A Paucity of Scarcity

By Rich Tucker

Policymakers are always ready to pass out “emergency” money, making Washington, D.C. the lender of last resort. What if it runs out of money?

(First published at TheHill.com)

Economics is the study of scarcity. Resources are limited. Human desires are unlimited.

But while the laws of economics haven’t been repealed, it is clear that Americans don’t think much of the idea of scarcity. We prefer to focus on prosperity. Start with spending, which is abundant, both by consumers and governments.

Until recently, lawmakers in both parties preached the need for the government to show financial restraint. To be fair, for decades they never followed through on that rhetoric. But they liked to talk about reducing spending and trimming deficits. During the 2008 presidential campaign, for example, Barack Obama declared himself in favor of a “net spending cut.”

In 2010, he appointed a bipartisan commission led by former Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton administration official Erskine Bowles. “This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem,” the president announced in his State of the Union address. “The commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.”

But when the commission did make recommendations, everyone in power in Washington simply ignored it.

They’re still ignoring the deficit. Consider the big “compromise” lawmakers agreed to last year. Republicans kept the tax cuts they’d enacted in 2017, and Congress agreed to spend $320 billion more over the next two years. Lawmakers also lifted budget caps during that time. The annual deficit neared $1 trillion in 2019, and will soar higher in this fiscal year. The only thing scarce in D.C. is fiscal discipline.

This matters, because everyone looks to the federal government to step in during emergencies.

When banks seemed on the verge of collapse in 2008, it was Uncle Sam that ponied up, whether banks wanted the money or not. A decade later, the “too big to fail” banks are even bigger: S&P Global found Wells Fargo is 300 percent larger, J.P. Morgan has doubled and Bank of America is 50 percent larger.

Meanwhile, for weather disasters, farm subsidies, or an upcoming census, policymakers are always ready to pass out “emergency” money, making Washington, D.C. the lender of last resort.

But failures are looming: Social Security, for example, is set to run out of money in 15 years, even as American life expectancy approaches 80 years, up by a decade since 1960. Yet there’s no political urgency to address this; Americans just seem to assume scarcity won’t be a problem for Social Security and other entitlement programs.

Another way scarcity could come back to bite is if it causes a drop in consumer spending, which goes up month after month and year after year. Consumer spending is two-thirds of the American economy. Just as with the government, a share of that spending is borrowed money. As of 2018, the average American had about $38,000 in personal debt, excluding home mortgage debt. That is $13.21 trillion that year, accounting for about two-thirds of the entire economy ($20.55 trillion).

Only about a quarter of us claimed to carry “no debt” in 2018. Most Americans admit they couldn’t raise $400 in case of an emergency. And while the government may be too big to fail, individual households can, and do, fail all the time.  

As usual, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was ahead of his time on this. “The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity,” King wrote in 1967.

That quote encapsulates the hubris of the 1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson promised Americans that we had such abundance, we could have both guns and butter. Instead, we ended up with “stagflation.”  King is correct that the upper classes are doing well. Today we have more millionaires and billionaires than ever before.

Still, scarcity hadn’t vanished in the 1960s, and it hasn’t vanished today. We ignore that at our peril.

Start With the Positives to Rebuild America

by Rich Tucker

It’s important to figure out where American jobs went, but even more important to figure out how to get them back. Or at least how to help the people who’ve lost them.

(FIRST PUBLISHED AT THEHILL.COM)

In my home town, there are many carousels.

Six, to be exact. They exist because a man named George F. Johnson ran a shoe company. Maybe you’ve worn E-J (Endicott-Johnson) footwear. The company employed hundreds of thousands of people in the Binghamton, New York region. The Johnson family also believed in “welfare capitalism.” In addition to free merry-go-rounds, E-J profits funded schools, parks and a hospital.

The factories are empty now, undone by competition from overseas. E-J was replaced as a major employer by IBM. Then, by the late 1980s, that came to stand for “I’ve Been Moved” as that company shipped jobs out of the area. Now IBM is gone as well, leaving empty facilities and a “plume” of groundwater pollution it will cost millions to clean up.

It’s important to figure out where American jobs went, but even more important to figure out how to get them back. Or at least how to help the people who’ve lost them. After all, we can’t all move to Brooklyn; some of us have to be able to shelter in place. Perhaps residents in troubled regions could even deliver positive changes on their own.

Where to begin? Start small.

In their book “Switch,” authors Chip and Dan Heath tell the story of Miner County, South Dakota. By 1995, the region was shrinking as “farm and industrial jobs had slowly dried up.” When young people “got old enough, they left and didn’t return.” But it didn’t need to be that way.

Students at a local high school launched a campaign aimed at reversing the decline. They called it “Let’s keep Miner dollars in Miner County.” The students calculated that if residents “spent just 10 percent more of their disposable income at home, they would boost the local economy by $7 million.”

They ended up doing much better than that. A year after the campaign started, the state calculated that the amount spent in the county had jumped by $15.6 million. That helped local businesses, of course. But it also increased tax revenues, making more money available for other projects. Instead of a death spiral, Miner County started spinning up.

In local communities today, people could start by shopping at a local grocery instead of a dollar store. Then eating at a local restaurant instead of a chain. That would begin to keep more local money circulating locally. Then, they must find ways to keep more people around.

In their book “Our Towns,” Jim and Deborah Fallows write that successful areas usually have a major research university nearby. Well, Binghamton University is one of the top New York State schools. But students usually get their degrees and leave the area.

Give more of those grads a reason to stay (the way technology grads often remain near Boston and Palo Alto after graduation) and the area might find itself playing host to the next big thing. It’s worth noting that, in their book “Jump-Starting America,” economists Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson list the Binghamton-Ithaca region in the top-10 for potential development.

Of course, you can also try to compete on beer. Brewpubs won’t change everything, but having some helps; the Fallows book notes that the presence of a craft brewery is a sign of a healthy community. So it’s good news that small breweries are popping up in communities nationwide. Let’s all drink to that.

Finally, think really big. Warehouse big.

The Binghamton area, like many places throughout the U.S., is blessed with superhighways, railroads, and affordable land. There are plenty of places for more inland ports. As long as a region is within a three-hour drive of a major city, where shoppers are hungering for same-day delivery, it could be home to massive fulfillment centers. Failing malls, once the center of suburban life and now eyesores, could be converted to data centers. Or they could become places to store and ship goods for e-commerce.

Weather forecasters have all the available information, and yet they still sometimes end up caught in downpours. Americans can’t know what the future will hold, but we can still try to shape it with development that would generate jobs and drive innovation. There’s no reason the future can’t be bright, all across the fruited plain.

DAN DAKICH IS BETTER THAN TAYLOR SWIFT

By Dave Barend

I’m guessing you may have a couple questions like: “Why on Earth would anyone compare Dan Dakich and Taylor Swift?” Or, “Who the hell is Dan Dakich?” Well, the answers to those questions, as well as indisputable proof that Dakich is better than Swift, can be found below – I think.

I’m guessing you may have a couple questions like: “Why on Earth would anyone compare Dan Dakich and Taylor Swift?” Or, “Who the hell is Dan Dakich?” Well, the answers to those questions, as well as indisputable proof that Dakich is better than Swift, can be found below – I think.

So you know that great feeling when you’re driving and a song you love comes on the radio? Today that feeling did not find its way to me. A song stared to play, I soon found it unbearable, and I changed the channel. This brought on immediate mutiny from my two teenage daughters. “Dad! That’s Taylor Swift!” “Who?” No, I didn’t ask that. I instead opted to avoid a cavalcade of disbelief.

“Come on Dad, who would you rather listen to?” They then mockingly added, “Dan Dakich?” At that point the feeling I had was, of course – pride. Yes, pride: I have two daughters who know who Dan Dakich is! I think this is the same kind of pride that normal parents feel when their kids come home with straight A’s. Yeah, they might not know the pythagorean theorem or the capital of South Dakota, but my girls know their college hoops. Now I just need to explain to them the obvious: Dan Dakich is better than Taylor Swift. (drop a rung)

Though first, I may need to explain to any of you non-college hoops nuts who Dan Dakich is. He played his college ball for Indiana, then became the head coach of Bowling Green, and is currently an analyst for ESPN. Now, if I need to explain who Taylor Swift is, well, you should probably think about selling that real estate you own under a rock. Anyway, here are the reasons why Dan Dakich is better than Taylor Swift.

Dan Dakich Has A Better Voice Than Taylor Swift.

Yes, that might seem like a tough contention to make. Taylor Swift has a whopping 10 Grammys, and Dakich has, well, let’s say, been snubbed. But to be clear, I’m not comparing singing accomplishments, just voice. And I steadfastly maintain that Dan Dakich’s voice is better. He kind of goes from low pitch to high pitch, and slow to fast when making a point. That’s an unquestionably enjoyable and quite distinctive cadence, “‘I’m telling ya”, as Dakich would say. Then there’s Taylor Swift’s voice which I have found far from distinctive. And I support this claim with quotes from other conversations with my daughters:

Me: “Is this Taylor Swift?”

Daughters: “No Dad. It’s Selena Gomez.”

Me: “Is this Taylor Swift?

Daughters: “No Dad. It’s Ariana Grande.”

Me: “Is this Taylor Swift?”

Daughters: “No Dad.  It’s Justin Bieber.”

Dan Dakich Provides Better Words Of Wisdom Than Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift seems to have lots to say about ex-boyfriends. I, however, have no ex-boyfriends. My daughters have no ex-boyfriends or boyfriends either, well, as far as I know. I assume they don’t, and as a good dad, I ignore any possible evidence to the contrary. So Taylor Swift’s words are of no use to me.

Dan Dakich, in contrast, has said so many wise things he should be called college basketball’s Confucius.  Amongst the pearls he has dropped are: “Ball don’t lie,” “He’s tough on tough”, “Water finds its level”, and “If the dog didn’t stop and take a dump he would have caught the rabbit.” I’m nearly certain that no such nuggets of wisdom can be found in any Taylor Swift lyric.

Dan Dakich Is Funnier Than Taylor Swift

There’s no denying that Dan Dakich can be really funny. He once proclaimed, “Including my own kids, I wouldn’t listen to anyone in their 20s”. While talking about college baseball coach, Erik Bakich, he said, “He’s one letter from the greatest name ever.” But my favorite was when he complimented Michigan’s John Teske’s soft hands by claiming, “He uses Jergens.” There’s no doubt Teske’s friends found another meaning.

I must admit that Taylor Swift does have two lines that absolutely crack me up: “Hey kids, spelling is fun” and “To the fella over there with the hella good hair.” Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the lines that follow those. I’m always laughing so hard I never hear what comes next. 

Dan Dakich Is Classier Than Taylor Swift

A contention could be made that Dan Dakich can be slightly caustic at times. He may have pushed an envelope or two, and arguably said a few things that could be considered less than appropriate for polite company – all of which I love, by the way. But I have never heard him utter one of the most vile, offensive and disgusting words in the English language – that, of course is the word “lover.” When you introduce someone as your “lover” you aren’t just saying this is my boyfriend/girlfriend. You’re saying this is the person I’m doing it with. “Hey, have you met my lover, you know, my bang buddy.” I mean, if you use the word lover, you might as well follow it up with all of the positions you just used. Dan Dakich is simply too classy to use that word. (And his wife, a former college softball coach, would likely clock him with a Louisville Slugger if he did so.)

Taylor Swift, however, not only says the word lover regularly, she sings it in a song grotesquely entitled – “Lover”. What makes it even worse is that my girls are now singing a song entitled “Lover”. And as a guy who can’t even picture his daughters with a boyfriend, I sure as hell don’t want to envision them with a “lover”.

And there you have the reasons why Dan Dakich is better than Taylor Swift.

Sorry about that, Taylor. Might I suggest you just shake it off? Though maybe not with your lover.

Finally, I must concede that my super-mega-Swiftie daughters, who have begged Santa for tickets to see you (again!!), remain unconvinced of Dan Dakich’s superiority. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they’d even take you over Santa – especially if he doesn’t come through with those tickets. But if they are going to feel that way about anyone other than their dear old dad, (or, of course, Dan Dakich) I’m happy it’s you.

Merry Christmas and “sweet dreams of holly and ribbon”.

Post Christmas Postscript

Moments after the opening of the last “big gift”, the house became filled with screams of two teenage girls. “We’re going to Taylor Swift! We’re going to Taylor!”  If only Santa had filled my stocking with Advil.

A few hours later while I tried to find the living room under a pile of used wrapping paper, my oldest said, “Thank you again for the Taylor Swift tickets.” “No problem.”   Yeah, that’s right – I lie to my kids. “Well I know you spent a lot of money on them, Dad.” Hmm. we now have another reason why Dan Dakich is better than Taylor Swift  – Dan Dakich is free!

She then asked, “Why didn’t you get Final 4 tickets instead?” “Well, because the gift was for you not me.” Though I understand her confusion seeing that my big gift from her mother was a new duvet cover.

“But we could have done both.” “Honey, right now we just can’t afford to do both.” “Didn’t you know that Taylor Swift is going to the Final 4 to do a concert that and the best part is it will be FREE.” I’m not sure what happened next because once I heard FREE, I passed out. But I have a faint recollection of hearing my girls say, “Dad. Come on Dad. Shake it off.”

(Note to Dan Dakich:  Sincere thanks for the really kind words about this article on Twitter. I’ll continue trying to get my wife and daughters to adopt the Dakich family motto of “Sack Up.” It’s clearly better than Shake It Off.)

Pope Francis and American Conservatism

By Mike Frates

Modern American conservatism represents a triumph of the rich and powerful over all who remain in this country.

“Pure Marxism,” decried Rush Limbaugh in response to Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, or the Joy of the Gospel. Bill O’Reilly later said that Jesus, “wouldn’t be down,” with giving food stamps to the drug addicted: “If you’re an [addict] and you can’t hold a job, and you can’t support your children, … then you’re bringing the havoc. You’re asking people who may be struggling themselves to put food on the table to give their tax money to you, … and then you’re going to buy booze and drugs with it.” It looks like Pope Francis has rattled a few conservative cages with his new emphasis on the plight of the poor. Let me offer one reason why.

John Locke once famously suggested we are born but blank slates, and our conception of the world around us is nothing more than the sum total of our experiences imprinting themselves on that slate. Can you feel the passivity in those words? This particular theory went on to have a major impact in the 20th century, especially in the work of B.F. Skinner. Skinner figured, “Why stop at knowledge?” All of human behavior, Skinner thought, could be explained by how we respond to our environment leaving the individual’s role in this analysis more of an empty vessel.

Skinner was wrong, very wrong, and a young man from MIT, Noam Chomsky, made a name for himself in 1967 when he published an academic paper blowing Skinnerian Behaviorism out of the water. Skinner’s Behaviorism was a major theory in 20th century psychology, and, as a result, had a reasonably far-reaching impact on other disciplines. One example was its impact on the Nature/Nurture debate. Much of what we understand about human nature today comes to us through that debate. Nature/Nurture asks, “What role does the environment play in shaping our destiny as opposed to the genes with which our ancestors provided us.”

This is a very touchy argument. Since the dawn of science, racists have been using the “pro-gene” (Nature) argument to make the case that certain cultures, or peoples, are inherently inferior to others. The 19th century actually had a name for it: “The White Man’s Burden.” Liberals gravitated toward the environmental (Nurture) conclusion because it gave rise to an egalitarianism they were more comfortable with. It turns out that the truth is something in between, slightly favoring our genes, but we also have learned that the strong role our genes play needn’t give rise to those ridiculous racist arguments.

Here’s where it gets interesting. This conversation triggers a principle that philosophers call, “agency.” If we can take a child of any pedigree, and turn her into a sinner or a saint, a doctor or a thief, based solely upon what environment she’s subject to (an inner-city ghetto or elite private schools), exactly what room is left for “personal responsibility?” The choices she’s making are defined by her environment. She’s reacting, albeit with a textured richness commensurate with the complexity of her brain, but reacting nonetheless.

Sure, she can choose between reading the New York Times and the Washington Post on any given morning, but her environment has defined the limits of her world as well as her idea of right and wrong just as it has from culture to culture and age to age since the dawn of time. Behaviorism fell by the wayside, but the independent science behind Nurture remained strong.

Modern American conservatism represents a triumph of the rich and powerful over all who remain in this country. Our proud progressive roots, from FDR to the Great Society, evidenced a strong Christian morality for caring for the most vulnerable among us while, at the same time, recognizing that without middle-class labor the rich and powerful in this country would have nothing. The wealthy now had to distract the middle class while they dismantled this tradition.

They chose a divide a conquer strategy, but to succeed – to pit the middle class against the poor – the poor could not simply be victims of their own circumstance. They had to be at fault. They had to bear the blame for the very poverty that shackles them. We live in a capitalist system that has a built in, “structural,” unemployment rate. When everything is working great, this system guarantees an impoverished underclass. Meanwhile, there are CEOs in this country at the helm of multi-million or multi-billion dollar corporations who will die of lung cancer because they can’t quit smoking.

When the poor lose their battle against the mental health and drug addiction issues that bedevil them, we throw them in jail. When the rich and powerful succumb to their own avarice, we bail them out, give them a tax break and send them on their way. Pope Francis hasn’t just embraced the original teachings of Jesus of Nazareth by pointing to Republican policies such as supply-side economics as the cause of the problem, he’s warming the glue that binds together an entire power structure.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, December 12, 2013.

GREG KAMPE: PASSIONATELY PURSUING THE TEAM SPORT OF LIFE

By Dave Barend

Prior to my interview with Oakland University’s Coach Greg Kampe, College Insider provided a bit of instruction: Delve into how his team was a lock for the NCAAs until some of his best players unexpectedly and devastatingly transferred. Geesh, it seems like the subject of transfers might not be Coach Kampe’s favorite.

By Dave Barend

(This article was first published by CollegeInsider.)

Prior to my interview with Oakland University’s Coach Greg Kampe, College Insider provided a bit of instruction: Delve into how his team was a lock for the NCAAs until some of his best players unexpectedly and devastatingly transferred. Geesh, it seems like the subject of transfers might not be Coach Kampe’s favorite.

My guess is it would be easier to ask how he felt during his latest colonoscopy. Or maybe as an icebreaker I could start with, “Let’s talk about the day your dog ran away.”

Turns out I forgot another thing that College Insider mentioned – Greg Kampe is a great guy. Within minutes we formed a plan: Mix some intriguing ways to deal with the transfer issue within fun-filled facts about his life and times for a hopefully entertaining read. Here goes.

I learned that Greg Kampe cares about, well, what he cares about, and he cares about that quite passionately. Like important things such as – Dr. Pepper.

While heading to his team’s shoot around at Green Bay, he saw a pallet full of Dr. Pepper and reacted as if he just happened upon the Mona Lisa. Such a sight compelled him not only to take a picture but post it on Twitter so as to best share the apparently indescribable beauty. Who stops to photograph Dr. Pepper, other than maybe Mrs. Pepper? Coach Kampe, that’s who. Someone responded to his tweet by asking, “How’s the shoot around going?” He replied, “Don’t know.  I’m loading Dr. Pepper on the bus.”

Among the coach’s passions, you know, other than Dr. Pepper, are his family, friends, sports, school and, of course, his players. Then there’s the transfer issue. Yeah, he cares about that too.

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TRANSFER MESS SOLUTION #1 

Somewhat Serious Idea:

The school getting the player must pay a “buy out fee” to the school losing the player. Though Coach Kampe came up with this idea well before our interview, I swore to him I had the same exact thought. At no point did he say he’d like to share the credit.

Hopefully Humorous Idea:

Have every player who wants to transfer enter a tournament. America loves a good tournament. But it won’t be basketball It’ll be Hunger Games.

——————————————————

Coach Kampe grew up in Defiance, Ohio, which he has quite proudly labeled, “the point guard capital of the world.” When pressed to defend that assertion he said, “You see, nobody in Defiance is over 6 foot tall. So it has to be the point guard capital of the world.” And there you have a passionate defense of his hometown with indisputable logic.

Another native of Defiance, Ohio is Jessicka Havok – a 6 foot, 240 pound professional female wrestler. I asked the coach what his strategy would be if he had to wrestle her. Without missing a beat he said, “Run.”

Back in high school, however, his answer would have been a little different. He excelled at and loved basketball, football, track and pretty much all sports. In fact it appears the only thing he was more passionate about than sports was himself.

“I wanted attention before it was vogue.  I used to wear a towel.”

“You’d wear a towel?”

“Yeah, I’d wear a towel.”

“What if the towel fell . . .?”

As I began that question I recalled another directive from College Insider – don’t write anything that could offend anyone. So I opted to stop. I’m sure you’d like to know the answer. And I’m even more sure that I don’t want to get fired.

I did attempt to bond by noting that I also ran track – long distance in high school, but the 400 in college. I explained that my coach moved me to the 400 to, well, substantially decrease chances that I’d get lapped. Kampe then informed me of his time in the 400 which led to a shock-induced silence. “Holy crap, I think you could have actually lapped me in the 400.”

“Nah.” he said, “But back then I did think I was Hercules.” And there you have the first time anyone has referred to themselves as Hercules and been modest.

He got recruited to play football, basketball and track by colleges such as Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. Heck, Kentucky even recruited him to do the decathlon – and he had never even done the decathlon. All of a sudden every high school decathlete who never got recruited, now feels a little bit worse.

He chose Bowling Green because they’d let him play both football and basketball. Yes, that’s right he was Neon Deion before Deion Sanders. He was Bo Knows before Bo Jackson. Fame and fortune should have been his too. Oh, if only there was a decent word that rhymed with Greg.

One other little problem existed – he stood a mere 5 foot, 9 inches. While considering legitimate NFL free agent offers, he apparently looked in the mirror and decided to go another direction. (Note my deft decision not to revisit the towel issue.)

———————————————

TRANSFER SOLUTION #2

Somewhat Serious Idea:

Decrease the number of graduate transfers by not letting player red-shirt.

Hopefully Humorous Idea:

Decrease the number of graduate transfers by not letting players graduate.

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Kampe chose a path that required a new passion – others. Coaching in college he says, “is about turning 18-year-old boys to 23-year-old men.” I should clarify that he did not specifically reference Boyz II Men. But I still blame him for the three days that “MotownPhilly” ran through my head.

At the mere age of 28 he became the head coach at Oakland. And for a whopping 36 years he has thrown his heart into his mission as a “maker of men.” Though with three sons, he might consider ceding that title to his wife.

He recalled when one of his players got in a fight during a game they lost at Valparaiso. On the way home, the team stopped for dinner at a Hardees. (Not sure if that’s because they lost.) While in line, Coach Kampe explained to this player that he can’t act that way if he wants to be respected. Then the teenager behind the Hardee’s counter looked at the player and exclaimed, “Wow! Aren’t you the guy who just beat the crap out of someone on Valpo?”

He also had a player who had lost the love for basketball, and voluntarily gave up his scholarship. Weeks passed and Kampe convinced the player to just come back and practice with the team. And wouldn’t you know – the kid’s love for basketball returned, all because Coach Kampe didn’t give up on this yet-to-be-a-man. “Or maybe he realized that college is expensive”, the coach deadpanned.

But wait there’s more . . . Fast forward to the final seconds of the conference championship game, and this player has the ball in his hands. What the heck kind of a coach has a player leave the team and then even lets that guy back on the floor? A coach taking Oakland to its first NCAA Tournament, that’s who.

Yup, the shot went in. So I asked Coach Kampe, “When you close your eyes and think of that moment, what do you see?” The smiles on his players faces? Tears in the eyes of his family? “I see myself swearing at my manager who was running on the floor, preening for ESPN, with a second still on the damn clock.”

—————————————————-

TRANSFER SOLUTION #3

Somewhat Serious Solution: 

The transfer portal needs to be altered so that coaches are not finding out that a player wants to transfer while sitting on a beach drinking a nice Dr. Pepper.

Or, as Coach Kampe more succinctly put it, “Get rid of the damn transfer portal and go back to the way it was.” 

Hopefully Humorous Solution: 

Change the transfer portal to a transfer port-a-potty. Any kid who wants to transfer must enter a port-a-potty and stay there until another team picks him. Coach Kampe wanted it known that this idea was not his. And I want it known that this idea made him laugh.

—————————————————

Kampe readily admits that not every coaching decision has been stellar. There may be evidence that his first year he got a technical or two. Or three or . . . “I think I had like 16.”

Then there’s the alleged incident at a school we’ll just call Nameless State. After OU fell behind by 6 at half, both teams discovered their abutting locker rooms were locked. This, by the way, would never happen at Oakland where Kampe knows all of the janitors. “It pays to know the guys with the keys.”

Anyway, the Nameless State’s coach decided to lambaste his own team for only being ahead by 6 against a team that stinks. Yes, all within arms length and earshot of everyone on Oakland. When finally inside the locker room, Kampe implored his players to go and kick Nameless State’s ass. Then he added, “And after you do – I’m going to kick that coach’s ass!”

Turns out his team managed to keep their end of the bargain. Kampe’s assistants tried hard to explain that this would be one of those situations where breaking a promise was ok. So when it came time to shake hands, Coach Kampe politely

pointed his finger at the coach and said, “If you ever . . .” Cut to black. What? Yup, the game tape stopped right about there.

Coach Kampe could neither confirm nor deny that he had a copy of the full tape. I guess this missing footage will simply go down in history with Zapruder and Nixon.

So has Coach Kampe’s passion sometimes gotten the best of him? Sure. But it seems as if he’s learned to achieve balance, so to speak, with another passion: about things he does not care. Huh? Yes, there are things about which he passionately does not care. The guy is a walking, talking paradox. Imagine being the poor fool who tries to write an article about him.

Now, for example, he passionately does not care about his appearance. Which has worked out fine for him since he has made not one but two lists of Sexiest Div1 Coaches. And both of those accolades came with a post-towel wearing physique. He maintains that his sexiness comes from his “roundness.”

“I have a well-rounded figure. I laugh. I shake.” That’s right, he believes he’s sexy like Santa.

If you are sensing a bit of a self-deprecating sense of humor in Coach Kampe, you are wrong. There’s a huge self-deprecating sense of humor in Coach Kampe.

“Before I became a coach, I pretty much had my way in life. Coaching is humbling.” So to recap, he went from a semi-selfish boy to a pretty selfless man. Huh, sounds a lot like a path he preaches. Ok, all together now, “Boy II Men are going off . . .”

Coach Kampe’s own transformation has led him to passionately not care about something else – what other people think. “You know, there are coaches who sit in their offices until 2 a.m. not because they need to but solely because they want other people to think they are. That’s not me.” Instead, he feels quite comfortable walking around every Wednesday at 2pm in red, orange and blue shoes. I should probably clarify that he does so in a bowling alley. “I love it and I suck.” Did I mention he’s a paradox?

He also no longer seeks attention, especially for the massive amount of charity work he does. “I really don’t tell people about that.” Until then I was nearly convinced that Coach Kampe knew I was a person.

A large amount of that charity work is for the American Cancer Society. He has a brother with cancer, and lost a good friend to it this past May. He says his desire to help “came from tears and love.” It also ties in with his motto of “Life is a team sport.” A motto everyone should adopt, except maybe a tollbooth worker.

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TRANSFER SOLUTION #4

Somewhat Serious Solution: 

Give the coach the opportunity to convince the kid to stay.  “Let me have the chance to explain that life is a team sport. The way the NCAA has it, I can’t do my job of turning these kids into men. I need show them that the grass is not always greener.” Coach Kampe did, however, concede that Erma Bombeck was right when she said that the grass is always greener – above a septic tank.

Hopefully Humorous Solution:

When a player transfers, hoping to find greener grass, they must reside at the new school above a septic tank. But before transferring, notice must be given to coaches, teammates and fans, who are also being abandoned. This notice will come in a packed area, and the very first words out of the player’s mouth must be, “I’ve decided to take my talents to  . . .”

——————————————

So that brings us to this year’s team. You know the one that was supposed to be incredible, until a bunch of players transferred. Coach says he’s not bitter, and I said I understand. At least I think I do.

I’m just going on a hunch here, but there’s a good chance that in a few years Coach Kampe is going to get a call from some of those players. And maybe just maybe they’ll say, “Hey Coach, I didn’t get it then, but now I do.” And I’d be willing to bet Coach Kampe says, “That’s ok kid, it took me a bit to get it too.”

What is abundantly clear is that he loves the players he has with a (come on, you’ve got this) – passion. Ten of them are brand new That’s a lot of guys who need to learn a new system. Most importantly, that’s a lot of guys who need to learn to love Dr. Pepper.

They are currently 8-15. That’s just one win short of the number the team had before its run to its first NCAA Tournament. You know, when a player who wasn’t even supposed to be on the floor made the game winning shot. Well this team has a whole bunch of players who weren’t even supposed to be on the team, let alone on the court. Yet the current odds of Oakland making the NCAAs are 4.6%. I’d say head to Caesar’s pronto before Vegas figures this out.

There is, however, a definite bright spot with this team, or more accurately with the managers. They are currently #16 in the country in college basketball managers team rankings. When asked how much credit he deserves for their success, Coach Kampe says, “All of it.” “Though they’ll claim they don’t even know my name.” Should they make it to the championship game, don’t count out the possibility of him running on the court with one second left.

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TRANSFER SOLUTION #5

Somewhat Serious Solution: 

“Adapt or die” says Coach Kampe and the door to his office He gives credit for this to Drexel Coach Zach Spiker. Though it seems very much like he’s going to try to treat the transfer mess like one other thing he passionately doesn’t care about.

Hopefully Humorous Idea: 

“Adapt or die” – yup same as above. But with some credit also going to Charles Darwin and the movie Heartbreak Ridge.

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When the great Al McGuire wanted to convey victory and happiness he’d reference his childhood in Rockaway Park and say “Seashells and Balloons.” So I asked Coach Kampe is there anything akin to that for you? “Nope – just Dr. Pepper.” I’m telling you, this guy cares about what he cares about, and he does so passionately.

Stop the Attacks

By Rich Tucker

Because they’re misusing the word “attack” when they really mean “insult,” politicians and journalists are making it more difficult to communicate.

(FIRST PUBLISHED AT THEHILL.COM)

American civil discourse is under attack. Frighteningly, the enemy is already within the gates.

But don’t panic. It should be easy enough to defeat this offensive, if only we have the will to update our spellcheck software. Our nemesis can’t harm us unless we ourselves deploy it improperly. It’s the common word “attack.”

Readers can hardly wade on to the internet in 2019 without witnessing an attack. In September Newsy headlined: “Hurricane Dorian Finishes Attack On Bahamas Before Heading North.” The Washington Post explains how online “attacks” against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) are escalating. Meanwhile, the L.A. Times wonders: “Can Joe Biden withstand Trump’s attacks and his own stumbles?”

If these “attacks” keep up, somebody may get hurt.

The problem isn’t the news coverage these stories are getting. The problem is the choice of words the journalists are using to cover the stories. None of these stories represented an “attack” as the word should be used. For example, hurricane Dorian can’t “attack” anything, because it’s a storm, not a living being. In this context, the writer is making it seem as if Dorian consciously took action; it didn’t. It simply went where the weather pushed it.

Note also that Dorian is an “it,” not a “he.” Hurricanes, even those from the pre-1978 era when they were given exclusively female names, have no gender. There may be man-caused global warming (or there may not) but there are no male storms.

Meanwhile, the president and his political opponents may (and do!) repeatedly “insult” each other. They may “blast” each other. They may “scorn” or “disrespect” or even “dis” each other. But there’s absolutely no violence involved. It’s just words, and as the cliché teaches, “Words can never hurt you.”

“Attack” isn’t the only word that’s being misused. You’ve probably heard about “treason” as well. No less an authority than the U.S. Constitution defines it this way: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” But many are throwing the word around for things that aren’t even crimes, let alone treasonous.

Economist Paul Krugman accuses “Big Finance,” whoever that may be, of treason (apparently because it opposes Elizabeth Warren). “It’s treason!” Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) said of President Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president. Trump reflects the word right back at congressional Democrats, repeatedly accusing Schiff of “treason.” Trump also thinks former FBI officials James Comey and Andrew McCabe are guilty of treason.

There are actual problems in the world

In a time when one country is using high tech weapons to destroy the oil facilities in another country, it cheapens the word to use “attack” to mean “insult.” There’s certainly enough actual violence in our world today to keep the word “attack” fully employed. Likewise, it cheapens the accusation of “treason” if the user defines the word as meaning “somebody saying something I dislike.” Treason charges should only be raised when one takes up arms against the United States. 

There are better verbs for our restive times, and we need to work together to find them. That might require us to do a better job of taking our political opponents seriously and paying attention to them. Maybe Democrats could all agree to watch Fox News and Republicans could tune in to MSNBC for a few hours a week. Call it opposition research, if you like, but we might find that the “other side” is using the same words our side uses, and is using them just as incorrectly. Perhaps we’d even discover ways to disarm and disagree without being disagreeable.

In any event, Americans (especially journalists) should retire the casual use of the word “attack,” and push back when a political figure claims “treason.”

Why are middle-class, white men hording weapons and ammunition?

By Mike Frates

Every generation watches its culture slip away as the next one lays claim to it, but what this post- 9/11 world leaves behind is a little more frightening.

Ancient Greek mythology offers priceless insights into the human condition providing a window into our hearts and minds. The Homeric Greeks were confronted with a world for which they were not prepared. They were tested by births, deaths, lost crops and meteorological events they couldn’t explain.

To cope, they superimposed the famed gods of Mount Olympus, but before Zeus explained away lightning and thunder and his father, Cronos, personified the concept of time, what was there? What was the primordial fear at the center of it all for which the Greeks were trying to account? The answer was Chaos.

Our greatest fear in this world is not our demise. It’s making it to middle age, going to school and taking on the student debt, finding a mate and growing a family with a nice house and white picket fence, then watching helplessly as a drunk driver takes it all away in the blink of an eye for no discernible reason whatsoever. It’s the role chance or contingency plays in our lives. The Greek gods provided a method to Chaos’ madness.

The Homeric Greeks understood the problem, but had no answer for it. The gods of Mount Olympus were capricious characters who embodied Chaos themselves. It took Plato and Aristotle of ancient Athens to provide a solution. The antidote to Chaos is the purpose-driven life. If there was a preordained plan for us, a cosmic order that took each one of us into account, then tragedy was no longer the product of chance in our lives, but a test of our faith in that plan. Everything happened for a reason.

Our destiny was written in the stars – Heavily laden with astrology, this cosmology cradled us in a purpose-driven life. Now, we were all cogs in this grand, cosmic machine, and happiness meant identifying your role in life and fulfilling it. There was a place for each of us. Soon after, the medieval priests welcomed this world view with open arms. Place a crown of thorns on top, and this cosmology fit like a Christian glove. The purpose-driven life became a promise fulfilled by an unchallenged allegiance to a personal God. An elegant, comfortable worldview, but one that was not meant to last.

You’ve heard that Latin phrase of Rene Descartes, “Cogito Ergo Sum,” right? “I think therefore I am,” was famously published in 1641. What Descartes did was plant a seed. Instead of embracing intuition to reveal God, the Cogito wielded human reason to penetrate the world around us. Rather than appealing to the authority of biblical texts, and their priestly interpretations, humanity stepped out from beneath God’s grace to apprehend the world on its own terms. This single idea was literally responsible for the scientific, technological age in which we live.

This rational approach developed into a mathematical perspective exploited by Kepler and Galileo, and their efforts were cashed out by Newton in his masterpiece, “The Principles of Mathematics.” Over the next century, philosophers applied this epistemology – or theory of knowledge – beyond Newton’s physics to politics, early psychology, social theory and the law. Descartes’ seed blossomed into the Enlightenment.

This was the most significant shift in understanding our species has ever experienced. We chose human reason, and the science and technology that accompanied it, over the affirmation of a purpose-driven life that followed an uncritical acceptance of God. Nietzsche declared God’s death at our hands, and lamented the loss of objective moral values, but there was another problem: Chaos was loose.

Chaos is the general anxiety that belies modem life. The great French existentialists of the mid- 20th century engaged Chaos. Without God and the purpose-driven life, we are free to chose our own path, and with that freedom comes a paralyzing fear. Jean Paul Sartre once called denying the nerve-wracking breadth of that choice Bad Faith, highlighting the absurdity of a life that lacks genuine purpose.

September 11th poured fuel on this fire; terrorism traffics in Chaos. Our political institutions can provide some stability, but conservative politics has sown distrust in them. When middle-class, white men feel life begin to fray around the edges, they revert to their role as provider and protector, and when economic recession threatens that role, look for a rise in xenophobic hate-politics like Golden Dawn in Greece, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, and Cruz and Trump in the United States.

Every generation watches its culture slip away as the next one lays claim to it, but what this post- 9/11 world leaves behind is a little more frightening. Middle class, white men are hoarding weapons in an effort to project a sense of permanency on a world constantly shifting beneath their feet, but Chaos rarely presents with a bulls-eye on its back.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, February 7, 2016.

The Second Amendment and Sandy Hook: How relevant are twenty dead children?

By Mike Frates

After Newtown, this country engaged in a very serious conversation about what the loss of those lives meant to us. The problem is that our policies didn’t change as a result of that conversation.

Every once in a while, an event takes place across the globe or in our backyard that changes the trajectory of American politics . September 11th is the most pristine example, but that day does not stand alone. One would think that the massacre of twenty of our children, and the deaths of eight more adults, in Newtown, Connecticut, in December of 2012, would have had some impact, but, eighteen months later, it all seems like so many news cycles ago. One would think that the slaughter of twenty seven people and the suicide of a mentally imbalanced young man, with a legally purchased semiautomatic assault rifle, would have cut deeper into our national conscience. It didn’t.

One reason, I believe, is that we lack a certain kind of context within which to discuss these types of issues. The context I’m referring to is unlike the context that journalists wrangle with, or, “factual context.” After Newtown, this country engaged in a very serious conversation about what the loss of those lives meant to us. The problem is that our policies didn’t change as a result of that conversation. The implication is that what we learned simply didn’t sufficiently move us. This is what I will not accept. Every American felt the loss of those innocents that day, yet half of us resolved to change our firearm laws to reflect a, “Post-Newtown World,” and the other half reached for their ammunition. Let me offer you one reason why.

There are two different perspectives that Americans tend to embrace: the religious and the natural. Both of these viewpoints have healthy support in our current social institutions. Yet, at the same time, they are both deeply rooted in our philosophical history. In 1641, Rene Descartes, the great rationalist, published his, “Meditations on First Philosophy,” (It was subtitled, “In which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul is demonstrated.”) and introduced the Western World to Cartesian Dualism. The idea is that the world (reality) comprises two different kinds of stuff: the physical and the immaterial. The world you see around you, the physical world, is subject to the laws of physics, and unfolds by virtue of unbroken natural law, but our mind (or soul, if you prefer) is a different matter (pardon the pun).

For Descartes, the physical domain is simply deterministic. This is a hard conclusion to avoid. If you spend the next 20 years of your life setting up the most complicated string of dominoes humanity has ever known, when you flip the first one, the outcome is completely dependent upon the laws of physics. No amount of wishful thinking, either by you or the domino, is going to change that outcome, save some future intervention. That being the case, what about we humans? Well, moral responsibility requires a choice, and if you can’t make that choice, then you are nothing more than one of those countless dominoes awaiting your fate. Why don’t the laws of physics act upon the neurons in our brain, the same way they act upon the dominoes?

Our mind, according to Descartes, plays by different rules. It exists, but it is neither physical nor extended. It’s immaterial; it’s made out of the same kind of stuff our ideas or dreams are made of, and it gives rise to our personality, wants, desires and talents. And, our freewill, but, since it’s not a part of the physical world, it allows us to freely negotiate our way through the, “clockwork universe.” This is big freewill: Independent freedom to choose our path in an otherwise deterministic universe.

A hundred years later, the renowned empiricist David Hume would set us on a different course. Hume was a materialist. He believed that the only stuff in this world is the material, physical matter we see around us, and the only way we have access to it is through our five senses. Hume believed in freewill, but his materialism brought him closer to the physical world, and the consequences of our interaction with it. David Hume set the stage for the Age of Science.

When a Second Amendment advocate says, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” she’s expressing a very Cartesian sentiment. She’s saying, “No matter what you say, when I pick up that gun, I have control. I can freely choose what happens next, and, whatever the outcome, I am responsible.” When someone with a naturalistic, scientific worldview is confronted with the same scenario, they think, “Hey, we’re nothing more than smart animals, and we’re subject to the laws of statistics like anything else. And, when you take 300 million people, and toss a bunch of weapons into the mix, you get (tragically) predictable results.” And, this is why this debate will never be settled.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, May 28, 2014.

Modernity and the meaning of life

By Mike Frates

Our species has an unbelievable capacity to draw arbitrary lines in the sand, like skin color, then kill, maim and persecute one another as a result.

By Mike Frates

Contemporary American Conservatism began under President Ronald Reagan, and has since become a scourge on American society with no end in sight. The Republicans’ single-minded pursuit of enriching the wealthy at the expense of everyone else has been, in large part, realized. The result has been an exploding national debt brought on by slashing taxes on the rich, a callous disregard for anyone who can’t help themselves, a deteriorating national infrastructure and the greatest inequality our nation has seen since the Gilded Age.

So, how did we get into this pickle? Between 1848 and 1867, Karl Marx, the great 19th century German philosopher, was catapulted to fame with the publication of two works: “The Communist Manifesto,” with Friedrich Engels, and, “Das Kapital.” Marx predicted that this calamity wouldn’t come to pass. He predicted that the working class would rise up, seize control of the levers of capitalism and reap the benefits of their own toil. Clearly, this hasn’t happened. Why? What did Marx miss? To answer that question, we look to another great 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, and the question of values.

Although the rich have monopolized ninety percent of our nation’s financial resources, they number very few. They could buy K Street lobbyists to twist arms on Capitol Hill, but they needed votes in the voting booth to advance their agenda. The problem Republicans faced was how to convince everyday Americans to explicitly vote against their own best economic interests. The brilliance of Ronald Reagan lay in how he solved this problem.

The Dixie Democrats were a group of mostly poor, white, southern folk who were essentially holding a grudge against the party of Lincoln for 130 years. Reagan’s plan was simple, “If we keep talking to these people about God, Guns and Gays, they won’t mind if we take all of their money away from them and give it to the rich.” Between saber rattling against the threat of communism and racist “dog whistle” messaging (Reagan’s “Welfare Queens”), the Dixie Democrats fell right in line. The Dixies gave way to the Evangelical Christian crowd which eventually morphed into today’s Tea Party, the Republican base.

Middle class Americans routinely vote Republican, but the most dedicated among them seem impenetrable to commonsense argument or basic scientific literacy. What I’m suggesting is that Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, was wrong when he called his party the, “Party of Stupid.” The Christians trying to introduce creationism into our public schools are not stupid. Wrong on an epic scale, yes, but not stupid. Why are they willing to forsake their children’s economic future and birthright in favor of lip service from a politician thousands of miles away? To answer this question we turn to Nietzsche.

Nietzsche’s genius was in recognizing the central problem of Modernity: The problem of values. When the Age of Christendom, the Dark Age, receded into the Modem Era between 1500 and 1641 A.D., God was no longer placed at the center of the Western World. Our embrace of “reason” to understand the world and our place in it, the (incomplete) definition of Modernity, undermined this uncritical acceptance of God that preceded it. That’s what prompted Nietzsche to proclaim, “God is dead, and we killed him.”

Today, Christians look to non-believers like me and say, “Without God, there are no objective moral values.” Humanists respond, somewhat indignantly, “The validity of moral judgments has nothing to do with the existence or non-existence of a god.” Nietzsche would have agreed with the Theists that the death of God meant the end of objective moral principles. Values to Nietzsche have been reduced to a pastiche of beliefs cobbled together from preexisting religious systems that no longer share a foundation. What Nietzsche realized, and Marx misjudged, was the strength of this unquenchable thirst for objective moral guidance.

This is not the whole story. Our species has an unbelievable capacity to draw arbitrary lines in the sand, like skin color, then kill, maim and persecute one another as a result. Overt racism has served the GOP well. And, the creature comforts afforded the middle class today may have dulled our sense of economic injustice. Our nation’s economy is a far cry from the ruthless, laissez-faire capitalism that Marx railed against.

Dan Dennett of Tufts University wrote in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life, “Is this tree of life a god one could worship? Pray to? Fear? Probably not. But it did make the ivy twine and the sky so blue . . .  Is something sacred? Yes, I say with Nietzsche. I could not pray to it, but I can stand in affirmation of its magnificence. This world is sacred.” The lesson Modernity has to teach us is that it is our responsibility to imbue our lives with meaning.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, September 13, 2015.

QUITTING TIME

By Rich Tucker

Even the richest, most successful sports franchises give up on seasons, and that’s not fair to their fans.

(Originally published at Bellyupsports.com)

Everyone loves quitting time. Except Red Sox fans.

Baseball is stunned this week after one of its wealthiest teams gave away its best player. Who do they think they are, the Twins?

Quitting While they’re Behind

As an aside, The Sports Critic remembers when the Twins traded Frank Viola to the Mets in 1989. The deal happened seconds before the July 31st trade deadline. But somebody at The Critic’s hometown paper, the Binghamton Press, must have decided to quit early that night. The actual sports page headline on August 1st was, “Mets Fail to Acquire Twins Viola.” Missed the point by just two words: “Fail to.” The Critic still regrets not having that one framed for posterity.

Anyway, are the Red Sox quitting on 2020? Does Jarron Cumberland have tattoos?

A Varmint Will Never Quit

What’s stunning is that these Sox are one of baseball’s richest teams. They can afford to compete every year. If the Southside White Sox were quitting on a season, who could blame them? They’ve quit on almost every season (including and especially 1919) and play in a detested stadium in front of hundreds (sometimes) of fans. Meanwhile the BoSox have a famed bandbox of a stadium, are beloved throughout New England and have an entire nation named after them. It doesn’t bode well for the year 2020 that they are already giving up.

As another aside, The Sports Critic was working at CNN when one of the technical people became upset at the spelling of Sox and changed it, on screen, to “Socks.” As they say in Spanish, “It is what it is.”

Boston’s decision to say no mas goes back to the Astros cheating scandal. Alex Cora, who was fired just one season after winning the 2018 World Series for the Sox, was fingered in the 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal (he was a coach on that Houston squad). Rumor has it he may have brought his cheating heart with him to Boston for that championship season. In any event, the Red Sox dumped him, then dumped Betts in quick succession.

I Wish I Could be Quitting You

As with so many things, The Sports Critic blames Philadelphia. The 76ers started the current quitting craze in 2013. The team literally (and I am literally using that word correctly) told fans that it was giving up on the season. “Trust the process,” the 76ers insisted and went to work trading effective NBA players for CBA failures. Sports Illustrated explained that the goal was, “To increase the team’s chances at a top draft pick by losing.” In other words, quitting. (As Dilbert’s boss knows, everything sounds worse, “in other words.”

Quit Your Whining

There is a simple solution to quitting. Send losing teams down to the minors. In English soccer, they call it “relegation.” Instead of giving the worst teams top draft choices, the league gives them one-way tickets to the minor leagues, and it rewards top minor league teams with a chance to move up to the top level.

Instead of the biblical, “The last shall be first,” English soccer fans get, “The last shall be banished.” Nothing focuses the mind like a few years in the wilderness.

Some of us have been looking forward to 2020 since Hugh Downs retired. For Red Socks fans, a promising vision has turned blurry. They’d better get bifocals to watch this season.