Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cain Proves Why Ethics Still Matter

He could have held out for Vice President.

Granted, nobody who embarks upon a campaign for United States President has their sights on landing the Number Two spot on the ticket.

But Herman Cain could have gone a lot farther in his campaign than where he'll likely end up:  in the dump.

Earlier this week, yet another woman came forward with claims of sexual promiscuity on Cain's part; this time, in the form of a 13-year extramarital affair.  This latest accuser says she's publicizing her story now because a third party threatened to go public with their secret.  Cain's alleged mistress would have us believe that she has nothing to gain by broadcasting her identity as a woman whose repute is beyond something I care to publish on my blog.  And she's probably right.  If not about the former, then at least about the latter.

By now, however, the she-said he-said in Cain's campaign has become a mute point.  Despite his desperate whining that political foes are sabotaging his campaign, does it matter anymore if Cain is right or not?  Haven't too many women come forward, ostensibly putting their own self-respect on the line, for some thread of truth to not exist between their accusations?  For his part, simply denying they're all liars doesn't work when you're running for an elected office as prestigious as President of the United States.

Cain apparently hasn't been able to come up with any proof of his innocence.  He hasn't furnished any evidence that might shed the faintest of credibility on his strenuous denials.  Nor has his wife characterized the typical spouse who's as clueless as Cain claims to be about all these claims.  Unless she's been a complete and utter basket case behind closed doors, his wife has been remarkably stoic to apparently endure these allegations against her husband and her marriage with only the quiet chagrin she's displayed.  Or maybe she's simply tired of yet another rumor to add to what she's already managed to learn about her husband's skirt-chasing.  Whether any of that, over the years, has been proven false or not.

And why Herman Cain anyway?  Suppose he's right that his political enemies are out for blood.  Why attack the first black Republican to successfully mount a presidential campaign?  If it was racism, aren't there more subtle ways to do it?  After all, the Republican Party isn't exactly colorblind, but it's not stupid, either.  He-said she-said dilemmas always leave the door open for skepticism, whereas to destroy somebody's political career, and commit the deceit and fraud to do it, wouldn't you want something far more fool-proof and decisive than some women claiming marital infidelity?

Undoubtedly, with his blunt style and unconventional pedigree - a conservative black pizza king from Atlanta? - he not the favorite of the Republican elite.  At least, not to head the ticket against Barack Obama.

But he might have been a useful Veep choice, considering how many suburban middle-class blacks are becoming disillusioned with liberal Democratic policies, and the fact that Cain is enough of a political outsider to attract the Tea Party vote.

The Allegations Aren't Cain's Main Problem

Alas, we'll never know whether any of this could have been.  Because as I pointed out early on when the first of these accusations surfaced, Cain blew his chance at salvaging any credibility in this race.

It was not his denial of the sexual abuse claims that initially tripped his campaign.  It wasn't even the credibility of the women who were making the claims.  It was Cain himself, who, upon first hearing reporters questions him on the allegations, pretended to never have been accused.

That charade, more than any of the allegations, made everything else he said unreliable.

As the press kept wheedling away at him, Cain finally recalled that yes, there'd been some accusations, but one of them had been settled out of court.  Unfortunately, that was too little, too late - even if it was true.

It should be Ethics 101.  What Cain should have done was, upon initially announcing his candidacy for President, cut the media off at the pass by bluntly and plainly informing them that yes, in his past, there were two women who had misinterpreted some of his gestures and folksiness, and some lawyers had to come in and sort things out.  No, he'd never had sex with any of them; no, he'd never wanted to have sex with any of them; they were just honest mistakes on his part, being a friendly, sincere, fun-loving kinda guy.

If the media had sat there during his press conference and heard him aw-shucks his version of those events, they would have been deprived of any malicious ammunition that Cain has since accused them of wielding. As I've said before, you never want to leave something for the media to find later on.  If they discover anything like a secret past, particularly if it involved sex, it's like giving candy to ADHD kids.  Especially if you are innocent of the charges that could be used to malign your integrity.

But Cain didn't do that.  He apparently hoped none of this would come out in the wash, that somehow even being accused of something he never did would never come up during the world's most closely-watched political race.

In fact, that's why Cain isn't presidential material.  He didn't take the race seriously enough to consider what the press wants to cover in the 21st Century.  People don't really care that you managed to salvage  Godfather's Pizza.  Most of them probably don't really even care that you're black.  Voters want integrity, now so more than ever.  But they love even the hint of scandal.  Yet by admitting any past indiscretions, if there were any, and any claims of abuse, even they were false, that hint of a scandal would have hung in the public's consciousness for about three seconds.  Until the next politician made a far more public blunder, like Rick Perry's been doing for weeks now.

Cain could have neutered the press and even his campaign rivals if he'd just told the truth from the beginning.  If either the press or his political rivals brought up the subject, he would be in the position to simply admonish them with "I've already told you that."  And that would have been that.

Yet Another Teachable Moment in Politics

Please understand:  This is not an exercise in kicking a guy when he's down, or playing an easy blame game.  Whether he'd guilty of the sexual allegations against him is one thing.  But Cain is incontrovertibly guilty of not manning-up to things he's been accused of, and not allowing those things to be dealt with honestly and fairly as he embarks on a mission of this magnitude.  He's certainly not had the guts to take the offensive.  Marital infidelity is one thing, but pretending it never took place when pointedly asked about it only makes things worse.  Especially if you're innocent of the original charges.  Why is that so hard for many people to see?

Perhaps it's because personal ethics have become such a muddled thing these days.  People assume ethics are more subjective than objective, so they try and pick and choose those errors or sins that are worse than others.  Forgetting, of course, that all sin is evil in God's eyes.

The voting public may be more gracious than public figures assume they'd be to a person who admits remorsefully to certain sins and indiscretions.  Even our legal code views such things as lying under oath about sexual infidelity more grievous than the infidelity itself.  But it's all equal to God.  Equally bad.

So when we insist on pretending that some things are worse than others, especially if we have skeletons in our closets, and particularly if we're vying for a public office that we know will be excruciatingly scrutinized, trying to be open and honest about it all might be a good step in righting any wrongs we might have done, or further taking ownership of our own innocence.

True, you still might not get the top job.  But you won't automatically disqualify yourself from the next best thing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Who's Flying This Plane?


That's the unfortunate sound of the world's last legacy airline filing for bankruptcy.  And the door finally closing on whatever scraps were left of flight's golden age.

Delta, Continental, United, TWA, Northwest, PanAm... they've already been through the economic blender that has been deregulation, 9/11, exorbitant fuel costs, and intransigent unions.  Today, after years of struggling against the tide, it is American Airlines' turn.

One of the world's first airlines.  And the first to glamorize flight with luxury airport clubs, the first to computerize their ticketing, the first to offer flyer rewards, and the last to pretend that flying today is as enjoyable as it was back in the 1960's.

Technically, American's parent company, AMR, is the entity filing for bankruptcy, an eventuality about which experts have been speculating for months, if not years.  Somehow, as all of the other major traditional airlines crashed onto the runway of brittle economics and either went out of business, merged, or patched themselves up for the new reality of flight in the 21st Century, American kept dodging the bankruptcy bullet.

Which bullet finally brought American to its knees is presently up for debate:  was it the unions for pilots and flight attendants, which have fought with management for years over new contracts?  Was it the oil industry's crafty toying with energy prices that neither the automotive nor airline industries could tame?  Was it the hub-and-spoke business model that American had pioneered, and had been reluctant to significantly modify?  Was it lingering issues from its rocky merger with TWA shortly before 9/11?  Was it simply the ability of smaller, more nimble airlines like Southwest and JetBlue to react more efficiently as incessant waves of economic instability wafted through the industry?  Or, as is most likely, was it a combination of all these factors which created a downdraft too powerful for American to remain aloft?

Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection will give the still-mighty airline some time to consider how much each of these factors influenced today's decision.  Indeed, American's board and executives have undoubtedly been analyzing all of these issues for the past several years as they've staved off bankruptcy time and again.  Yet to what extent will these executives at American be willing to consider the effect their own nicely-padded salaries and bonuses have played into today's announcement?

Not the actual dollar amounts for these salaries and bonuses, but the mentality with which these rewards were paid.

Blame the unions for waging a bitter public relations war over their contracts if you like, but corporate has never been able to mount a convincing campaign to prove that the good-will used to secure hefty employee concessions after the trauma of 9/11, when two American flights were lost, wasn't also destroyed by subsequent executive rewards.  Substantial pay and benefits reductions were agreed upon by all of the unions at American, with the understanding - however unofficial - that as profitability returned, so would those things lost to concessions.  Instead, as flashes of profitability did indeed flicker across AMR's bottom line for a few budget quarters, it was the suits in corporate that got the rewards, not the rank and file workers.

Granted, American has fewer executives to reward than flight attendants and pilots, but considering that many of the corporate personnel who received handsome financial upgrades were already being paid far more than some senior pilots, the inequity wasn't really rationalized very well.

Something about the price of good corporate talent being far more expensive than retaining good pilots.  At least that's how it sounded.  As if American Airlines was all about corporate strategy, instead of flying planes.

Think about it:  Having MBA's without pilots licenses claiming that good talent costs a lot of money doesn't fly when the people responsible for literally keeping your customers alive have to undergo rigorous testing and training multiple times throughout their careers.  And every flight they pilot spans the gap between profit and loss for any airline. 

After all, when was the last time an airline accountant or sales executive avoided a midair crash, saving hundreds of lives?  When was the last time a senior analyst had to land a plane during a blizzard?  How many senior vice presidents can control a plane after a bird has flown into one of its engines?

American Airlines employs an estimated 12,000 pilots, many of whom earn over $100,000 per year, making this group of employees one of company's most significant cost factors.  And it's been argued that American's pilots are among the best-paid in the entire industry.  Indeed, it's hard to claim that these professionals are under-paid.

But that's not really the point, is it?

Corporate America, not just American Airlines, but across the board, has become awash in excessive executive compensation.  Warren Buffett, the spectacularly successful investor, has complained for years that salaries, perks, and golden parachutes for America's corporate elite defy economic logic.  At American, however, the pilots have been particularly aggrieved by corporate's apparently willful abrogation of good faith after post-9/11 cost-cutting.  Do people who spend their days in meetings and analyzing data deserve far more compensation than the people who literally keep thousands of passengers from dying every single day?

It's this apparent discrediting of whatever good-will AMR tried to present during union negotiations that likely contributed to the persistent chill that has choked any possibilities of agreements between labor and management at American.  That's not to say that union leaders have been model employees during these years of negotiations, or that they've demonstrated good reasoning skills.  But by falling into the tired old trap of labor-management distrust to retain, ostensibly, a coterie of high-priced back-office talent has obviously hurt the airline.

By way of a meager defense, it's not exactly AMR's fault that our economy's corporate narcissism favors pedigreed executives with rewards incommensurate with their individual contributions to the organization.  Most bonuses are awarded based on calculations of a company's worth which, while subscribing to shrewd metrics of value, are still more arbitrary than fact.  After all, the stock market rewards assumptions, not historic data. No single corporation - or industry - will be able to change that, even as stocks continue losing their mainstream allure.

Meanwhile, although pilots do have a highly personalized incentive to get their planes from airport to airport in one piece every day - namely, their own lives - the mere mention of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, "the Hero of the Hudson," should make the board of any airline sit up and reconsider their own worth relative to the people sitting in their cockpits.

Not that being more conciliatory towards their pilots could have saved American Airlines from bankruptcy today.  But it could have resolved one particularly onerous piece of their financial puzzle based solely on respecting the responsibility with which the company vests each of their pilots.

Respect for responsibility should still go a long way in our society.  Today's bankruptcy announcement and this one factor in that announcement could serve as a microcosm of corporate greed and its rampant deconstruction of our nation's economy these days.  Not that I'm naive enough to hope, however.  What's more likely is that corporate America is already salivating over whatever spoils it might be able to pick from American's carcass.

Yes, our airline industry faces far more daunting challenges than pilot pay and executive compensation.  But I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  on those rare times when I fly, I want my pilots happy.  Oddly enough, though, I really don't care how happy the executives at their airline feel.  I suspect most of the flying public who wants to get home safely feel the same way.

That perspective may not win airlines many friends on Wall Street or in corporate boardrooms.

But I think the rest of us can live with that.

Disclaimer: I am not a relative of a commercial airline pilot.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Shall the Circle be Unbroken?

So much for the first Monday of Advent this year.

I had hung our usual Christmas wreaths on our house last Friday.  One on the front door, one on the brick post between the garage doors, and a big one - about five feet wide - between two front windows.  The big one has about 400 white lights on it that look elegant at night.

Except that as I drove away to a dinner party Saturday evening, I noticed that one section of the lights on the big wreath were off.  Creating a black, gaping chunk in the circle of elegant white dots, like an incomplete "G".


So this morning, assuming the fix would be as easy as replacing a burned-out bulb, I went out with some spares and found what I believed to be the miscreant bulb.  And replaced it.

No good.  Half of the strand still wouldn't light.

Two hours later, and about a dozen of those itty-bitty fuses that I'd popped in the process, I managed to get the lights working... as much as they had been before I started my little project.  Along the way, I'd managed to short out half of the wreath, and had to figure out what fuses I'd blown where to get back to the functionality I had two hours earlier.

I'd also cut wires around what I refused to admit might not even be the miscreant bulb - could some other short somewhere be the culprit? - and spliced together the wires in several combinations before managing to find something that wouldn't pop even more fuses.  In retrospect, I suppose I should be grateful that along the way, I didn't take my neighborhood off the grid for a little while, although I did touch live wires more often than was probably good for me.

But hey - they were only little jolts.

So after two hours and only just managing to salvage the project to the point where I'd begun, with only the short section not working, I figured that my only available option would be to unwind the section of lights from the wreath, buy a new strand at the hardware store, and replace the lights.

Except that when I started unwinding the existing strand, I discovered that little green clips were holding each light in place.  Did I mention that this wreath was pre-lit, or pre-strung, or whatever they call it?  Back when I'd been employed, several years ago, I'd paid about $100 for this pre-lit wreath, figuring it would save all the hassle of trying to string lights on a large wreath by hand.  Considering how planned obsolescence is built into everything these days, maybe the several years we've enjoyed this wreath has been longer than its manufacturers had hoped it would last anyway.

But getting back to those little green clips.  Each one was doing its noble job exceptionally well - keeping the wires for each light tightly bound to its fake evergreen branch.  Even though they were plastic, they were surprisingly sturdy, and before long, I realized I was stripping most of the flimsy, fire-retardant evergreen leaves off of the branches as I wrestled with removing the clips.

Who'd have thought de-lighting a wreath would be so destructive a process?

I ended up getting my clippers and snipping the electric wires around those lights I'd been working on, so as to minimize the overall damage to the wreath.  Forget the lights, I figured; we'll save money on electricity, and the wreath can still look nice for anybody who sees it during the day.

Plus, my father has never liked Christmas lights on houses.  Reminds him too much of tacky Coney Island, he says.  And quite frankly, from my many memories of Christmases spent in Brooklyn, I know what he's referring to.  Row houses boasting garish displays of blinking lights and cheap plastic illuminated ornaments in each window would line the streets, assaulting passers-by with a dizzying spectacle reminiscent of the midway at Coney Island or even Times Square.

Not that my one large wreath could mimic those gaudy Brooklyn displays.  In fact, compared with the light displays some people here in Arlington pay professionals to install each Christmas, it could almost be considered insignificant.  So, I guess this year, when darkness falls each evening, and my three wreaths become shrouded by night, passersby won't have a clue that they even exist.

That's not the worst thing in the world, is it? At least, with all the lights off, the circle is unbroken.

I was never interested in giving the legendary Clark Griswold any competition anyway.

Tuesday Update: A neighbor with whom I shared my plight took it upon herself to purchase some new strands of white lights for me when she was at a hardware store last night! So yes, the circle will be unbroken yet again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Amount Isn't Key in Income Inequity

Class warfare is a bad thing.

So is wealth redistribution.

I get that.

But when I hear some conservative pundits talk about these issues, particularly regarding income inequity, why do they sound threatened by America's middle class?

In his op-ed today on, Michael Goodwin of the New York Post gives a curiously half-hearted stab at validating the existence of income inequality in the United States.

He allows that income inequality "is real, and growing."  And that our middle class "is losing ground and deserves help."

But he doesn't seem to realize that a vibrant middle class doesn't mean everybody becomes rich.  In an economy, isn't the percentage of folks in the lower, middle, and upper brackets just as important as the dollar amount that puts them there?  And it's the shrinking of the percentage amount occupied by middle income Americans that's a problem.  Right?  Because something's happening to deplete the middle class, and we're the people who provide the economic and political stability for our country.

Yet talking about it seems to make conservatives uneasy.  And not entirely logical.

Asking the Right Question

Goodwin quotes economist David Malpass as questioning "whether our goal as a society should be higher incomes for all, or less disparity between incomes.”

But is that really the question?  In a healthy economy, a rising tide of incomes lift all boats.  At least, all the boats of people willing to work for their income.  Malpass assumes this to be the preferred scenario, and I'd agree with him.

Yet that's not what's been happening, is it?  Instead, the wealthy have been increasing their net worth by laying off the middle class to save costs. They haven't been inventing new products or refining old ideas. Unemployment is stubbornly high and incomes for those who still have jobs have been sinking relative to the cost of living.  Goodwin claims that "income equalizers are pitting Americans against each other," which may be true of some liberal politicians.  However, through their machinations of the employment sector, haven't the high-income-earners already been pitting themselves against the middle and lower classes? Haven't they already been "redistributing wealth," not by taxation, but their own cutthroat business practices?

I am not opposed to wealth, and I don't think many other Americans are, either, yet Goodwin seems to assume otherwise. Like many people of both conservative and liberal stripes, he views this issue through a lens of dollar figures, instead of the methods people use to acquire their wealth.  Wealth in and of itself is not a bad thing, but how it is acquired can be.  And it certainly appears as though the wealth America's top income earners have amassed has come at the expense of the middle class.

Goodwin's mistake is in assuming that the inverse of imbalanced income can only be a "what's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine" mentality, instead of "income equity," meaning income that has been earned equitably.

Many conservatives think we should all be clawing our way up career ladders and finding our rewards in the affluence which comes with mastering capitalism.  But that scenario can't possibly work in capitalism, can it?  Not everybody can get the top job in a capitalist system, can they?  Otherwise, it wouldn't be the top job.  Not everybody can be senior management, either.  If everybody was a manager, who'd get the work done?  If everybody was out inventing something, who'd build it?  If everybody was working on Wall Street, who'd fix dinner?

We're not all going to be rich.  Otherwise, with everybody worth roughly the same amount, wouldn't that look more like Communism?

Capitalism depends on a stratification of labor, doesn't it?  Which means a stratification in incomes based on the importance of various jobs to the overall economy.  It's not an inherently bad system, as long as people get paid what they're worth.  And in theory, Goodwin probably would have no argument with that logic.

Ask "How?" Not "How Much?"

But being paid what they're worth is all most middle class Americans want.  They know they're not running a multi-billion-dollar corporation, but they're putting in enough energy and sweat equity to be treated better than they've been treated lately in our economy.  They know waste needs to be trimmed so that profits can be plowed into more research and development to grow their company, but that's not what's happening.

When investors swoop in and clean up after an acquisition followed by massive layoffs, how does that help the overall economy of the United States?  Doesn't it put more people out of work, which means payroll dollars - and taxes - are being drained from the nation's coffers?  Since so many wealthy Americans have developed a hoarding mentality, instead of a long-range industrial growth strategy for their money, what opportunities are being created for the masses in the middle class to launch their own enterprises?

Chances are, many of the people being laid off in corporate mergers and downsizings are smart enough to launch their own companies if they had the capital to do so.  But who's going to give them the money to do that, since these laid-off employees could become viable competitors to the companies that dismissed them? Wealth can certainly survive better without competition, but can wealth be created in a vacuum?

Maybe Goodwin prefers letting the wealthy suck up everybody else's wealth through their housekeeper's vacuum.

But is that good for America's long-term economic health?  Of course not, for just the same reason redistributing wealth via Robin-Hood style taxes wouldn't.  Nor the Democrat's continued avoidance of sweeping welfare reforms to try and staunch the government-sponsored fallacy of generational poverty.

So, what reason is that?  Quite simply, it matters how wealth is created. No matter what amount that wealth is. What processes have been allowed to exist - and even flourish - that may have disproportionately benefitted the wealthy at the expense of the lower classes? Can we trust money and our greed for it to provide the best determinant for our nation's future?

Remember, it's not whether everybody should have an equal income.  It's whether everybody has an equal opportunity to enjoy "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Happiness, in fact, that can't be bought.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Youth and Free Speech Wasted at UC Davis

Adrenaline.  Youth.  And angst.

A tricky combination in the best of times.  But at UC Davis's now-infamous pepper spray incident last Friday, they proved to be a sad reminder that youth can indeed be wasted on the young.

With all of the shrieking, screaming, and wailing going on in videos of that event, you'd have thought the student demonstration had something to do with an egregious injustice, like a confessed killer going free.  To learn that these kids were simply upset because college tuition rates have gone up paints the entire scenario with more absurdity than admiration regarding the right to free speech.

Don't like rising costs and prices?  What a good learning experience about life - which is what college is supposed to be, right?

Think about it, class:  how effective is throwing a temper tantrum at the gas station?  Or linking arms in protest across the entrance to your local grocery store?  It's Economics 101:  prices rise.  Understanding why prices rise, determining what costs are unnecessary, and petitioning for redress of fiscal grievances requires prudence, not petulance.  The cost of a decent education rises like everything else, and at a state-run school like UC Davis, those costs get born by taxpayers and students alike. Actually, UC Davis' students should be thankful they're not bearing the full brunt of those cost increases.

Like many people, I have to admit that I winced at seeing footage of campus policemen dousing the line of students with orange pepper spray.  For law-abiding Americans, whether liberal or conservative, it should not be easy to watch burly law enforcement officials disproportionately punishing civilians for trying to defend their point of view.  Witnessing our First Amendment freedoms come under such a severe attack should shake us.

Nevertheless - and this is the kicker - what we've seen on those videos about the campus police at UC Davis isn't really a desecration of First Amendment rights.  Is it?

We need to start with the original purpose of the demonstration, which was, frankly, an unfortunate display of ignorance by students regarding how expensive their education is and how it's financed.  Forming a human chain across a walkway might be something students who've spent half a semester in civics class consider profound.  But it isn't going to make lawmakers in Sacramento writhe with guilt over the egregious ways they fund California's colleges, is it?  It's not going to help reduce bureaucratic waste in the UC system to help control costs, either.  All it does is demonstrate an inability on the part of the students to comprehend how financially destitute their state is, and how many of the liberal entitlements they cherish as immature adults are contributing to California's inability to pay for them all - including the state's lavish college system.

Let's face it:  this demonstration really was just a fun way to stoke some youthful bravado and pretend as though their cause is worth more than every other financial crisis in the Golden State.

As for the perceived villains, how many campus cops get much respect to begin with?  UC Davis' campus police should actually be credited with not running out hastily and confronting students they feared were staging anarchy on the quad.  Sure, the police officers wore full riot gear, but wouldn't you, considering the fact that college students have been known to be unreasonable and unpredictable?  Especially with some of the radical role models professors love to dangle in front of their impressionable scholars.  Watch the videos, and you'll see the cops standing around for quite some time, brandishing weapons and pepper spray cans, yes, but also repeatedly warning the students about responsibilities to authority and consequences of actions.

Not that any law-abiding citizen should live in fear of the cops. But isn't a common respect for authority figures - even when we disagree with them - a greater hallmark of civilized behavior than taunting that authority and unnecessary brinkmanship?

At this point, we can't ignore the throngs of other students on the sidelines, too feeble to participate with the actual demonstration, but caught up enough in the adrenaline rush to find the drama alluring.  Wow - would we see a shooting?  Would they really use pepper spray?  I wonder what that would feel like?  I think that guy leading the chants is so cute!  Will the demonstrators give in at the last minute?  Hey - I can record this on my iPhone!  How cool is that?

Watching the videos, we can even see what appear to be professional photographers with bulky videocameras on their shoulders. Which makes one wonder if organizers of the students' demonstration called the local news media and suggested there might be some compelling sights and sounds out of their event.  As if maybe they were hoping something this dramatic might unfold?

So even though the images of cops spraying orange pepper spray into the faces of those students is in itself disturbing, you wonder if the students really weren't asking for it.  Weren't they trying to provoke the cops?  They had all the ingredients in the mix, and they would likely have been sorely disappointed if the cops would have just walked away in disgust at the stunt.  Plus, pepper spray doesn't kill you.  And to follow their already misguided line of non-logic, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  So bring it on.

And the cops obliged.

For only a few seconds, a couple of cops sprayed the faces of several of the demonstrators.  But from the howls of the bystanders, you'd have thought a whole army had been massacred.  Again, the pathos of misappropriated horror took over the scene, and if I were a parent of any of the kids whose faces appear on the videos, I'd be embarrassed at the absurdity of it all.  I'm sure those screenshots won't appear on any student's employment resume if they ever graduate.

Indeed, perhaps what's more disturbing than the images of cops spraying kids' faces with pepper spray is the farce those students may have made of First Amendment rights.  Free speech isn't really free in the sense that it costs nothing.  Or that it can be used unwisely.  It is a valuable right, and one that we should treat responsibly.  Is linking arms and spreading across a college campus walkway to demonstrate how little you understand about funding higher education a good use of something for which countless Americans have actually died in wars?  Shouldn't we save such indignation for when religious freedoms come under attack, when the press is censored, or when minority groups are intimidated in their quest for equal rights?

Oh, right.  Those have already happened.  Legitimate cries for human dignity.  Which means when UC Davis' students stage such a comparatively innocuous demonstration as theirs, free speech risks getting cheapened.

Granted, the campus police could have used other means for brokering the situation instead of pepper spray, but it does not appear that the students would have had it any other way.  And in a sense, the cops helped those students broadcast their message beyond the campus of UC Davis.  Even though that message cast the demonstrators in a negative light.  What would have been just another hollow Occupy protest in suburban Sacramento ended up keeping the national media busy throughout the weekend.

Is that enough to validate the students' claims of victimization at the hands of over-armed riot police?  Or, since California's higher-ed funding woes are only predicted to worsen, has all this rage become just another fad in our current era of discontent?

At least in suburban Sacramento, we can hope last Friday's skirmish will fade away as the need for personal accountability overcomes the irrationality of youth.  Unfortunately, by the time most people discover real causes worth fighting for, the energy of their youth is more memory than mobilizer.

Which means the kids who stayed in the classroom and learned how to solve problems likely will have a greater long-term impact on society than the ones who simply look for impact in the moment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Over Rivers and Through Woods

The rivers were stern and steely.

The woods dark and bleak.

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house in Maine was never as enjoyable at Thanksgiving time as it was in the summertime.

Granted, we usually didn't visit Maine during the summers, since the weather then was conducive for my grandparents driving to upstate New York, where we lived when I was a boy.

And isn't there something genuinely American about spending this very New England of holidays in, well, New England?

So my parents would excuse my brother and me out of school on the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, and we'd spend the day driving down the New York State Thruway from Oneida, across the Hudson River somewhere either above or below Albany, through the quaint New England countryside, to the sprawling Piscataqua River dividing New Hampshire from Maine, and on into the lonely, remote Pine Tree State.

By then we'd be approaching dusk. Maine's namesake trees, lining the state's Turnpike like weathered warriors standing at attention, would seem even taller when my father turned off of the freeway - our last link to modern civilization - and onto the even more rural roads leading to Sedgwick, along the rocky Atlantic Coast.

Those spindly, oblong triangles in their shadows of dark greens and grays rushed alongside our car as we bounced over narrow, poorly-maintained roads, pock-marked and rutted by freezing winters and incessantly wet summers.  My grandfather worked for the state's highway department, and it wasn't until I was an adult and I realized how poor Maine was, and how brutal its climate, that I appreciated how the hard work my family claimed he put into his job really was hard, dreary work.  Just to keep the roads as good as they were!

By the time we reached my grandparent's tidy, tiny house between Sedgwick and Sargentville, the sky was inky black.  There were no streetlights, and if there was no snow, the landscape would be as black as the sky, so you couldn't tell where earth ended and the heavens began.

Morning's light - what light there was at this dreary time of year - would reveal a splendid view of the reach, the wide body of water between the mainland and Deer Isle, a couple of miles away.  Even though my grandparents lived across the road and up a broad field from the shore, the view aways captivated me, the rhythmic lapping of the waves and tides almost soothing in their dependability.

Of course, my grandparents did have electricity, but otherwise, visiting them always seemed an exercise in Spartan living.  For years, they didn't have a television - not even a black-and white.  I remember they used to have a party line telephone, which meant than whenever somebody along their line got a call, everybody knew it.  One ring was so-and-so, two rings was Mrs. Somebody down the road, four rings was that family that ran the home heating oil company.  Grammie and Grampa's was three rings.  We had to wait and listen for the number of rings to know if you had to answer the phone, and everybody was on the honor system regarding each other's shared privacy.

We'd have a feast for sure on Thanksgiving day, even if my brother and I were quite bored with those early years of no television.  But then, my own parents didn't buy one until I entered Kindergarten and came home one day, asking them who Mr. Rogers was.

My grandfather had a large tool shed reeking of musty age, with virtually every board built into the place looking like it was older than Moses.  This being near the salty sea, all the iron - from nails to infrequently used tools - were rusty.  But he had fascinating stuff in there, illuminated only by ancient windows with wavy glass that people prize today for its historic aesthetic.  Some of his tools were certifiable antiques, stacked in corners in the dark, where even in the middle of a sunny afternoon, you couldn't really make out what lurked in the shadows.  There's a fine line between intrigue and spooky, and usually it didn't take me very long to let the latter win out over the former, and I'd leave my father and grandfather to their guy talk inside that shed.

A narrow, shallow brook came down from the hills behind their house and meandered over past the side yard, eventually ducking under the road and dipping down along the meadow across the road down to the reach.  Along its course through my grandparent's back yard, I could sometimes stand on its icy top while still watching the water run freely below me.  Every now and then, the ice really wasn't thick enough, and my foot would slush through, sinking to the sandy bottom of the brook, usually a mere six or ten inches down.  Enough to get my foot and leg wet up to my knee, yet without getting dirty enough to make my Mom really mad when I went indoors.  There was a simple bridge, of course, that I could have used to cross the brook, but what fun would that have been?

Relatives and family friends would stop by to see us, since back then, a lot of people in town knew my Mom and her family.  There were only about 500 people in an area almost the size of Brooklyn.  Nowadays, everybody except about a dozen people is a stranger to Mom, since most of the homes owned by the old-timers have been sold to summer residents and people "from away."

Since we'd be going to my Dad's side of the family at Christmastime in New York City, we'd celebrate Christmas with my grandparents on Thanksgiving night.  The presents my brother and I received from them were never tremendously exciting, contrary to the loot we'd haul in from my Dad's mother and sister in Gotham.  No, my grandparents not only had little money, they had little choice in terms of stores to shop. 

Back then, as now, Sedgwick managed with just a small village store for the bare essentials.  The next-closest town, Blue Hill, about fifteen minutes away, had a venerable dry goods shop, plus a drug store.  After Blue Hill came Ellsworth, another fifteen minutes away, which boasted a Dunkin' Donuts and a few medium-sized stores. Nevertheless, this being Maine, even their selection tended towards the practical, not the fun or luxurious.

One year, my brother and I each got a brand-new metal wastebasket.  Another year, we each got a used steel toolbox with some equally-used screwdrivers and wrenches in them.  Yet somehow, my brother and I never seemed too disappointed with the austerity of those Christmases.  Partly, probably, because we knew we'd be spoiled rotten the next month in Brooklyn.  But maybe also partly because my parents would give us a strict lecture at some point on that boring drive into Maine about understanding Grammie and Grampa weren't made of money and we need to be thankful for whatever we received.

It wasn't like they gave us coal, either, was it?  I mean, a wastebasket isn't glamorous, but every time I threw something away in my bedroom back home, I'd remember my grandparents.  Sometimes I'd even second-guess whether what I was throwing away couldn't be repurposed somehow.  Like my grandparents themselves would do with a lot of things.  And I still have the toolbox, minus most of those original tools, here in Texas.  It was certainly one of the more masculine gifts I've ever been given, even if any hopes Grampa may have had that I would become a handy Mr. Fixit were wasted.

Demanding physical labor was a hallmark of my grandparents' generation, particularly in impoverished places like Maine. Neither men nor women there, even if their tasks fell along gender-specific lines, enjoyed many of the innovative employee benefits other Americans won from the Industrial Revolution.  What days off and vacations Mainers had were rarely filled with recreational pursuits.  In the spring, there were vegetable gardens to be planted, and then weeded in the summers.  In the fall, there was wood to be cut, and in the winters, snow to shovel. From the roof. Not to mention fishing, clamming, and hunting - not for sport, but for food. And that was for people who didn't own farms.  Farmers had even more work.

Nobody had new cars there except the summer people.  Store-bought clothes were status symbols.  Yet houses were usually crisply painted, yards neatly trimmed, and the food incredibly delicious.  Grammie made the only soup I've ever really liked - a chicken broth with rice and vegetables that my Mom, Grammie's daughter, has never been able to replicate.  Grammie finally got a gas stove, but she always relied on her old, black, cast-iron monster of a stove that squatted menacingly next to a well-worn dining table. Tiny squares of thick glass in its oven door glowed from orange fires that raged nearly constantly inside.

The warmth from that stove - heat, actually - could make you sweat even while a blizzard raged outside, with wind whipping snow and pellets of ice against the windows, and electricity - one of the few truly modern amenities in the house - flickering in fear of the maelstrom.

And my grandparents, well-worn Mainers seasoned by decades of such weather, serenely listening to music on the radio, playing board games with us, or waiting to hear from my grandfather's supervisor at the depot if roads needed to be plowed.  Three rings on the phone, and Grampa almost didn't need to pick it up to know his answer.  Grammie would instantly furnish a lunchbox with coffee and a hearty meal lovingly wrapped up inside, and off he'd go, into snow and ice and blackness, until the storm moved off to sea.

Grampa died during one of Maine's spectacular summer days, after he'd retired, sitting with Grammie in their set of hand-crafted Adirondack chairs, looking out across the road, down the meadow, and across the sparking reach.  The state's bitter winters are made tolerable by those few yet perfect summer days God bestows on the hardy folk of coastal Maine. Grammie had gone inside to get themselves something to drink, and she glanced out the kitchen window over the sink to the side yard, where she saw Grampa's head quietly, softly bow forwards.  And she knew he wasn't napping.

I still have those hand-crafted Adirondack chairs, still wearing their same old baby-blue-colored lead paint.  And whenever I see them, like whenever I saw that cheap metal wastebasket, I think of my grandparents.

I think of those dreary rides on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  I think of Grammie's delicious chicken soup, and that fearsome black stove on which she cooked it.  I think of my Grampa faithfully trudging off to plow deserted roads during yet another blizzard.

And I am thankful.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Crude Leadership Crystalized as Failure

Canada wanted to sell some oil. But President Barak Obama didn't want to risk his re-election chances by approving a new pipeline down to Houston. So now, it appears all that oil may be headed for China.

The Schuller family wanted to find a way out from under tens of millions of dollars in debt from their Crystal Cathedral in California. So they've sold it out from under their congregation to the Catholic Diocese of Orange County for $57 million.

Oil and religion usually only mix in Texas. But this week, we've seen two entities try to save their reputations by pitching both oil and religion to the highest bidder: themselves.

Indeed, it's not entirely about money. Obama has no direct financial payday from his desire to placate ardent environmentalists. And it's unlikely the Schuller family will see much - if any - of the purchase price for their glassy trophy church, since their whole ministry is mired in bankruptcy court. But self-preservation, rather than optimum benefit for a community, has once again proven that integrity and faith are only as important to some people as their own neck.

And unfortunately, for both Obama and the Schullers, these similar scenarios aren't even all that surprising. Disappointing, and downright exasperating, but not surprising.

Even though he's already amassed a re-election war chest the size of every Republican candidate's campaign combined, Obama simply couldn't bring himself to do something even some environmentalists were ambivalent about: running a pipeline from the province of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, where extant refineries could help turn North American crude into a modicum of energy independence for the United States.  Technically, he deferred a decision on the pipeline until after next fall's elections, but by then, China may have already secured a contract for oil that's literally in our back yard.

Schuller's temple to himself in sunny Garden Grove may have been designed by a world-class architect - three, actually - but it's always been more charade than church.  If his possibility thinking really worked, there should have been dozens of Crystal Cathedrals all over southern California and the world, but all of that prosperity malarchy Schuller and his ilk shill on television only works for them, because they're the only ones who benefit from the chain-letter type fundraising they promote.  So to have the "ministry" - and I use that term as loosely as possible - fall into bankruptcy was eventually inevitable.  But to sell out his few remaining faithful followers to the Catholic Church, even after a college offering a long-term leaseback arrangement upped their offer, smacks of the very same hollow theology upon which Schuller's entire career was based.

Not that the Catholics won't treat these architectural gems with care.  They've already announced that they're going to use the magnificent Crystal Cathedral for their diocesan cathedral for their bishop.  But converting the buildings built for protestant worship - ostensibly - into spaces consecrated for Roman Catholic worship is both a literal and symbolic upheaval.

But then, leadership is all about having the courage to make tough decisions.  Leaders rarely get the chance to make everybody happy at the same time.  In order to make an omelet, you've gotta crack some eggs.

From where I'm standing, it looks like a lot more eggshell than egg is making it into that omelet.  Then, too, sometimes leaders face tough decisions because their own mistakes have brought them to that point.

And don't even talk to me about happiness.

Happiness is something that happens when you do something for others, instead of yourself.  Not just benefiting a small sub-set of special interests, like fringe ecologists or bankruptcy attorneys, but a broader community of which you claim to be a part.

There aren't a lot of happy energy consumers in America today, or Crystal Cathedral members.

So much for thinking change you can believe in was ever a possibility.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Old Fashion Retailing

"There's no such thing as a short-sleeved dress shirt."

Years ago, I worked my way through college at an upscale mens' clothier called Jas. K. Wilson.  As you can tell, even its name was old-fashioned: "Jas" with a period is the old-English abbreviation for James. And it's not pronounced, as some people think, "jazz;" but voiced as the complete word, "James."

Being a traditional full-service store, we had such features as custom gift-wrapping, on-site tailoring, and full-time cashiers - things hardly any retailer offers today.  Our store staffed a full compliment of sales people on the floor, so customers didn't have to hunt for assistance.  We sent out thank-you cards to customers, and were expected to follow the old retailing mantra that "the customer is always right."

Even when they're wrong.

Okay, I added that last bit myself.  Except actually, when it came to the subject of short-sleeved dress shirts, we could point out the error of the customer's ways.  For years, when anyone erroneously assumed we'd carry such a garment as a dress shirt with short sleeves, we were allowed to politely advise him or her that truthfully, a dress shirt only comes with long sleeves.

Anything that looks like a dress shirt but has short sleeves isn't officially a dress shirt. Not even here, in our Texas heat.

Shopping is a Sport in Dallas

Jas. K. Wilson was eponymously named for a Dallas entrepreneur who'd built up a small chain of gentlemans' clothing shops, before selling them to Hart Schaffner and Marx, the Chicago-based manufacturer of handcrafted business suits.  Wilson rode an early wave of Dallas' population boom after World War II, and even though their original flagship location on Dallas' Main Street had long since closed before I started working for the firm, their location at north Dallas' NorthPark Center, one of the world's pioneering enclosed shopping malls, ran neck-and-neck consistently with the corporation's top stores in New York and Chicago.

In fact, when one CEO of Hartmarx, the corporate entity for Hart Schaffner and Marx, left to head luxury toy retailer FAO Schwarz, he contrived to boot the Jas. K. Wilson store at NorthPark from one of the mall's most coveted spaces for FAO's new Dallas emporium.  At the time, it was a big scandal in our local retailing world.  I remember offering to help move the entire stock of our NorthPark store from its prized, sprawling location to a hidden hole in another part of the mall - the only storefront available on such short notice.  What a ludicrous mess that was - trying to cram so much merchandise into so much smaller a space.

And such a slap in the face to a retailer with the legacy it had enjoyed for years in the Dallas area.

I started working in their Arlington store when I was still a junior in high school.  Back then, even though everybody else already had computerized cash registers, we wrote up every bill of sale by hand.  It could take forever!  And then we would turn around and peck the sale into a cumbersome, monstrous cash register. 

We had a dapper, elderly black man who worked as the porter, making sure merchandise from our daily deliveries arrived onto the selling floor so we didn't have to get ourselves dirty in the stockroom.  When the elderly gentleman retired, he was replaced by a part-time college student, just a few years older than myself.  But that didn't last very long - the college student, a gregarious, fun-loving guy whose only flair for traditionalism was his conventional collegiate binge drinking, didn't last too long.  And when he left, so did the position of porter in our store.  After that, we had to take turns wrestling with boxes and racks in the stockroom ourselves.

We all wore suits in those days - even the female employees.  These were the heady days of newly-empowered career women, when ladies of the office began wearing stern black suits to announce the cracks in corporate America's glass ceiling.  We even had a small department off to the side of the store called "Corporate Woman," which featured these dark suits, tailored with the same craftsmanship as the suits we sold to men.  But we men weren't allowed to sell in the Corporate Woman boutique, although several female customers wanted one of our particularly handsome young salesmen to. 

Actually, that guy ended up dating country-western siren Tanya Tucker...

Mall Wars

Speaking of celebrities, I once got to utter those immortal words, "How may I help you?" to actor Charles Bronson when he wandered into our store one afternoon.  His wife had been undergoing treatment at the renowned Arlington Cancer Center here in town, and I guess he'd decided to see what our local mall looked like.  He didn't buy anything, but then again, when your wife is suffering from cancer, clothes shopping is not especially a priority for a man.

Our mall wasn't anything to wow an A-list Hollywood actor, anyway.  It was nice enough, for Arlington, as 1980's suburban malls went.  It was called "Six Flags Mall" after the six national governments Texas has had:  Spain, France, Mexico, the republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States.  It boasted all the national chain stores along one level, a subdued southwest design motif, and lots of palm trees and other plants that malls just don't spend the money on today.  We also had live plants throughout our store, professionally tended every week by a florist.  They added an appealing ambiance, nestled among racks of clothing, or decorating the opulent billiard table gracing the center of the store.

Unfortunately, as nice as Six Flags Mall was, it wasn't alluring.  So as Arlington continued to experience explosive growth, another mall was built several miles away.  And since new construction always draws a crowd, shoppers immediately flocked to the new mall from the day it opened.  Six Flags Mall's owners scrambled to construct a new wing and refurbish everything else, but it was too little too late.

Short-Sighted Selling

Our own store was caught in the fate that comes from failing to keep up with the new, too.  For all of the money Hartmarx spent on salaries for MBA-degreed buyers and executives, first at our divisional offices in Dallas, and then at our corporate headquarters in Chicago, they all failed to catch the increasingly popular business-casual phenomenon sweeping offices across America.

We salespeople heard about it from our customers, who were buying up our sportswear far faster than our suits, but our corporate bosses thought it was simply because suits cost more than khaki pants and golf shirts.  It was our fault for not selling more suits.

That's the way things typically went at Jas. K. Wilson.  If we had a good month, it was because corporate had done things right.  If we had a bad month, it was because the sales staff had gotten lazy.  Never mind the fact that nobody I ever met from corporate had ever worked on a retail sales floor in their life.  They all assumed that their college business classes provided better insight on how customers buy than actual, personal experience.

I vividly remember the Saturday one of our local executives, Mr. M., a short, brusque man who never smiled except in condescension, came to our store to show us how to sell.  We staffers all hovered around like cowed schoolboys after one of our spitwads had accidentally hit the teacher.  And Mr. M., with his gruff, no-nonsense voice and stiff mannerisms, aggressively pounced on each and every soul who had the misfortune of walking into our store that morning.

He spoke so fast that customers couldn't understand him.  And he was deaf in one ear, so when customers asked him to repeat what he'd just said, he'd scowl, cock his head, and shoot back, "What?"

Mr. Marcus may have sold a shirt or two that morning, but not nearly enough to prove that he knew more than we did about selling stuff.  He left quietly and quickly at lunchtime, and when we'd realized he'd gone, we staffers felt like running out into the mall to invite our scared customers back into the store so they could now shop in comfort!

Don't Worry, Be Happy

By the time corporate realized the tide in office apparel had turned, and that business-casual was here to stay, it was too late for Jas. K. Wilson.  Our once-mighty NorthPark store had died an ignominious death in yet another shell of a space.  Our new mall in Arlington had pretty much decimated customer traffic at Six Flags Mall, and several of our sister stores in the area were closing because of demographic shifts, as affluent customers continued to move further out into newer suburbs.

However, the last straw had nothing to do with completely botching the business-casual trend, or not moving to newer malls in newer areas, or us not knowing how to sell shirts, ties, shoes, suits, and womens' blouses.  It came, as we understood it, from two top executives at Hartmarx up in Chicago.

To avoid filing for bankruptcy protection, Hartmarx put all of its stores up for liquidation, so its legacy suit manufacturing division could be salvaged.  By then, none of us were surprised at that development, but we were stunned to hear some scuttlebutt a few days later that those two top executives had absconded to the Caribbean after allegedly looting the company's coffers.

How much of that is true we could never determine.  But it seemed to fit a pattern of irresponsibility that had been emanating from the exclusive Wacker Drive skyscraper Hartmarx leased in Chicago's Loop.  And it evaporated what morale was left after learning our stores were being dumped from underneath our feet.

In the end, I wound up being the store manager at Six Flags the day it officially shut forever, which was indeed a somber event.  What few staffers remained filed out of the back door, I followed behind them, and gave the keys to the representative of the liquidation firm handling the closing.  The liquidators would return later and finish removing whatever hadn't already been sold off.

The next day, I drove to another store nearby and helped do the same thing with their liquidation.

What an inauspicious way for the revered Jas. K. Wilson legacy to end.  Not that being a clothing salesperson would ever have been my dream job.  Looking back, however, it's been the longest single period of employment I've had in my life.

And it wasn't all a waste.  It got me through college.  It trained me in selling, and even in the intricacies of how a proper silk tie is constructed - and tied.  Regular readers of this blog probably don't believe me, but working at Jas. K. Wilson taught me the art of diplomacy, the respect one can earn from simple hard work (and that I shouldn't expect respect from folks at corporate), and how to think on my feet.

Some Things Don't Go Out of Fashion

One of the elderly gentlemen with whom I had the privilege of working, Coy Garrison, would repeat himself often, and was just as hard of hearing as the younger Mr. M.  He also didn't see very well, despite his extraordinarily thick glasses.  Even after a customer would make a decision on, say, a shirt and matching tie, Coy would linger beneath a nearby light bulb, straining to check and see if the two items really did go together. 

Because of his age, Coy assumed the position of elder statesman on our sales floor, and when business was slow (and even when it wasn't), he'd often hold court along the dress shirt wall, with its white stucco arches, and rows and rows of glass display cubes, sharing bits of wisdom from years in the business.

Of all the bits of wisdom he'd share, he'd repeat his unwavering belief that if they didn't do military service, every person should spend at least a year in retail after they left school.

In retail, Coy argued, you meet all sorts of people, both as customers and co-workers.  And especially managers.  You have to learn how to make your own way, how to educate yourself on the merits of a product, and how to share what you've learned with a person who may have had, until that point, no interest at all in what you wanted to sell them.

And, perhaps most importantly, Coy taught that you weren't going to sell everybody what you wanted to sell them.  But selling or not selling wasn't as important as how you did it.  Whether you sold them or not, Coy would always preach that you should conduct yourself with enough integrity so that you could go home with a clear conscience, get a good night's sleep, and get up the next day to do it all over again.

Maybe not the most profound words anybody's ever said.

But no less true than there being no such thing as a short-sleeved dress shirt.

The bottom of an old advertisement I found online.
Merritt Schaefer & Brown and Frank Bros. were sister Hartmarx stores in our division here in Texas.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From Zuccotti Park to Sixth Avenue

Almost two months to the day, and Occupy Wall Street may be sputtering to a close as strangely as it began.

Back in September, it took a couple of days before most of the mainstream media picked up on the fact that somebody was trying to hold a demonstration in Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park. And then once the TV cameras arrived, it seemed every 1960's radical and their grandchildren wanted a slice of the hippie drum-and-chant action. Juxtaposed ironically enough with the staid, blue-suited businesspeople who slave away in the concrete canyons of the Financial District.

It made for great street theater. For a while, at least. And then New York's ubiquitous homeless people started moving in, blending with the rapidly-grungifying occupiers and enjoying free gourmet feasts from liberal-leaning restaurateurs.

Then New York's famed con-artists and pickpockets started moving in, stealing everything from cots to $5,000 Apple laptops.

And then the tide began to turn. What once was just the latest tourist attraction, in a city known for letting anybody speak their mind regardless of validity, became just obnoxious. Not only to the so-called One Percenters who work Downtown, but to everyday New Yorkers, growing increasingly irritated that their hard-earned money was going to prop up security and sanitation for protesters who'd come from across the country to celebrate slovenly bohemianism.

It wasn't even like these new bohemians ever even managed to come up with a purpose statement, or a list of demands, or even a rallying cry. No logo, no tagline, no clear and consistent message. Besides the grunge and the noise and the filth, that is. And the stolen $5,000 laptop. From a group of people claiming poverty.

Now they're threatening to stage a massive protest near Wall Street on Thursday, then spreading out via the Subway to the outer boroughs.  They've already inconvenienced plenty of Manhattanites and ruined what little success they had at wooing native support.  So now they think going into the poor and middle-class ethnic enclaves of the city's first-generation immigrants - people who've chosen to live in America, because it's better than where they came from - will help their cause?

The Only Thing Occupiers Have Taught Me

Honestly, about the only thing I've learned from Occupy Wall Street is that New Yorkers actually do now call the former Liberty Park by it's post-9/11 name, Zuccotti Park. Back when I worked in Lower Manhattan, the black-granite strip of a park near the World Trade Center hardly even had a name. It was where people ate lunch and waited for commuter buses after work, but it had no real identity.

While doing some research about the World Trade Center's reconstruction last year, I learned that the park's name had changed, but I thought it was something like what the city did with Sixth Avenue during the 1940's.  In those days, most of Sixth Avenue, which runs uptown from Greenwich Village to Central Park, was dangerous and dirty, so New York's leaders thought a quick way to try and enhance its image would be to re-name it "Avenue of the Americas." 

Yeah... what you're thinking is what most New Yorkers thought - and still think - about "Avenue of the Americas."  So the grandiose nomenclature never caught on.  Sixth Avenue is still Sixth Avenue.  Not helping the new name's fate was the fact that its honoree, the Organization of American States, remains an association of which few people have heard, and about which even fewer people care.

The fact that Sixth Avenue has metamorphosed into a steel and glass canyon flanked by block after block of corporate skyscrapers has nothing to do with the street's unfortunate name change.

So now Liberty Park is called Zuccotti Park.  But this name change isn't another Sixth Avenue re-branding attempt.  John Zuccotti was a former planning commissioner for New York City, and is currently a co-chairman of Brookfield Office Properties, a real estate management company.  Brookfield owns the black metal tower, One Liberty Plaza, which used to be the headquarters for US Steel, and is the park's northern neighbor.

Brookfield got to re-name the park after cleaning it up after the attack on the World Trade Center because, well, they own it.  US Steel originally created the park in the 1960's so they could build a taller skyscraper than would have otherwise been allowed on the site, and Brookfield got the park when they took control of the office building.

Which is why they could authorize Mayor Michael Bloomberg to clear out the protesters' squatter camp after nearly two months of indulging their petulant drain on city resources, not to mention the neighborhood's patience.

Occupiers Have Damaged True Reform Efforts

I probably won't get a lot of push-back from right-wingers when I say that I'm more open-minded about socioeconomic concerns than many conservatives. But when I say that the only thing I learned from Occupy Wall Street was that the name Zuccotti Park had really caught-on amongst New Yorkers, that's a severe indictment against what was supposed to be an earth-shaking movement.

A movement to do what, we don't know.

Which may have just made all of the other problems we think Occupy Wall Street wanted to highlight that much less legitimate in the eyes of people who, as the Occupiers claimed, control the purse strings in our country.

In other words, the real issues of persistently high unemployment, declining living standards for America's middle class, taxpayer-funded bailouts to companies with refreshed profit margins, the offshoring of jobs, and ridiculously high executive compensation standards may have become, by the Occupiers' quixoticness, much more marginalized in the eyes of people who didn't believe these were problems to begin with.

Meanwhile, the drumbeat of ominous statistics purportedly proving the shrinking of our middle class continues, with a report in today's New York Times of a new study showing how low-income and high-income areas have mushroomed in over 100 of America's largest urban areas.  Both poor and rich folk appear to be taking over neighborhoods that in 1970 were considered predominantly middle-class.

Many conservatives scoff at the notion that our middle class is shrinking, preferring to consider the numbers liberal politicians and the media use to make such claims as statistical aberrations or manipulations to bias the masses against the rich.  My question to these nay-sayers is this:  what harm is it to monitor and bolster capitalism's efforts at preserving our middle class, since we all know our middle class has been the economic engine that's fueled America for the past sixty years?

Besides, the news in this newest report isn't all bad for wealth-driven conservatives.  Indeed, the suggestion that rich neighborhoods are growing could be interpreted as an economic success story.  At least if you ignore the additional detail that those burgeoning rich neighborhoods aren't densely populated with rich people.  At least not as densely populated as the also-growing low-income neighborhoods.

This means that not only has the middle class experienced the reallocation of some within its former ranks "to the East Side," as the iconic theme song from the 1970's sitcom, The Jeffersons, phrases it.  This also means that many people who used to be middle class are neither that any more, nor rich.

They're poor.

Which means we could be moving towards a two-class economic system in the United States.  A scenario that does not bode well for economic growth, or even economic stability.

Unless you think it's a good thing that we'll soon have lots more poor people whose only hope is to somehow bounce back into the middle class.

Anyway, should conservatives who balk at claims our middle class is in decline automatically assume that the possibility refutes their robust version of free-market capitalism?  What are two of the things I join with conservatives in complaining about?  Big government and government waste, right?  And to the extent these two suffocators of middle class vibrancy are the result not of conservative policy, but liberal, shouldn't we be working hard to prove that the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park need to see reality for what it is?

Our economic reality isn't all corporate greed and inhumanity: two things anybody not on the Koch brothers' payroll knows are real problems.  But our problems include plain old government coddling of overpaid union labor, government complicity in generational poverty, unreasonable government regulations which restrict small business profitability, and government intransigence in adopting an equitable tax code.

Making Zuccotti Park Mean Something

Let's face it:  the rich hardly ever win in the long term against the poor, because there are always more disgruntled poor people than rich ones.  The benefit of having a majority of the population enjoying the middle class is that rich autocrats have a pacified buffer between themselves and the low-rung rabble.

So even if the One Percenters have no altruistic interests in preserving the middle class, they should find one key benefit in making sure you and I don't slip into poverty.

In a capitalist society, we save their necks.

Yes, these past two months in Zuccotti Park has been a complete waste of time and taxpayer resources.  And conservatives can be excused for not engaging in dialog with the Occupiers because we've not known who they want us to talk with, and even what they would want to talk about.  That's their fault.

But it's our fault if we just mock them and assume the resentment and indignation they've demonstrated is pure piffle and liberalistic extravagance.  If as I suspect, their invasion of the outer boroughs tomorrow meets with the outrage and contempt of even more ordinary New Yorkers, the Occupy Wall Street movement will likely crumble in a heap of ignominy.

Instead of letting these protesters limp back home even more bitter than they were two months ago, however, Republicans should take the initiative to rally around grievances that our middle class has already identified as being near and dear to our collectively conservative hearts.  In our presidential candidacy debates, let's focus on issues and solutions, not soundbites and personalities.  In our public dialog, let's remind America why big government can't fix our problems. And let's put Democrats in Washington on the defensive when it comes to claiming valid compromises for cutting government spending, reducing our debt, and removing trivial business regulations.

Zuccotti Park is owned by a multi-national corporation with Fortune 100 clients.  Brookfield has bent over backwards to let Occupy Wall Street run its erstwhile course.  That's a pretty good message about capitalism being more than just ruthless profits, isn't it?

Why aren't we claiming that message for the country?

Maybe conservatives should Occupy Avenue of the Americas.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Marriage Logic Out of Focus


We shouldn't underestimate its value in establishing and sustaining legitimacy.

Granted, in the realm of faith and church, not everything can be based on logic, since "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal sin and our need of a Savior, not a mathematical algorithm or flowchart.

So to a certain extent, some arguments of faith won't have the same type of logic as 2+2=4.

But the logic factor still plays a part in how we share our faith, doesn't it?  That's one reason why I oppose the Personhood movement, because I don't think it's smart to slap a one-sentence pro-life bill together and expect our legal system to just fall lock-step in behind it to protect the unborn.

Marital Status Wars

I also had to shake my head at Jim Daly's blog post published on recently, where he asks, "Are Married Men Better Workers than Single Ones?"

Daly is the successor to James Dobson at the helm of Focus on the Family (FOTF), and although a lot of their material is Biblically sound, sometimes their attempts at contextualizing the Gospel for our North American culture tend to read like The White Person's Guide to Upper Middle Class Protestantism.

In other words, it sometimes seems as though FOTF has become such an influential organization, it tends to feed on its own importance.  Although they have good intentions, they can appear to assume too much, and don't work as hard as they could at determining real correlations between social dynamics, sin patterns, and what should be our Christian worldview.

Case in point is Daly's eagerness at proving that men with a wife and kids are better workers than unmarried men (without kids, presumably).  And he tells us that a sociologist friend of his, Dr. Brad Wilcox, has the numbers to back it up.

Now, with a sociology degree myself, I'm not going to accuse a fellow social scientist of being in error - let alone a sociologist who's also a believer! We're a rare breed, indeed, even if I am more social than scientist.

But let's look at a couple of Wilcox's theories anyway:

• "On average, men who get and stay married work harder, work smarter, and earn more money than their unmarried peers."

• "Key sectors of the modern economy - from household products to insurance to groceries - are more likely to profit when men and women marry and have children."

All in a Day's Work

Actually, at first glance, there doesn't appear to be much to dispute. If you think about it, men going home every night to a hungry wife and kids have a different incentive than single guys to work "harder" and make sure they are providing shelter, food, and clothing for their loved ones.

If by working "smarter," Wilcox presumes that married men take less risks with their employment status since they've got a family to support, then he's probably right there, too. I've been told by my employers that generally speaking, if I were to marry and have kids, I could ask for a pay raise and likely get it, since I'd finally have a reason to justify a higher salary.

And you can't get much more logical here than Daly's observation that the more kids people have, the more consumer goods they purchase. In terms of stimulating the economy, getting married - ka-ching! - and having kids - ka-ching, ka-ching! - are two easy ways to do it.

Behind the Numbers

However, with all due respect, the critical flaw in Daly's article involves the conclusions he tries to reach with these otherwise unimpressive statistics.

Guys who are just starting out in the job market tend to be single because - surprise! - they've just graduated from high school or college, and simply aren't married yet. Which means their buying power is smaller than a guy who's been married for thirty years and has been climbing the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, Daly tucks in what he thinks is a disclaimer about men who haven't yet found their spouse.  But is marriage the urge it used to be? Aren't more and more young adults deferring marriage and kids so they can get some sort of career track going?

Then there's the whole married thing itself.  "Married" men doesn't indicate how many times they've been married, does it?  Serial marriage can also increase the number of kids, which helps support Wilcox's Point #2, but it doesn't exactly speak to the morality of such trends.  In addition, "married" doesn't indicate their sexual orientation.

Which may partly be where Daly intended to go with this article.  Might he be trying to point out how heterosexual married men benefit society more than gay married men?  Which, actually, I believe to be true

Unfortunately, however, Daly's stats don't prove this.

To be frank, the gay married couples I know are more committed to each other than some heterosexual couples I know.  The evangelical church's opposition to gay marriage won't be won by the claim that gays don't love each other as much as straight people love each other.  And although I would agree with Daly's assertion that gay parenting does more harm than good, that's when compared to heterosexual parenting.  I have a hard time believing that kids being bounced around in foster care and state care are better off than if a gay couple wanted to provide a safer, more stable environment for them.

Unresolved Conclusion

Daly attempts to conclude his musings with this exhortation:

"If healthy marriages lead to strong economies, wouldn't even the most hardcore secular economist agree that it makes good sense to redouble our efforts as a nation to encourage and strengthen the multi-millennial institution of matrimony?"

But do healthy marriages necessarily lead to strong economies?  Look at tribal cultures in primitive parts of our globe, where family structures far stronger than even what we see in many North American evangelical families have failed to generate the economic might of which we can boast.

Plus, money isn't a terribly Biblical motivation.  People who follow God's plan for sex and families will be blessed, but that isn't necessarily a financial blessing, is it?  Look at Germany, which officially recognizes same-sex civil unions for financial and adoption purposes, and has one of the strongest economies in the world.

For Daly to preach to America's economists on the benefits of economic abundance stemming from healthy traditional families, he's first going to have to preach to the choir - literally, if he can find enough churches that still have them - about how the divorce rate in America's evangelical church mirrors that of the unchurched culture.  Besides, the reason our holy God forbids homosexual marriage has more to do with Christ's deity than financial pragmatism.

Our Battle Isn't Against Flesh and Blood, or Unmarried Folk

Meanwhile, a lot of the FOTF faithful will still find what he says to be reassuring and affirmative.  Not especially bad things, but in terms of portraying a logical argument of why evangelicals support heterosexual marriage to an increasingly cynical culture, probably not entirely helpful.
What also isn't helpful is the need Daly seems to have for drawing a superiority play between men who are married, and men who aren't.  Sure, he tries to qualify his topic by saying he had no "intent to hurt those who wish to be married but are not," but even in that statement, he assumes that everybody wants to be married. Which, while being true for most men, isn't true of all.  And even if it was, why rub our noses in the notion that married men are better for America's economy?

Deep down, is Daly revealing a hidden animosity towards single guys?  He wouldn't be the first believer to have one.  Is the Apostle Paul right about everything else except the ministry benefits of not being burdened with a spouse?

By not incorporating good logic in his assertions, might Daly be risking offending people who are on his side, and losing even more credibility with his opponents in our unchurched culture?

He doesn't have to win me over with the argument that marriage benefits society.  Even secularists know that.  But the corollary, that singlehood is detrimental to society, isn't exactly Biblical.

Are married men better workers than single ones?

Ask wives whose husbands are married... to their jobs.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Reviewing "The Baker's Wife"

Have you ever read a Christian thriller?

Neither had I, until last month, when my editor at asked me to review a book by Christian suspense novelist Erin Healy.

Somewhat dubious about the genre, I gamely said I would, and surprised myself by actually reading it all the way through without laughing out loud.  I even found myself flipping page after page, having become so engrossed in the story that, as the saying goes, "I couldn't put it down."

Amazing.  Especially for somebody like me, who "doesn't do new well," as one of my best friends is fond of saying.

My review came out today on Crosswalk, and while you might not be thinking you'll want to buy the book, see if what I write about it changes your mind:

Review of The Baker's Wife by Erin Healy

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Penn State Crimes Compel End of Others' Silence

Giving a voice to all the victims of sex crimes, whose legacy the Penn State travesty has brought to the fore, a courageous friend of mine wrote an op-ed piece for today's Washington Post.

I don't do this often, so you know I'm serious when I say you've gotta read it here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I'm Jealous of Steve Jobs

I have a confession to make.

I'm jealous of Steve Jobs.

I'd love to be able to love only my loved ones, and freely express contempt for the people I don't love.  I'd love to be able to bully my way into projects, boardrooms, and design studios and dazzle everybody with my wonderful ideas, while I push people to depression and divorce like a slave driver.

I'd love to have billions of dollars in the bank and not have anybody complain about how I'm not spending any of it on charity.

I'd love to create products environmentalists love so much that they can't bring themselves to complain too loudly about my suppliers in China who are fouling their countryside while manufacturing those products.

I'd love to have the time to dither away on inconsequential decisions and abstract concepts, foisting my opinion of aesthetics on others and claiming it's simply superior to anything they could have imagined themselves.

I'd love to be able to get away with all of this, and at my death, be held in admiration and sheer awe, rather than pity and shame at all my faults.

Because Jobs created so many good things, his life apparently has been indemnified from all of the bad things he perpetrated on other people.

Yeah, he was a miserable person, but a fabulous genius, whose temperament and petulance can be waived in light of all the ways he changed our society for what we consider to be the better.

When I make mistakes, and complain too much, and think my ideas are better than somebody else's, people feel free to say I'm wrong, that it's not my place to point out other people's faults, and that my opinion is only worth the same as anybody else's.  And my detractors believe they have the legitimacy to put me in my place because I'm not creating fun new toys for them to play with.

In our consumeristic society, I suppose that's to be expected.  After all, I'm not generating wealth, or providing employment, or re-imagining new processes for accomplishing tired tasks.

I'm not even always right!

Not only, however, do I lack Jobs' obvious marketing prowess, I've got the same sins he had - just not on as public and visible a scale.  Our society has far more people like me in it - people who could be just as belligerent and horrible as Steve Jobs if we had his influence and charisma, but who've never been blessed with his ingenuity.

So he got away with stuff you and I could never get away with.  That's why I'm jealous of Steve Jobs.

Except apparently, according to his own biographer, he committed the one unpardonable sin:  he denied God's deity.  So in the end, what did he really get away with?

Great people come and go.  Jobs will be remembered throughout our generation - and likely beyond - as one man who was able to change how we use computers and telephones, select and listen to music, and read books.  He's a historical figure because nobody else had these ideas, or the ability to ramrod his version of them onto our culture's mainstage.

And I suppose it's to my discredit that I'm more jealous of him than I am willing to silently sit by while others praise his accomplishments and shrug off his frailties. Yet to the extent that our society celebrates achievement without acknowledging the price of that achievement, I feel compelled to go on the record, for what it's worth, and point out the reality of Jobs' legacy.

I repeat: he got away with stuff you and I could never get away with.  Why?  Because hardly any of us consumers ever had to work with him.  Or, rather, for him.  Quite simply, there was no grace in his life.  I admire his products and his ability to personalize technology just like you do.  But at the end of the day, or in this case, at the end of life, that's not what counts, is it?

Call me a flawed human being if you like, because that's what I am.  I'm jealous of Steve Jobs, yes, but at the same time, I'm thankful that I've not had to struggle with what must have been the enormous burden of ignoring the pain I was inflicting onto people around me as I charged through life on my own terms.  You might find this hard to believe, but I want to be gracious, even when I'm not.  I want to help other people, even when I'm frustrated with them.  I want to accept what other people can't be, just as I want other people to accept what I can't be.  I don't want to shut off my connections with other people, for the very same powerlessness over mortality that drove Jobs to hate on-off switches.  So I try being gracious, and I ask God to help me because I know that my jealously of Steve Jobs could easily manifest itself in trying to be and act like him.

Instead of Him.

Jobs appeared to have relished the self-glorification he and his admirers labeled as perfectionism.  People appeared to have been expendable in the pursuit of products.  We like to think that encouraging your loved ones and your co-workers to operate at their full potential is a good thing.  And it is.  Expecting them to operate at their full potential on your own schedule, however, is not.

If Jobs achieved greatness by flattering people with the former and wasting them with the latter, and society doesn't mind that formula, then I guess I'll never be great.  Even if I ever do come up with a clever idea to sell.

But... as God is my Help, I think I can live with that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sex News is its Own Fettish

These must be good days to be in the news business.

Forget the carping by print newspapers and our legacy television networks that their old days of raking in the advertising revenue are over.

Sex sells, sex scandals sell even better, and we've got plenty of both to keep our national media's accountants happy for quite a while.

A few days, anyway.

First, there was the unraveling of the Herman Cain presidential campaign by the steady trickle of sexual harassment gossip. Now, we've got the horrific predatory crimes at Penn State that could precipitate an implosion of its storied sports department.

The press thought they'd hit the gold mine when then-president Bill Clinton claimed he had not had sex "with that woman." Of course, then we learned it all depended on what your definition of "is" is.

That was at the dawn of the Internet.  These days, our media works overtime in print, on television, through the Internet, and smart phone messaging to provide Americans with breathlessly wall-to-wall coverage of these stories.  Unfortunately, this has all revealed more bad things about our society than good.  Not just that bad stuff happens - or, more accurately, that people get caught doing bad stuff.  But that plenty of people like learning about the bad stuff other people do.  We Americans have developed a salacious thirst for details - but even when we get the details, we often end up treating alleged victims as sideshows.

Details, it seems, interfere with our ability to process facts.

Even the press isn't immune.  Take, for example, the audacity of reporters at last night's press conference in Pennsylvania when it was announced that legendary coach Joe Paterno had been fired effective immediately.  Some members of the media immediately bellowed their protest, which reeked of unprofessionalism at best and outright contempt for morality at worst.   Even if the media has a right to express their opinions at a press conference, why didn't they yell with outrage when the district attorney announced its grand jury report on Sandusky?

And the mini-riot in State College last night after news broke that Paterno had been fired?  Students overturning a media vehicle and taunting police officers trying to keep the peace?  Where was this fury at the news Paterno contributed to a cover-up regarding allegations against a favored assistant coach for years?

And speaking of assistant coaches, why isn't the Penn State crowd outside Mike McCreary's home right now, demanding to know why, when he claims to have seen a crime being committed against a child in the athletic department's showers, he didn't man-up and go rescue the child?  According to what he told the grand jury, he had to go home and consult with his father about whether - and how - he should respond.

Seriously?  We can live with the fact that an assistant coach on a college football team doesn't have the moral compass to instinctively know how to react when he sees a crime being perpetrated against a child?

Is it because these were supposedly disenfranchised kids to begin with?  That their stories cannot be trusted because they need the attention they know they'll get by making these types of accusations?  Sure, the number of school teachers accused of sexually abusing students is much longer than the list of those actually proven guilty.  But at Penn State, we have a witness; we have one coach saying he saw another coach commit a felony, and a third coach doing the bare minimum in terms of reporting the incident to keep things as low-key as possible

Then there's Herman Cain, who's standing behind his lawyer and neo-con talk show hosts as the firing line over sexual harassment allegations only gets more fierce.  To his credit, Cain may truly be innocent of some or all of these charges, but his initial sloppiness with the facts when they began to trickle out - at first flatly denying that any allegations had ever been made, then eventually denying the allegations made against him had any basis in fact - severely weakened his credibility now when he says women like Sharon Bialek are lying.

Perhaps Bialek herself doesn't appear to have a lot of personal integrity, considering her past relationships and finances.  But doesn't Cain realize that blasting her reputation with a scathing press release describing her desperate need for money also lends credibility to her claims?  Think about it:  if Cain knew she was in such financial straits, couldn't it have been easier for him to assume that she might be more open to accepting his sexual advances towards her, in the hopes that he could get her a good job?

Making fun of women claiming sexual harassment isn't a very noble way of defending one's self, either, so for Rush Limbaugh to be making fun of Bialek's name, and using the pejorative term "babes" to describe the women accusing Cain, smacks more of desperate defensiveness than personal integrity.  Yet it's this type of language that our nation laps up, brings good ratings for big mouths like Limbaugh, and helps dilute the credibility of the accusers - whether accurately or not - in the court of public opinion, so that the next time a prominent figure harasses women, the ante has been upped for victims who need to report their attacker.

Let's face it - claiming to be the victim of a sexual predator isn't glamorous.  It's embarrassing, and enough fraudulent claims have been made by now that the he-said she-said nature of sexual harassment tends to make us not trust either party.  Whether they're public figures we think we know well, or private citizens we've never heard of before.

And then everyone turns to the media, and blames the reporters covering these types of stories for blowing them out of proportion.  More than one rowdy demonstrator in State College last night blamed the press for forcing JoePa's termination.  Cain's camp has been blaming the media for days now, unwilling to admit that it is Cain's own fault that this story has dragged on for as long as it has.

But is the press really at fault?  Yes, there have been situations that the media couldn't resist smothering to death.  And then there are other times when we, consumers of the news, demand that the media satiate our appetite for sexcapades, and we rationalize away the titillation under a guise of the public's "right to know."

How safe is that assumption, however, that we're merely educating ourselves on cultural anomalies when it comes to sex in the news?  Might there be a danger of our society becoming that much more jaded and disillusioned by real tragedy the more we expect these stories to be heavily reported?  We've obviously not become a more enlightened society.  At least, if the bawdy dismissal of genuine victims in Penn State's travesty by students angry at the university's leadership is any indication.

Or the fact - still incredible to me - that the guy who witnessed one of the events in question actually left the scene of the crime without intervening and had to ask his father what to do.

Whose backside is more important here?

Yes, it's a vulgar question, but that's the issue here, isn't it?  We need to reclaim a moral high ground for the benefit of our society, which means we'll need to wean ourselves from destructive behaviors, including college football hero worship, political grandstanding, and maybe even our own latent sexual perversions, all of which have contributed to these miserable spectacles parading before us in the media.

Granted, the case in Pennsylvania is a lot more cut-and-dried than the Cain debacle, but in reality, they're both similar in that they contribute to the future denigration of sex crime victims and our society's ability and willingness to address these crimes and allegations in responsible ways.

Or maybe the press really is just making all this seem worse than it is.

Some women from Cain's past have been trying to tell us that, no, the press isn't making their story worse than it is.  Who knows if we'll ever determine whether they're right.

I'm afraid, however, that the kids in Pennsylvania we'll be learning about in the upcoming days won't need to tell us the press is making their stories worse than they are.

Obviously, these are not scenarios with quick fixes.  At least in Paterno's case, and McCreary's, had they sought justice for the young victim they knew of immediately, their reputations would still be intact.  In terms of preventing child abuse in whatever form it takes, however, our society has a long way to go.

How far we progress on that journey depends in large measure on our ability to decipher right from wrong, and how well we cultivate a moral instinct that can tell us when rioting against JoePa's firing and calling alleged sex crime victims derogatory names are wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

In fact, as wrong in God's eyes as the crimes we blame the press for sensationalizing.