Jerry Moore, editorial page editorial of the Watertown Daily Times, has worked in community journalism for more than 25 years. He is a native of the Chicago area, where he worked for several newspaper companies as a reporter, copy editor, news editor, editorial writer and columnist. But he has a dark side: Despite a complete lack of evidence, Jerry believes he may be the secret love child of actors Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Alexander — "not that there's anything wrong with that!"
In 1925, several conspirators decided to stage a national controversy like a Broadway production.
Now, controversies don’t normally follow the course of advance planning. A vigorous dispute develops according to the actions and reactions of all parties involved.
A debate evolves through the natural struggle of participants striving to place their views on top. When it comes to the argument left standing, it’s a matter of survival of the fittest.
But the events that took place 90 years ago this month in Dayton, Tenn., were carefully crafted through intelligent design. All the players knew exactly when the controversy would begin, what would propel it forward and how it would end.
The so-called Scopes Monkey Trial began as a grand marketing scheme by several Dayton residents. They hatched their plan that spring in a drugstore owned by Frank E. Robinson, who chaired the school board in Rhea County.
The Tennessee Legislature earlier that year passed the Butler Act, which banned from public schools any teaching that contradicted the Bible’s account of how humans were created. It also assessed a fine of between $100 and $500 for those engaging in this misdemeanor.
George W. Rappleyea noticed an ad in the May 4 edition of the Chattanooga Times placed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The group offered to defend anyone accused of violating the Tennessee law, with the eventual goal of having it nullified by an appellate court on constitutional grounds.
Rappleyea and Robinson plotted with School Superintendent Walter White and local lawyer John Godsey to stage a criminal trial unlike anything ever seen in Dayton. But they all knew that the most important actor to be cast in this drama was the defendant.
So they asked John T. Scopes, 24, if he would take on the starring role. He actually taught math and physics as well as coached football at the local high school, according to Edward J. Larson’s book “Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1998. But as a substitute teacher, Scopes filled in for the principal — who usually taught biology — while he was out ill.
It’s most likely that Scopes never taught evolution, particularly the offending bit about humans sharing a common ancestor with all other living creatures. But Rappleyea was not going to be denied his dream of concocting an event that would have Dayton teeming with tourists.
The state had previously approved the textbook “Civic Biology” by George W. Hunter for use in its public schools. But it included a section on human evolution. Many districts had not yet replaced Hunter’s textbook with one more in line with the new law.
Rappleyea reasoned that since this book was part of the curriculum for biology in public schools, and since Scopes had used the text in his very short time as a biology teacher, he was — albeit in the broadest sense possible — guilty of violating the Butler Act. Scopes signed on for the ride.
“Scopes presented an ideal defendant for the test case. Single, easygoing and without any fixed intention of staying in Dayton, he had little to lose from a summertime caper — unlike the regular biology teacher, who had a family and administrative responsibilities,” Larson wrote. “Scopes also looked the part of an earnest young teacher, complete with horned-rimmed glasses and a boyish face that made him appear academic but not threatening. Naturally shy, cooperative and well-liked, he would not alienate parents or taxpayers with soapbox speeches on evolution or give the appearance of a radical or ungrateful public employee. Yet his friends knew that Scopes disapproved of the new law and accepted an evolutionary view of human origins.”
When he agreed to stand trial for teaching human evolution, Scopes likely understood that the event would be a major draw for Dayton. But he couldn’t have imagined that he would need to make room in the spotlight for even bigger stars.
Having spoken out against human evolution across the country, William Jennings Bryan agreed to join the growing prosecution team in Dayton. He applauded Tennessee legislators when they passed the Butler Act, although he had previously advised them not to establish any penalty.
Clarence Darrow had originally been reluctant to become involved in the Tennessee case, and ACLU officials didn’t want him near the scene. But when Bryan joined the prosecution, Darrow couldn’t resist. So against the wishes of the ACLU, Scopes agreed to have Darrow lead the defense.
When I first read Larson’s book years ago, Bryan’s character really stood out for me; he was neither narrow-minded nor anti-intellectual. The devotion he had for his Christian faith showed through in the deep love he had for others. He earned a reputation as the Great Commoner, and he championed many causes for the betterment of ordinary people.
Darrow, on the other hand, came off as contemptuous and dismissive. He and Bryan were once political allies; as a congressional candidate, Darrow had campaigned for Bryan when he ran for president. But with the pending trial in Dayton, the renowned agnostic relished the thought of humiliating Bryan for his religious views.
This event was a true study in contrasts: Bryan was committed to opposing what he considered to be bad ideas, while Darrow was bent on crushing those he considered to be bad people.
Even though my views on evolution would not align with Bryan’s, I can understand his motivation. The development of the human species through a purely natural and often random process, just like every other living creature, would leave little room for divine intervention.
And once humans lose their status as being specially created by God, what’s the point of clinging to faith? Bryan believed this would destroy an integral human instinct and lead to even more depravity. And if most people in Tennessee wanted public school courses to reflect their religious principles when it came to the origins of humans, why should they be denied?
Bryan couldn’t grasp that many people experience joy and meaning in their lives absent a relationship with God. And Darrow resigned himself to the notion that people may be worth salvaging but not necessarily redeeming.
To no one’s surprise, the jury found Scopes guilty July 21. The defense appealed and got the conviction tossed, but not for the desired reason. While upholding the law, the appellate court declared that Scopes’s penalty of $100 should have been set by the jury, not the trial judge.
The fate of the two leading figures also is ironic. Darrow, the pessimist who believed death would be the ultimate relief, lived for another 12 years following the events in Dayton. Bryan, the optimist who faithfully embraced whatever life had to offer, died five days after the trial ended.
The lingering effects of what occurred in Tennessee that July loom large.
“Indeed, the issues raised by the Scopes trial and legend endure precisely because they embody the characteristically American struggle between individual liberty and majoritarian democracy, and cast it in the timeless debate over science and religion,” Larson wrote. “For [modern] Americans, the Scopes trial has become both the yardstick by which the former battle is measured and the glass through which the latter debate is seen.”
The criminal prosecution of Scopes resulted in what has often been called the Trial of the Century. It featured intellectual giants using their oratorical skills to debate some of the most serious issues confronting our society.
But it’s too easy to pit religion against science, faith against reason when summarizing this event. It involved a larger issue that divides us more often than it should.
It’s worth debating the merit of important ideas, but we court trouble when we accept that any ideology is infallible. The concepts we espouse, then, tend to become more valuable to us than the people with whom we’re arguing.
I’ve often been guilty of this and have no excuses for behaving in such a manner.
We can ponder as many of the world’s ideas as possible. But no human struggle for survival will eliminate our need to share them with others.
Whether by chance or design, Bryan and Darrow soured the relationship they once shared. The Scopes trial should serve as a blueprint for the rest of us on how to avoid that trap.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to email@example.com.
How much sense would it make for someone with no experience in the financial industry to be hired as the chief executive officer of the world’s largest bank?
What about someone who knows nothing about the automotive industry overseeing the world’s largest carmaker? Does that sound like a good idea?
How comfortable should we be in handing the reins of these corporations over to someone who isn’t well-versed in the concepts behind running these companies? Let’s face it: Experience counts.
But many people would be thrilled to toss the keys to the world’s premier superpower to someone who has no experience in government. What gives?
I speak, of course, of Donald Trump’s latest venture into electoral politics. He announced earlier this month that he is running for president. For some peculiar reason, he is once again electrifying masses with his always blunt and often misguided talk of what ails America.
The support that people continue to heap on Trump the politician truly puzzles me. Those who flock to his pseudo-campaigns should by now realize that he has no intention of actually running for anything. As soon as it comes time for him to truly commit to becoming a candidate for elective office, he’ll bail, just like he’s always done in the past.
Trump has dangled his name as a presidential candidate at least twice before. And let’s not forget the fraud of a campaign he mounted last year for the office of New York governor.
Yes, Trump’s antics in the 2014 race should tell us everything we need to know about how serious he is for public office: Not at all.
Here was the quintessential Trump. He acted like a spoiled rich brat who insisted he be handed the GOP nomination on a silver platter.
I have no doubt that he would like to wield political power, but he doesn’t want to demean himself by actually earning it.
So why does Trump have so many supporters? They have fooled themselves into believing that this time he’s in it to win it!
No, he’s not. Long before Trump has to face any competition from other candidates, he’ll be out of the race. His unblemished track record of bailing out before he has to carry out the grimy business of conducting a political campaign should make this pending fact crystal clear.
And Trump is already at work establishing the flimsy excuse he’ll likely use when he calls it quits this time. Just about every day, he says something so outrageous that he garners many headlines and lots of criticism.
A former co-worker of mine said that if Trump exits this presidential race, it will be the result of the media playing their “gotcha games” with poor Donald. And there is the meme.
Trump will grow so forlorn over all the abuse he’s taking in the court of public opinion that he simply won’t be able to go on. Boo-hoo!
Trump escaped having to campaign in the New York governor’s race last year because he made a demand so ridiculous that no one would be able to guarantee it. He told state GOP leaders that he would run as a Republican as long as everyone else stayed out of the primary. There was no way he would remain unchallenged, and now he had his excuse to bow out.
So I’m baffled why he is on a lofty perch in GOP polls. What do his supporters not see in his repeated history of never following through on his alleged desire to achieve elective office?
And if Trump were to actually run for president and win, he would have to give up the two things that motivate him the most: operating his business empire and controlling his sources of income. He admitted that he burned through his first two marriages because of his obsession with this work.
And that is what else makes me wonder why he has such popularity. He’s never put together a government budget, never drafted nor implemented a public policy, never operated a series of government agencies, never commanded military troops and never negotiated agreements with foreign leaders, some of whom control an arsenal of nuclear missiles.
It’s not that Trump doesn’t possess any talents. If overseeing the executive branch of the U.S. government consisted primarily of constructing expensive condos, buying and selling real estate, opening casinos and developing luxury hotels and resorts, he would be a natural for the job of president.
But it entails none of those things. Being president involves many tasks that Trump has never attempted. Let’s not forget that his companies have filed for bankruptcy four times since 1991, so he’s had a few big failures.
It’s true that most presidents have taken over the job having not done many of the things on this to-do list. But they’ve done at least some of these tasks and have had a basic understanding of how the government operates.
Trump flirts with political campaigns because of his enormous ego. Anyone who runs for president has an ego just as large, of course, but many of them possess something that Trump lacks: An unquenchable desire to do whatever it takes to win the next election.
Trump merely wants to feel like a winner without putting forth the effort. He’s a bigot who appeals to people’s more vile impulses, and his ongoing popularity is pathetic.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The First Amendment permits Americans to be provocative, even in the extreme.
In fact, it’s the most unpopular expressions that need the greatest protection. If the First Amendment was drafted to safeguard anything, it’s those ideas that serve only to repulse the public at large. As long as the opinions we can’t stomach retain a place in our national discourse, freedom of all speech will be ensured.
So, far be it for me to question the rights of a couple from Canton to fly a Confederate flag in front of their home. They are exercising the liberty guaranteed them by the Constitution, and any attempt to dissuade them from doing so other than through persuasion would be unjustified.
That being said, there is an argument to be made that Lindsay A. and Eric J. Walrath should reconsider their decision. If they want to publicly declare their reverence for this flag, they should come up with a rationale that would satisfy the relatives and descendants of a few people.
Consider, for example, Addie Mae Collins. At the age of 14, Addie was murdered along with three other girls — Carol Denise McNair, age 11, and Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, both age 14 — when a bomb exploded Sept. 15, 1963, at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
Another American the Walraths should keep in mind is Emmett Till, who also was murdered at age 14. While visiting relatives in Mississippi, Emmett was accused of disrespecting a 21-year-old white woman in August 1955. He was abducted and taken to a barn, savagely beaten and shot in the head before his body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River.
In addition, the Walraths should reflect on James Chaney, 21; Andrew Goodman, 20; and Michael Schwerner, 24. They were civil rights workers attempting to register black people to vote in Mississippi when they disappeared the night of June 21, 1964. Their bodies were discovered more than a month later in an earthen dam; they had been pulled over by law enforcement agents and shot to death.
This list also includes civil rights leader Medgar Evers. At 37, Evers was shot in the driveway of his home June 12, 1963.
The common denominator with these assassinations is that they all were carried out to advance the cause of white supremacy. And that’s what the Confederate flag represents. Many of those who committed these murders proudly marched under this flag to proclaim their racist ideology.
But these deaths occurred long ago. Should we continue to ascribe a malevolent mindset to a symbol for violence carried out decades before?
Well, here are a few more names that the Walraths should reflect on when gazing upon their Confederate flag: Cynthia Hurd, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson. They all died nearly a month ago in Charleston, N.C., while holding a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church.
Their killer, Dylann Roof, made no bones about his hatred for black people. He wallowed in his bigotry by displaying the Confederate flag in a photograph. He also wore a jacket adorned with flags representing the former oppressive white regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa.
Roof understands what these symbols mean. The Walraths have argued that the Confederate flag is part of our history and removing it would be to ignore this aspect of our nation’s past.
The problem with this claim is that many Americans are woefully misinformed about what the Confederacy stood for, despite having the flag fly in prominent places. So its ongoing presence in our society has not done the job of accurately portraying our history.
Shortly after the shootings in Charleston, The Atlantic magazine national correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates documented in an article titled “What This Cruel War was Over” what some of the Southern states declared about their decision to secede from the United States. Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas all pointed out that maintaining slavery was one of their chief reasons for seceding from the Union.
Here is a portion of what Mississippi stated: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the Earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin ...”
Alexander Stephens, who was vice president of the Confederate States of America, proclaimed in his “Cornerstone Speech” in March 1861: “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. ... (I)ts foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.”
The Confederacy sought to preserve slavery and advance white supremacy, and this flag eventually became its key symbol. There were other economic and political factors that went into secession. But slavery was the foundation upon which the South’s economy was built, so any argument for secession led back to this horrific practice.
The South had a lot riding on slavery. Roger L. Ransom, a professor of history and economics at the University of California at Riverside, wrote in an article titled “The Economics of the Civil War” for the website of the Economic History Association that by 1860, four out of every 10 people in the 11 Confederate states were owned by other people — 4 million slaves worth nearly $3 billion!
It’s true that the U.S. flag also symbolizes the oppression of black people. Slavery was entrenched in our culture long before we became a country, and it would take nearly a century before our Constitution was amended to outlaw the brutal institution.
But the difference between the two flags is that one represents a system designed to eventually root out what’s bad. Spoiler alert: I’m not talking about the Confederacy here. The U.S. flag has been redeemed to some extent because of the political mechanism to expand the spirit of liberty upon which we founded our nation.
I agree with the Walraths that we should not discard portions of our history because they are offensive. But there is a proper context in which they should be displayed, and this is where the Walraths have erred.
To fly the Confederate flag on a pole in front of their home is to accord it the dignity and admiration that should be reserved for those who profess its message. Unless the Walraths subscribe to the abominable notion that black people are subhumans who should spend their lives in chains as the property of whites, displaying the flag in this manner is simply wrong.
This is the challenge that Lindsay and Eric Walrath must wrestle with as long as they choose to adorn their residence with the quintessential symbol of racial tyranny. They’ll have to envision the mangled bodies of the four girls in Birmingham, a lifeless Medgar Evers in the driveway of his Mississippi home and the nine dead church members in Charleston.
This, of course, is in addition to the oppression experienced by countless slaves throughout U.S. history who were captured, sold, whipped, raped and coerced into lives of degrading servitude. Even after slavery ended, the Confederate flag stood for the Jim Crow era where black people were kept in substandard living conditions, denied their basic rights and lynched if they dared protest. The Walraths owe it to the memory of all victims of the Confederate mentality not to trivialize the terror this flag represents.
The Confederacy was a part of our history, but it was one of the worst parts. There is a proper way to reflect on the role that the Confederacy played in our nation’s development. But displaying such a vulgar idol in so honorable a fashion is not it.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to email@example.com.
Could it be that those who defend the presence of Ten Commandments monuments on public grounds have never actually read the sacred list?
This issue again garnered headlines when the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared last week that placing a Ten Commandments statue on the grounds of the Capitol violated the state’s constitution. Gov. Mary Fallin said that Oklahoma’s attorney general would appeal the decision while members of the state Legislature consider constitutional changes.
This is one of those debates involving so many nuances that it’s difficult taking a firm stand on one side or the other. I can come up with as many arguments in favor of keeping a Ten Commandments monument on publicly owned property as I can against it.
While the Oklahoma case involves language in the state constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved this issue a decade ago from a federal perspective. It ruled in 2005 that a Ten Commandments statue at the Capitol in Texas did not violate the U.S. Constitution because it has historic as well as religious significance.
And the Supreme Court justices who voted in the majority of this 5-4 decision have a valid point. The account of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God and incorporating them into the daily lives of the ancient Israelites is forever woven into the history of the Jewish people. And the development of Western civilization, including its legal system, resulted from the propagation of Judeo/Christian philosophy and social traditions.
But at the same time, the religious symbolism of Ten Commandments statues is the primary reason that people insist on seeing them displayed on public grounds. The Declaration of Independence is the founding document upon which U.S. society was created, so its historic importance to us as a people cannot be denied. Yet I have never heard of any movement to erect a Declaration of Independence monument on the capitol grounds of any state.
There are many historic documents that would make for wonderful statues, but the only one that seems to be of any interest to Americans is the Ten Commandments. And since most supporters whom I’ve encountered or read about adhere to the Judeo/Christian faith, it’s hard differentiating their religious sentiments from their fascination with the past.
Were the Ten Commandments not religious in nature, there would be no such monuments. So their historic value is just an excuse for proponents of the Judeo/Christian faith to use public resources to express their religious beliefs. This tramples over the spirit, if not the letter, of the constitutional principle of keeping church and state separate.
The argument of whether it’s legal to display a Ten Commandments statue, therefore, is a tricky one to decide. But anyone who is familiar with what the commandments say should recognize the dilemma of creating such an item.
The first several commandments read as follows:
“I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods besides me.
“You shall not make for yourself a sculpted image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or the Earth below, or in the waters under the Earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:2-6, Tanakh)
OK, what part of “You shall not make for yourself a sculpted image …” do Ten Commandment monument supporters not understand? It seems clear that creating any kind of statue or monument is strictly prohibited in this statement. How can people who claim to revere the Ten Commandments so brazenly violate one of them?
At the heart of these commandments is the concern that a graven image will lure someone’s fawning attention, which should be reserved for the supreme being that this individual professes to obey. The issue of idol worship goes beyond believing in the divine powers of inanimate objects.
To idolize means to “admire, revere or love greatly or excessively.” To express such feelings for inanimate objects is to turn them into idols and, thus, distract us from directing these sentiments to the appropriate sources of our devotion.
In this way, Ten Commandments monuments become symbols of the piousness of their supporters. They are a public reflection of how committed some people claim to be to their own religious beliefs. And all taxpayers, whether or not they adhere to these principles, finance this display.
Sadly, a Ten Commandments statue is created to bring more attention to the faithful than to the object of their faith. The best way for religious people to enshrine these sacred principles into the fabric of society is to live them out personally.
And this requires these individuals to follow them, not just pay lip service to how important they are to our nation. For people of faith to create a material image of the Ten Commandments but ignore their meaning is to erect a monument to nothing but these individuals’ own hypocrisy.
Because let’s be honest: The graven image commandment is not the only one that many religious people ignore. So are commandments that we don’t bother following worth putting on public display?
One scene from the 1970 film “Five Easy Pieces” displays a sentiment we’d all love to express now and then.
Jack Nicholson’s character grows annoyed listening to a woman at a dinner party make a point about some phrases used by his girlfriend, played by Karen Black; the woman questions the choice of words in a rather condescending manner. Nicholson has enough of the woman’s demeaning tone and decides to tell her off.
“Where the hell do you get the (nerve) to tell anybody anything about class or who the hell’s got it or what she typifies? You shouldn’t even be in the same room with her, you pompous celibate.”
That last line makes me laugh no matter how many times I hear it. Having some arrogant individual cut down to size for wielding his or her supposed erudition as a weapon can be very entertaining.
This movie scene came to my mind when I heard about the recent uproar by National Public Radio listeners. Many of them expressed horror when they heard Kim Kardashian interviewed on NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”
One segment of the program is called “Not My Job” in which guests answer questions about some subject.
Here is how the program’s website summarized Kardashian’s interview:
“Every once in a while, we have someone on the show who we can’t believe agreed to be on the show. Case in point: Kim Kardashian is a producer, entrepreneur, designer, model, mom, tabloid magazine life support system — and now a star of public radio. Kardashian is the most famous Kim in pretty much every country in the world ... except North Korea. And if the movie ‘The Interview’ has taught us anything, it’s that making fun of North Korea results in good things for your parent organization. So we’ll ask Kardashian three questions about her celebrity rival, Kim Jong Un, who dominates TMZ on the other side of the DMZ.”
Now, I thought the Kim Kardashian/Kim Jong Un tie-in was pretty clever. And some people affiliated with “Wait Wait” have said that Kardashian was very gracious about participating given the ridicule she’s been subjected to from guests on the show. And we’re talking about a game show where the order of the day is comedy, and sometimes low-brow comedy at that.
But many of the NPR faithful were having none of it. They exploded with righteous indignation about their sacred space being defiled. Here are a few of the more ridiculous comments left on NPR’s website:
“Wait, wait ... Don’t tell me that Kim Kardashian has invaded the NPR air waves!! SO disappointed! NPR is my sanctuary and now it has been sullied by the vapid KK. Please, keep the bar high NPR, even if it is just a game show,” wrote Nancy Brooks.
“I never miss WWDTM — until this week. I cannot bring myself to listen & seriously, shame on all of you at WWDTM for allowing this vapid, vacuous waste of space more media time,” opined Dawn T — who then had the audacity to lecture “mildmannered one” on proper manners because this commenter in reply told her to “Lighten up, hon.” Dawn T objected to being called “hon,” but apparently it’s OK for her to diminish Kardashian as a “waste of space.”
“My first impulse after her introduction on the show was to question the meaning of life. My depression deepened while suffering through the pitch for a book filled with poorly framed cellphone images of herself. How ironic that the guest brought on to play ‘Not My Job’ appears not work very hard at anything,” wrote TellinIt LikeItIs.
And this comes from Pepe Martinez: “The thought of listening to this gives me shivers. No way! Contaminated through the speakers. Who is she married to? Maybe that’s a clue why she’s here.”
Some listeners ridiculed Kardashian for becoming wealthy off her looks. Others whined that she hasn’t made any significant cultural contributions.
Alicia Silverstone appeared on “Wait Wait” more than a year ago. Her great cultural contribution of note was the movie “Clueless.” And while it was her looks more than her acting talent that made her a celebrity, her presence on NPR didn’t tempt the network’s listeners to storm the castle.
Ditto for Joby Ogwyn, who was interviewed on the program last year. His claim to fame is that he climbs mountains and jumps off them wearing a wing suit. This isn’t the kind of activity that garners Nobel Peace Prizes.
The snobbery on display is appalling. To be sure, Kardashian has become the poster child for American self-indulgence. I, too, am not a fan of the “Hey, look at me!” mentality she champions.
But she and her sisters have used their talents to build a clothing and cosmetics empire. To suggest that Kardashian hasn’t worked hard to earn the wealth she enjoys or doesn’t contribute to our society is false.
The demeaning comments are beneath the dignity of such a respected media outlet. The people making them are the ones betraying the values of NPR, not Kardashian. Their hate-filled vitriol is shameful given the network’s reputation for civilized and reasoned discussions on important topics.
The NPR listeners who were so offended by Kardashian’s appearance on “Wait Wait” need to get over themselves. These pompous celibates should remember that the “P” in NPR stands for “public”; this means that all are invited, not just a select few. The United States is much broader both geographically and culturally than Lake Wobegon, and NPR has an obligation to reflect this diversity.
When professional sports teams win national championships, the star players grab most of the public’s attention.
The team owners, though, must walk along a tightrope. As the ones who sign the paychecks, they deserve to step into the spotlight while not wearing out their welcome.
This requires a tricky balancing act. Team owners have an obligation to thank fans for their continued loyalty, which results in the revenue needed to pursue league titles. But the presence of team owners often needs to be brief as many of them are unpopular with fans.
The relationship that fans have with the owners of their favorite sports teams is fascinating. It’s difficult assessing exactly why a few team owners develop such a close bond with fans while most others are loathed by those who follow the franchises.
With the Chicago Blackhawks winning their third Stanley Cup in six seasons this week, the names of the team’s superstar players have become quite familiar to hockey fans throughout the United States and Canada: Corey Crawford, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brandon Saad, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. Let’s not forget one of the premier coaches in the NHL, Joel Quenneville.
Is that a hockey team for the ages? Oh, you betcha!
While perhaps not as well known internationally as that of the players, Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz’s name has cemented its place in the hearts of the team’s fans in the Windy City. Like in most other major sports markets, the love/hate dynamic between sports fans and team owners in Chicago is entertaining to observe.
The most beloved team owner in Chicago sports history was Bill Veeck. The two-time owner of the White Sox (1959-1961 and 1975-1981) was adored by fans and players alike.
The secret to Veeck’s appeal was his approach to leading the franchise. He did it from a fan model, not necessarily a business model. He loved baseball and saw the game and running his teams from a fan’s perspective.
I put Veeck at the top of the heap in Chicago because he remained personally popular among baseball fans despite his teams’ lack of success. The only championship moment came in his first year of owning the White Sox, 1959, when they won the American League pennant (alas, they lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games). I can’t think of another sports team owner who had as many unsuccessful seasons and yet remained as well loved as did Veeck.
Several friends responded to a few questions about Chicago sports team owners. One of them had a great observation about why some team owners are popular with fans while others are loathed.
My friend said fans dislike owners who see their teams merely as money-making enterprises. The Chicago Tribune, which owned the Chicago Cubs for years, never put a lot of money into the team, my friend said. Tribune executives saw that Wrigley Field was going to print money no matter how the team fared, so why expend a lot of revenue unnecessarily?
On the other hand, Veeck went out of his way to make baseball as entertaining for fans as possible. His father was president of the Cubs while he was growing up, so as a teenager Veeck came up with the idea of planting ivy on the walls of Wrigley Field. As a team owner, Veeck devised other innovations that have become standard among baseball teams: an exploring scoreboard, names on the backs of uniforms, giving away small items to fans as they entered the ballpark.
All my friends said that among Chicago sports team owners, Rocky Wirtz has become one of the most popular and (ironically) Bill Wirtz — Rocky’s father — was one of the least liked. How unpopular did Bill Wirtz become?
Chicago Blackhawks fans booed and jeered when then-general manager Dale Tallon offered some kind words for the team owner at the United Center just a short time after Wirtz died in 2007. Now that’s a tough crowd.
But Wirtz seemed to care little about what fans thought of him. He carried on the tradition of his father, Arthur Wirtz, of refusing to allow the Blackhawks’ home games to be televised. Also like his father, “Dollar Bill” Wirtz was a notorious penny-pincher, thus letting hockey greats like Bobby Hull flee the Chicago market for greener ice rinks.
When he took over the team in 2007, Rocky Wirtz realized things had to change. The Hawks hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1961, and attendance at games had shrunk considerably. He put home games back on television, mended fences with former stars, became more accessible to news outlets and began amassing world-class executives, coaches and players.
The younger Wirtz was a breath of fresh air. He understands how a team can become immensely popular and generate lots of revenue: winning championships. That means providing what the fans love, attracting the best players and connecting with a city that takes its sports seriously.
Among team owners, Rocky Wirtz is one of the good guys. Sports franchises don’t become exceptional by accident. They require a committed leader who knows how to achieve the ultimate goal, and Wirtz has put the Chicago Blackhawks on the level of the elites.
One aspect of the Caitlyn Jenner story that recently dominated headlines struck me as rather peculiar, but not for the obvious reasons.
I wasn’t fazed by the former Olympic champion’s decision to publicize her sexual identity transformation, first in a television interview on ABC News and then in a cover article for Vanity Fair magazine. Some people were put off by the open manner in which Jenner shared her story.
But Jenner has been a public figure since winning the decathlon in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. She also was part of the reality TV phenomenon “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
I wouldn’t want to make such an intimate decision as public as Jenner did when she discussed transitioning from a man to a woman. But there is no easy way for someone living in the spotlight to quietly ease into a new sexual identity. It was Jenner’s choice to make, and I give her credit for being willing to confront the ensuing criticism.
What struck me as odd, however, was the news that ESPN selected Jenner as this year’s recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. But once again, my biggest puzzlement here doesn’t jibe with the opposition expressed by many others.
The main objection to ESPN’s decision to give Jenner this award is the list of other athletes who weren’t selected. Many critics believe some candidates were far more worthy of this honor.
NBC sports broadcaster Bob Costas made a valid point this week when he criticized ESPN’s choice of Jenner. Speaking with radio host Dan Patrick, he said the selection was “a crass exploitation play — it’s a tabloid play.”
Costas added that he believed Jenner exhibited courage in making her sexual identity transformation so public. But her choice as the recipient for this award was based more on how it may spike ratings for the ESPYs program next month than on publicly acknowledging an athlete’s courage.
Costas is correct. Jenner was selected by ESPN for this award right after the cover of Vanity Fair was revealed.
The timing here is too coincidental. Had ESPN officials thought about this, they would have seen there are other candidates more worthy.
One suggestion was to name Lauren Hill as the winner of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, although it would need to be a posthumous honor. Hill died April 10 from an inoperable brain tumor at the age of 19.
What made Hill’s story so gripping was that she refused to allow the cancer that was destroying her body to thwart her dream of playing collegiate basketball.
The Indiana native signed last year to play at Mount Saint Joseph University in Cincinnati but was diagnosed with the tumor less than two months later.
Determined to see her dream come true, Hill persevered and played in the Lions’ season opener Nov. 2. She made the first and last baskets of the game, scoring a total of four points.
Her achievement was all the more incredible given how the cancer severely affected her level of energy and ability to handle the ball. She also raised more than $1.7 million for research into diffuse intrinsic pontine giloma, the form of cancer she had. Hill accomplished a lot in her all-too-short life.
I can’t argue that a teenager defying the odds against cancer to realize her life’s goal is less deserving of an award dedicated to courage as is a celebrity making public an otherwise very private decision. In fact, if I had to choose one of them, Hill would be the winner.
My argument, though, is why do we feel the need to make such a choice? What compels us to pit courageous people against one another?
The award seeks to honor an athlete every year who exhibits courage. In so doing, we evaluate what we consider to be one athlete’s level of courage against another athlete’s level of courage.
How can we really know how much courage it took one person to do something and how much courage it took for another person to do something else? We can’t read their minds, so we are left to judge how much courage it would take for each of us to do what these athletes did.
And this is where such a practice fails. Because we can’t know for sure how much courage someone else possesses, we substitute an evaluation of our own level of courage under these circumstances for that of these athletes.
Awarding a Medal of Honor to members of the military is different. The selection is based on the actions performed. While courage is obviously a motivating factor, military officials base the choice on whether what the service member did under fire meets the established criteria for the medal.
It could have taken just as much courage for one Marine on Iwo Jima during World War II to merely pop his head out of a trench to return fire at Japanese troops than it did for another Marine to run with reckless abandon through an open area to pull his wounded comrades out of harm’s way. While I can’t determine who actually possessed more individual courage, I can choose which act is more worthy of special recognition.
If ESPN wanted to recognize an athlete for a particular act, like standing up for principles in the face of great adversity, that would be fine.
It could then rename the award something like the Arthur Ashe Courageous Act Award or the Arthur Ashe Advocacy Award.
But we should not feel so limited in commemorating courage itself. No single award is needed.
During the ESPYs, ESPN could present a graphic montage of athletes who displayed notable courage during the past year.
This would place the emphasis on how we value courage itself rather than singling out one person among many for possessing it.
It’s an appropriate way of honoring people who display an incredible characteristic. This may be less of a ratings booster, but it would be more intellectually honest.
Of all the problems facing young people today, I wouldn’t list performing poorly on an assessment test as a high priority.
But many parents believe this is of vital importance. Their concerns over standardized testing seem to make news at least every few days.
It’s not that I disagree with them over the fact that these tests are important. But the approach many of them have taken certainly doesn’t mirror that of my parents and isn’t quite what I would expect.
More parents are expressing their anger over a testing process that they believe is fundamentally flawed. This has become even more apparent with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Some adult critics of the program find the test questions bewildering even for them. How can a school system expect students to do well on these tests when their parents often can’t work out the questions?
It’s easy to understand why parents become frustrated over the state of public education. Initiatives from the federal government like the No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top Fund have placed greater emphasis on using standardized tests to determine how students are doing.
This is nothing different than what has been done for decades. Assessment tests have long served as a barometer for what students were learning and how curriculum should be revised to address weaknesses.
But the NCLB Act altered the game by more closely tying student performance with school district evaluations. It did this by establishing more serious consequences for school districts if an increasing percentage of their students failed to perform at a specified level.
The major complaint was that teachers were now being forced to “teach to the tests.” They have to spend most of their time preparing students for taking standardized tests rather than find innovative ways to teach subjects in the classroom. Many parents and educators saw this as a move by the federal government to exert more control over local schools.
So I get why many parents are upset about what has occurred. But the rationale I’ve heard time and again leads me to believe there is more going on here than a legitimate effort to improve public education.
There have been many stories here in the north country and across the nation of how worked up students are becoming over the prospect of not performing well on these standardized tests. This is causing a tremendous amount of distress among some young people, a few who even confided they are considering suicide.
That parents, teachers, school administrators and staff members are using these stories as way to compel changes with the tests is unfortunate. If a student discusses possibly killing himself or herself because of a standardized test, the biggest problem is not with the test. The biggest problem is with the student and his or her emotional stability.
I cannot recall any of my peers become that uptight over standardized tests. If they elicited any emotional response from us at all, it was annoyance.
But we had to take these tests periodically, so we did. They represented a snapshot of how much we had learned certain subjects at a given moment.
Much of the concern expressed over testing today, however, reflects a fear on the part of students of not doing well. The realization that they will confront the fact that they may not be all that good at something apparently causes great angst.
I’ve read of parents denouncing the “indignity” of forcing children to take these tests. Other parents have compared the standardized tests to “bullying” and “harassment.” This has spawned an opt-out movement where parents keep their children from taking some tests.
It’s in these instances where the phrase “helicopter parents” comes to mind. These people micromanage virtually every aspect of their children’s lives, particularly when it comes to education.
Some parents place more emphasis over how these tests make children feel rather than how their children perform. This is obviously not the case with all parents who are protesting the Common Core program and standardized tests, but it applies to more than a few of them.
Some parents today are smothering their children. This is why some young people become so riddled with angst about these tests. Parents try to shield them from anything unpleasant, so any unpleasantry will cause a meltdown.
I recall reading a magazine article years ago written by a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. He chronicled how his parents would send him and his two brothers off to the woods each summer to live on their own.
To these three boys, it was an extraordinary adventure that they cherished. They had to maintain their own campsite, hunt and cook for themselves, and depend on each other for all their needs.
It wasn’t until this Marine was much older that he learned what was behind this yearly outdoor excursion. His parents were too poor to provide for the entire family all year, so they encouraged the boys to fend for themselves in the summer so they could reduce their expenses. Then they could save enough money to feed, clothe and house them for the rest of the year.
Imagine some family attempting that today. They would be vilified.
I’m not suggesting that the answer here is to have parents shove their children out the door with tents every summer. But performing poorly — even, heaven forbid, failing — is part of life. Only by learning what your limit is academically can you discover where you need to grow.
It’s apparent that flaws remain in the Common Core program, and critics should continue making their case with education officials. But assessment testing has always been a part of the education system and is essential to determining what students have learned and where they can improve.
In whining about the slap on the wrist his team received this week from the NFL, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said the punishment over Deflate-gate “far exceeded any reasonable expectation.”
OK, let’s put Kraft’s assertion to the test. To do this, we need to examine how the sports industry has historically punished cheaters.
The answer to this is very clear: The reasonable expectation in such cases is expelling players and forfeiting games. Individual athletes and/or teams cannot be allowed to profit from violating the rules if doing so potentially gave them the advantage in their victories.
That’s why all sports leagues impose penalties on any team during a game if a player breaks the rules. The game is not over, so the other team still has a chance to win. The penalty will put the team at a momentary disadvantage to balance out the unfair advantage it had when the player broke the rules.
But if cheating is uncovered after a game is played, compelling the team to forfeit that game is common. The NCAA doesn’t flinch when it discounts victories that a college team has racked up if infractions are found.
The NFL discovered that 11 of the 12 footballs used Jan. 18 by the Patriots in their AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts were underinflated to a substantial degree. The investigation uncovered text messages in which Jim McNally, an officials’ locker room attendant for New England, referred to himself as “the deflator” and commented on his role in deflating the footballs after they were inspected by NFL officials.
The NFL also discovered frequent phone calls and text messages between Patriots equipment assistant John Jastremski and quarterback Tom Brady beginning Jan. 19 once the issue of underinflated footballs was raised publicly by the Colts. Jastremski and Brady had not communicated by phone or text for six months prior to that.
So we have strong evidence that the footballs used by the Patriots on Jan. 18 were underinflated intentionally, and we have strong evidence of who did what and who knew what. Combining this with the history of punishing cheaters in sports, a reasonable expectation in this instance would be awarding the win of the AFC championship game to the Colts.
And if the NFL had one iota of integrity, this is what would have happened to the Patriots. They cheated in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage, and they won the game. Not only that, but they went on to win the Super Bowl, thus being crowned NFL champions for the 2014 season.
Allowing New England to play in the Super Bowl was absurd. Strong evidence of cheating existed, and at the very least the Super Bowl should have been postponed to investigate the case.
But the NFL punished New England this week by fining it $1 million and stripping it of a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017. In addition, Brady will be suspended for the first four games of 2015.
Is it true that this punishment “far exceeded any reasonable expectation”? No; it falls short of a reasonable expectation.
In 1919, some members of the Chicago White Sox collaborated with crooks to throw their World Series games against the Cincinnati Reds. (OK, please be advised that my White Sox fan nature is breaking out in full here.) This team was so talented that the only way its players could lose the series was to cheat. As a result, they were banned from having anything to do with Major League Baseball forever.
Pete Rose played for and managed the Cincinnati Reds. After discovering that he had gambled on games, he was banned from baseball — although it appears that some of the restrictions are being lifted.
So sports leagues know how to dish out harsh punishments for cheating. A reasonable expectation for punishing a team that won a league championship through cheating, therefore, would be to have the team forfeit the title.
The penalty imposed on the Patriots by the NFL is ridiculous for several reasons. The $1 million fine is a drop in the bucket to a reining Super Bowl championship team. And Patriots fans have been busy raising money themselves to pay the fine, so the Patriots will likely have a tiny out-of-pocket expense if they must pay anything.
Being stripped of draft picks for the 2016 and 2017 seasons makes little sense. It imposes no punitive measure on the team for this year.
Brady is appealing his suspension and could end up playing these games anyway. But for him to suggest he didn’t know anything about the underinflated footballs is preposterous. No one on the team handles the footballs more than a quarterback, so how could other players differentiate between properly inflated and underinflated footballs when he couldn’t?
Fans of professional football should feel cheated by this sorry episode, and some do. But don’t expect NFL officials to experience any shame for playing along with New England’s fraud.
The NFL fumbled its integrity long ago. Officials had no interest in dealing honestly with the Patriots prior to the Super Bowl, so why should we expect them to deal honestly with the team now?
So how do music composers from different eras portray the beauty of religious worship?
Members of the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble offered a wonderful example Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Church, Watertown. They sang selections from Giacomo Puccini’s “Messa di Gloria,” first performed in 1880, and Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass,” created to celebrate the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1971.
SHVAE’s performance was part of the Trinity Concert Series, founded in 2006 by Trinity director of liturgical arts Kyle Ramey. Trinity served as the ideal setting for this wonderful contrast of traditional and contemporary musical approaches to reflecting Roman Catholic worship.
Richard Probert, SHVAE’s founding music director, provided to me in an email some of the historical background of turning a Catholic Mass into a musical production.
“The Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass (Kyrie — Lord have mercy; Gloria — Glory to God in the highest; Credo — I believe in one God; Sanctus — Holy, Holy, Holy; Agnus Dei — Lamb of God) has been a favorite format for composers since the Renaissance,” he wrote. “Composers most familiar to your readers [comprise] a list of well-known European composers, including but not limited to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Gounod and Rossini of the 19th century. The 20th century adds Poulenc, Vaughn Williams, Stravinsky, Britten, Brubeck and many others.
“Surviving intact for centuries, the Roman Catholic Mass has remained significant for generations. The interpretation of the Mass offers composers endless flexibility to use both traditional and untraditional approaches to tonality, melodic construction and orchestrations.”
What I found most intriguing about SHVAE’s performance, which I’m sure the group had intended, was the presentation of contrasting styles to commemorating a Catholic Mass. Here you have the work of Puccini (1858-1924), who hailed from a family of Italian composers, and Bernstein (1918-1990), an American musical legend of the 20th century.
The “Messa di Gloria” was sung entirely in Latin, while the “Mass” combined Latin and English text. Bernstein also incorporated a wider range of musical styles in his composition.
“For our concert, we chose the Puccini’s ‘Messa di Gloria’ as a composition that, from a Romantic’s point of view (Puccini was a composer writing in the height of the Romantic period), the Mass was the perfect vehicle to express Puccini’s own belief of his Catholic heritage,” Probert wrote. “His composition is immediately accessible to an audience: familiar tonal harmony, lyric vocal lines, and lush use of dynamics, all with full orchestrations. Puccini’s audience was entirely familiar with the Latin setting.
“By stark contrast, Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ uses the Ordinary of the Mass as a format to capture the embroiling angst of a confused and angry nation. Initially composed as a fully staged theater piece, it leaves the audience questioning, wondering, hoping that peace will somehow happen — that we will be resurrected. He personifies this by having a boy end the composition — our hope is in our children. His mixture of jazz, rock and classical idioms can be seen as an auditory mural of the United States. Diversity reigns. We used a concert edition yet took the liberty to use minimal staging.”
This production was made possible only by the wonderful singers and musicians who participated. Having been a part of the SHVAE Christmas program last year, I know a few members and admire all of them for sharing their extraordinary talents with the rest of us.
The Trinity Concert Series program booklet had some interesting tidbits about each work.
Puccini, who composed operas such as “La bohème” and “Madame Butterfly,” wrote “Messa di Gloria” as his graduation exercise from Istituto Musicale Pacini. A portion of it, however, was written and performed prior to his graduation in 1880. Who knows the impact this overachiever had on the grading curve among his classmates?
Bernstein composed “Mass” at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy. When the Kennedy Center opened in 1971, President Richard Nixon refused to attend the event at which “Mass” premiered.
Nixon heeded the advice of the FBI and snubbed Bernstein and the Kennedy family. J. Edgar Hoover was concerned that Bernstein, known for his leftist sympathies, would embed coded messages in the Latin text opposing the Vietnam War and embarrassing the United States
That’s right! One of the most renowned music composers of the 20th century was planning to tank his reputation and mortify members of the Kennedy family — who were still grieving the loss of both John and Robert Kennedy — just to momentarily thumb his nose at Nixon. This is paranoia at its worst.
But that was in 1971. In 2015, the presentation of “Mass” was very well received. Probert told me it was a very rewarding experience for him.
“I was delighted with the performance. But more than that, I was entirely humbled by it all, humbled especially by the chorus and the children from Stage Notes who week after week came together to rehearse very difficult and unfamiliar music,” he wrote. “I was so proud for all of us when Marcus Haddock … who overcame a devastating stroke to regain his treasured operatic voice, sang so beautifully, proving to all of us that courage, belief in self and persistence are key elements in human endurance.
Local soloists John Slattery and Kevin Kitto joined Marcus, each doing beautifully. Michael Slattery, the tenor for ‘Mass,’ is one of the finest singers I have ever worked with or known. His artistic honesty is at the pinnacle of his trade.
“Laura Enslin our soprano and Jason Cavanagh our boy soprano, each from the Syracuse area, did a splendid job. Mitch Weiss, who has worked in the theater business in NYC for more than 40 years, brought sophistication to the staging. Then there is the orchestra: local players joined by others from Montreal, Rochester, Vermont and the Crane School of Music coming together to rehearse for a few hours, and we have a concert. The collaborative efforts of all the above mentioned forces, their artistic input and suggestions are what made this performance so special, so spiritual.”
Probert also acknowledged SHVAE’s collaboration with Trinity Episcopal Church; Indian River Central School District, which loaned more than 25 percussion instruments; and support from the New York State Council on the Arts, Northern New York Community Foundation and individual donors.
Of course, Probert also deserves our appreciation for envisioning such a phenomenal musical experience. Bravo to everyone involved!
Next up for SHVAE’s groupies: Handel’s “Messiah” on Dec. 20 at Trinity. We’re all looking forward to it.