as an appearance by John Elefante, former lead singer of Kansas.  As usual, because the event celebrated the work of an organization that tries to help its clients find alternative solutions to pregnancy other than abortion, the local media did not send a representative.

Dr. King spoke with fervor about past discrimination, and the clear message that her uncle had concerning abortion:  “The Negro cannot win if he is willing to sacrifice the futures of his children for immediate personal comfort and safety. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

An animated and friendly presence, she illuminated the connection between Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and the attempt to eliminate the black community by using religion to disguise its purposes.  She acknowledged that she had once accepted the lies of Planned Parenthood until she understood the violence that was being perpetuated upon unborn children, and upon the black community.

She clearly stated her vision: “…I too have a dream, it’s in my genes. How can the dream survive if we murder the children?

John Elefante moved the audience through an emotional appeal that was carried through his music.  With matinee looks, a roguish smile and gentle eyes driving a laser-guided voice, he showed that storytelling coupled with music can be a soul-touching experience.

While he sang a couple of well-known songs from the Kansas catalog, he received a standing ovation for his eloquent video of the incredible story of the mother of his adopted daughter.  A pregnant child of thirteen she was in a clinic preparing to receive an abortion when she was startled by a dream about a little girl and a voice telling her, “You’re not taking her this time.”

Escaping from the clinic she phoned her mother, who didn’t know she was pregnant, and ultimately delivered the child who was adopted by John and his wife.

John’s video is called This Time.

Elefante had been a Christian before he joined Kansas.  He spoke with quiet conviction about drifting away from his beliefs due to the enormous temptations of the rock-star lifestyle.  He said it happens slowly, one minor indulgence at a time while pushing God away.  The rationalization was always clear: it’s only for a while and just for now.

Ultimately, the distance grows and God is a memory to the pleasures of the moment.

But one night on tour John realized what he was losing, and the journey back involved rediscovering not just God, but himself.  The clarity of that experience led him to adopt the girl born to the mother described in the video, as well as a son later on.  He and his wife to that point were unable to have children, and his acceptance of that was the impetus to adoption, and to his deeper spiritual journey.  Several years later they unexpectedly had a son, and he believes that it was God’s influence in his life that gave him that gift.

The release of This Time has opened John’s eyes to challenges of Christianity today.  He had difficulty finding any nominally Christian radio stations willing to play the song, due to its “controversial” nature.  He was hurt yet energized to realize that the Christian message is being distorted and marginalized in service of a more hedonistic society reluctant to ascribe morality to the consequences of our actions.

He was delighted to be able to use Kickstarter to help produce and release his recent album.  Yet we now know that the same organization is backing away from such things as a film about the horrors of the Gosnell clinic due to its “controversial” nature.   We will see more of this, as businesses fear the aggressive attacks of those hostile to religion in any form, particularly as a check on the solipsistic nature of modern society.

Yet, in some ways the tide is turning.  One recent poll shows over 6 in 10 of Americans believe abortion is morally wrong and a staggering 80 percent support restrictions on abortion.  The same poll shows that 53 percent believe that life begins at conception.  As science continues to expand its understanding of the miracle of life, we should expect more awareness on the part of most Americans of the horrors of abortion.

John Elefante will tell you that his life today has challenges, and a mission.  He is incredibly busy with a number of businesses and still continues to record and produce music (The song, This Time can be found on his latest album On My Way to the Sun).  His mission is an evangelical one related to the sanctity of life, and the need to help others understand the role God must necessarily play in our lives.

And to help us all find our way back to the music of life.

By our effort and example may God use us, as imperfect vessels that we are, to bring an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, abortion, racism and oppression.”  Dr. Alveda C. King


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