The Dreadlocks Affair

An incident was widely report in the press in which a black female student at San Francisco State University approached a white male student at the university and told him he shouldn’t be wearing dreadlocks because he was appropriating her culture.

If we follow this line of reasoning out a bit, here are some other things we need to put a halt to:

  • White people should not sing the blues in a public setting.  It may be okay to do this in the privacy of one’s own home.
  • White people should not play or listen to jazz.  We all know the origin of jazz.
  • Black people should not play basketball.  It was invented by a white guy in Springfield MA years before any black people played it.
  • The Japanese should dissolve their baseball leagues.  It’s an American game.
  • Not many American play Go, but those who do — and this includes the computer that just beat the world champion — should stop immediately.  Maybe they should play chess instead.   Oops, that won’t do.  Chess is thought to be of Indian origin and then spread to Persia about 1500 years ago.
  • And we don’t want to see any of you WASPs eating bagels.  You know why.
  • In the last international rugby there were teams from Georgia (the country, not the state), Fiji, Romania, France, Argentina, Japan, etc.  C’mon gang.  This is an English game.  It might be OK for the Welsh to play, and maybe even the Canadians, many of whom are of English ancestry, but not all these other countries appropriating an English game.

There must be many other such cultural appropriations.  Please share what’s been appropriated from your culture.    Adios for now.  Oops, can’t say that!

Virginia Parent Can Opt Out

of material in English classes they find offensive according to this story in the Washington Post.  Parents in the state already have the ability to remove their children from sex education classes if the material offends their religious beliefs.  I think we need to go beyond this lame measure.  Many parents find the teaching of evolution offensive to their religious beliefs and so they should have the ability to remove their children from all science classes, since you never can tell when the topic might arise.  And it was either Tennessee or Indiana that tried to pass a law setting the value of pi, the ratio of the diameter to the radius of a circle.  Apparently that pi is an irrational number irked some legislators who found it offended their religious beliefs.  So, Virginia parents should be able to pull their students from math classes.  Math is really behind all those objectionable comments about both global warming and evolution, both of which are opposed to any literal interpretation of the Bible.   Geography might need to be removed from the curriculum as well, as inconvenient truths could always pop up there.  I’m sure there are more classes we can drop, which would have the added benefit of requiring fewer teachers.  Maybe we can even get down to no teachers.   And we know what that would do to our unGodly high tax bills.

This Week in Idiocy – 15 February 2016

There are so many things, let us focus on just a few.

The president of Mount St. Mary ‘s College in Maryland issued a comment reported by the student newspaper as: “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies. But you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.” This was in reference to a plan to have students at risk leave MSM if they were likely to fail out, thus diminishing the college’s standing in the US New and World Report ranking.   What was he thinking?  After the numerous shootings at schools, colleges, and universities over the last few years, why would anyone use that Glock reference.   This also has the ring of eugenics, ridding the populace of racial inferiors.   That the Glock is an Austrian made weapon further identifies the comment as offensive.   It is reported that the president used a survey given out by the college to identify students at risk.  Wouldn’t the college want to help those students?  Or am I hopelessly naive and out of touch?  Then two faculty members were fired for disloyalty, one the adviser of the student newspaper and the other who went public with criticism of the president.  Later the president offered to re-instate the fired faculty members as this is the “Year of Mercy”.  What chutzpah!

But wait, there’s something even more interesting. Conservative commentator Jones is maintaining that President Obama ordered Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia killed.  This is so bizarre that it requires no further comment.



Do The Right Thing

Recently Pivotal, the company for which I work, held a sales kickoff event.  Pivotal’s three themes and the values by which we work are:  Do The Right Thing, Do What Works, and Be Kind.  In the course of the event, a few hours were spent by employees giving TED talks, most very interesting and some inspiring.  They even inspired me to put together this TED essay, although it is not about Technology, Entertainment, or Design, but a musing about an event in my life and how it plays into the three principles of Pivotal.

Years ago, when I was in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, I was passing the main train station on a weekend morning and stopped in to buy a paper.  30th Street Station is between 30th Street on the west side and the Schuylkill River on the east side.  I was feeling pretty good as I had just left a new girlfriend and things seemed to be going well, so I had a bit of a self assurance that morning.  When I left the station, I noticed that a group of people were standing by the bridge over the river looking down, and being a curious person, I went over to look.  I was shocked to see a woman, dressed in her sunday best, a white dress and hat struggling in the river.  There is no way anyone could be in the position unless they had jumped in the river to commit suicide.

I knew the river fairly well.  In high school I had rowed for the Lower Merion High School crew.  People who know me now will be startled.  I’m not small enough to be a cox nor large and strong enough to ever row for a university team, but crew was a no cut sport and a friend encouraged me to try out.  I was not very good.  The boat, in which I rowed always finished last in every race but one, and in that race we finished next to last only because one other boat in the race hit a submerged log and sank.  To celebrate our good fortune, we threw Dave Brown in the river.   The coach had warned us not to do this as the Schuylkill was horribly polluted.  We were suspended from the team for this prank, ending my rowing career.    Earlier I had spent summers at a farm up the river into which the local shoe polish factory was thought to have disposed of some of its chemical waste into the river.  People still fished in the river, but never ate anything they caught.  That the river was a dangerous place was well known.

Do The Right Thing

It’s easier said than done.  First of all, what is the right thing here?  This is not a case of saving someone caught in a situation they didn’t intend to be in, like getting caught in a undertow in the ocean, or caught in a car after an accident.  Speaking of the latter, I once helped pull someone out of a car that we thought was going to catch fire after an accident.  The man later died.  He was drunk and caused the accident.  But I was still sued by his estate.   That said, I would do it again, risking another lawsuit.  But although culpable, the man was not there by an act of his own volition, but by accident.   The right thing was to pull him out of the car, even taking the small risk of injury to ourselves if the car exploded.  I’m not sure we even thought about the risk at the time; we just did it.

This situation is a little different.  The river was at least 30 feet below the bridge and I had no idea how deep it was there, so there was some element of risk.   My wife, Nancy Sherman,  is a moral philosopher and we discuss topics like this at dinner.  Would it be a supererogatory act, that is, one beyond what is required or expected?  Certainly one is under no legal obligation to save another person.  I was once told, but never verified, that the only two countries where this kind of supererogatory act was a legal obligation were Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, hardly models of an ideal society.

When my wife was seconded to the U.S Naval Academy from her teaching job at Georgetown University after a cheating scandal, she help establish an Ethics Center there.  The goal of the center, among other things, is to have the midshipmen discuss some ethical issues before they had to deal with them in the fog of war, when there is no time for pondering ethical issues.  Her work focuses on moral injury in these situations, where soldiers, sailors, and marines may feel intense guilt and remorse if they killed an innocent civilian or thought they had failed their comrades somehow, even if there was nothing they could have done.    If interested,  you can find her work at her website.

What was the right thing to do here?  I still don’t know, although to this day I have guilt and remorse about what I did not do that day.

Do What Works

It’s easier said than done.  What would work here?  This was before the day of cell phones and someone in the crowd did run over to the railroad station to call the police, who did respond rather quickly.  There was no rope to throw the lady, and it’s not clear that had there been one that she would have taken it and decided to save herself.   In this case, the alternatives to jumping in are still not obvious to me, decades later.

Be Kind

It’s easier said than done.  The kind thing would have been to jump in, but again, it’s not clear that it would work or that putting oneself at risk in this situation would be kind to oneself or one’s family.  A quote I once learned may be helpful.  “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”   In acts of supererogation, it’s tough to balance what you should do for yourself and what you should do for others.

On an unrelated note, I used to work for another company in the industry.  At one of their sales meetings, one of the senior vice presidents called us to action by telling us to “Rip their hearts out.”  We thought we was referring to the competition, but given this company’s cut-throat reputation in the market, he may have meant the customers.  I was never so pleased when I left that organization and joined the company that became Pivotal.

How Does the Story End?

As we were standing there, a man ran over, took off his trousers and shoes and handed them to one of us.  He jumped in the water and pulled the woman to the side, just abutting the Schuylkill Expressway, a major artery in Philadelphia.  A short time later a police car arrived and headed off to the hospital.    The crowd at the bridge dispersed.

In the paper next day I learned that the woman had died and the rescuer had a non lethal heart attack and was doing ok.  When asked why he jumped him, he replied that it was the right thing to do.

Both the man and the women were taken to Philadelphia General Hospital, which was closed in 1977 by Frank Rizzo, then the mayor of Philadelphia.  It was the hospital that served the poor, mostly black community of West Philadelphia and was costing the city about $5 million per year to run it, a per bed rate higher than other hospitals in the city, but that may not be a way to measure its value.  Mayor Rizzo did not have the support of the black community of Philadelphia.    Was closing the hospital the right thing?  Did it work?  Was it kind?    That’s the subject of another blog.









Saying Without Saying

The use of coded language which gives the speaker a cover similar to plausible deniability — Definition – is an old trick in politics.  It gives the speaker the ability to use language, often derogatory towards minority groups, and then later claim that no derogatory intent was present. It’s a sort of nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more — as in the Monty Python skit — technique.  Recently, Paul LePage, the Tea Party-like governor of Maine, refereed to drug dealers as guys with names like D-Money, Smoothie, and Shifty who then flee home after “they impregnate a young, white girl.”

Governor LePage’s spokespeople said  “The governor is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant. What is relevant is the cost to state taxpayers for welfare …”

You may recall Louise Day Hicks who ran for mayor of Boston in the late 1960’s with the coded slogan:  “You know where I stand.”, meaning for segreated schools in Boston and opposition to court mandated bussing to integrate the schools.

Do you really think neither of these statements  are not about race?




Names for the New Elements

They, whoever they are,  announced today that 4 new elements had been discovered and needed names.  These elements are unstable and don’t really exist all that much in reality.   Using that as a guideline, we  at the Boslovian Academy of Science have suggested the following names:

  • Trumpium
  • Carsonium
  • Cruzium
  • Huckabeeium

We appreciate your comments and suggestions for names for the new elements and we welcome them to our reality.


Can It Happen Here?

Recently at the suggestion of a friend, I read a spy novel that takes place in Germany in 1939, David Downing’s Zoo Station.  In addition to being a right good read, it paints a rather nasty picture of life in Germany, especially for Jews and non-Nazis.    Making towns Judenfrei, free from Jews reminds us of the current rhetoric of the more vocal and extreme of the presidential candidates.  In Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post on Dec 19, 2015 — —  there are some vivid examples of the kinds of hate in the US that are eerily similar to that in Zoo Station.    This is not a new fear.  See Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America —  — and Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here —

To anyone to the left of Ghengis Khan and with a shred more conscience should be very concerned with the popularity of some of the candidates, particularly Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

There’s been so much written about this, that it’s not clear that there’s a lot more to offer except a warning that this is not something to be laughed off as a slight disturbance from the lunatic fringe.  A large number of people apparently like the message and are willing to act on it.  In a country in which the number of gun deaths is about the same this year as the number of automobile related deaths, that’s a scary thought.