Friday, September 19, 2014


“We can’t expect to solve problems if all we do is tear each other down.  You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it.”  Barack Obama
critics piled on when Obama wore a tan suit.

No matter what Obama does, Republicans stay poised to jump all over him in order to satisfy their base.  Now that he has authorization to train Syrian moderates – a species “rarer than a mythical unicorn,” according to one critic – House Speaker John Boehner is on him for pledging not to have American “boots on the ground.”  As comedian Bill Maher, who believes the demonization of Obama is ultimately due to his race, put it: “Republicans have created this completely fictional President.  His name is Barack X, and he’s an Islamo-socialist revolutionary who’s coming for your guns, raising your taxes, slashing the military, apologizing to other countries, and taking his queues from Europe, or worse yet, Saul Alinsky.”

Politicians and the media demonizing ISIS is reminiscent of campaigns against other Middle East enemies such as Muammar Kaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Bashar-al-Assad.  On the other hand, we are fine with ruthless leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.  Can’t our leaders see that meddling into Middle East religious disputes is counterproductive?  All we are doing is giving jihadists reason for believing America is “The Great Satan.”

Watching the brilliantly rendered though somewhat vacuous Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts, it struck me how FDR’s Republican enemies tried to demonize him as a “traitor to his class” and would-be dictator.  Abraham Lincoln’s enemies called him a rube, an ape, and worse.  Like Obama, both were gallant yet cautious men.  And, again to quote Bill Maher, maybe compared to Lincoln’s fate. the situation for Obama could be worse: “If you married a manic-depressive, three of your children died, and while you were president civil war broke out and someone shot you in the head, your coin really shouldn't say, "In God We Trust.”
Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko (above) addressed a joint session of Congress before meeting in the Oval Office with President Obama.  Warhawks are putting enormous pressure on the President to get tough on Vladimir Putin.  Let’s hope he can withstand it.  Mike Olszanski pointed me to an article in Foreign Affairs by John Mearsheimer that blames the Ukraine crisis largely on the West rather than demonizing Putin.  Mearsheimer, advocating a realist approach to foreign policy rather than hasty actions based on a mixture of idealism and chauvinism, writes:
“According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, the Ukraine crisis can be blamed almost entirely on Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the argument goes, annexed Crimea out of a long-standing desire to resuscitate the Soviet empire, and he may eventually go after the rest of Ukraine, as well as other countries in eastern Europe. In this view, the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 merely provided a pretext for Putin’s decision to order Russian forces to seize part of Ukraine.          
But this account is wrong: the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine -- beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 -- were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president -- which he rightly labeled a “coup” -- was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.    
Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly. Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a flawed view of international politics. They tend to believe that the logic of realism holds little relevance in the twenty-first century and that Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of such liberal principles as the rule of law, economic interdependence, and democracy.
But this grand scheme went awry in Ukraine. The crisis there shows that realpolitik remains relevant -- and states that ignore it do so at their own peril. U.S. and European leaders blundered in attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western stronghold on Russia’s border. Now that the consequences have been laid bare, it would be an even greater mistake to continue this misbegotten policy. . . .
The United States and its European allies now face a choice on Ukraine. They can continue their current policy, which will exacerbate hostilities with Russia and devastate Ukraine in the process -- a scenario in which everyone would come out a loser. Or they can switch gears and work to create a prosperous but neutral Ukraine, one that does not threaten Russia and allows the West to repair its relations with Moscow. With that approach, all sides would win.
 George Van Til

According to former Lake County surveyor George Van Til’s attorney, Scott King, the U.S. Probation Office sentencing report refused to give Van Til credit for accepting responsibility for the things he was charged with despite his having done so as part of a plea bargain.  The report is sealed, so King filed a motion to see it and the supporting documents.  Asked to write a character reference for Van Til, I composed this letter to Judge James T. Moody:
“I have observed George Van Til’s political career for several decades and have known him personally for about ten years, starting when we both belonged to the Merrillville History Book Club.  As one who cares deeply about the city of Gary, I have long admired the fact that George believed that in order for the Calumet Region to flower, the revitalization of Gary was a necessity.  I can recall on many occasions his presence at Gary community events and have admired his ability to work with politicians as diverse as Richard Hatcher, Tom Barnes, and Rudy Clay.  I have interviewed all three for a book on the history of Gary, and on that point they agreed. 
When I got to know George Van Til personally, I came to realize that from an early age he took to heart John F. Kennedy’s admonition to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  He has dedicated his life to being a good public servant and done so without enriching himself at the public’s expense.  He was proud of his skill as a surveyor and brought a rare degree of professionalism to his elected office.  I recall him leading a book club discussion on a biography of Thomas Jefferson where he bragged that three of the four men on Mount Rushmore were surveyors by trade.  Like Jefferson, he had faith in the democratic process and the common man. 
If some members of George Van Til’s staff engaged in activities that others have concluded to be illegal, I hope those who sit in judgment of him have a sense of proportionality.  In my opinion, our jails would be filled to overflowing if we punished every officeholder who committed similar indiscretions.  I believe it is tragic that Van Til’s legacy of public service has been stained by his indictment and plea agreement.  It is a tribute to his character that what he most deeply regrets is that the publicity surrounding his case contributes to the negative perception of Lake County politics, an image that I believe unfair and undeserved.
In conclusion, George Van Til is a decent man, and if he made some mistakes, as we all do, he has suffered grievously for them and should be allowed to get on with his life.”

Villains of the week in the eyes of the media are suspended NFL players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, one for slugging his fiancé and the other for excessively disciplining his young son till his ass literally bled.  The fact that spousal abuse and corporal punishment are endemic in the subculture from which they came is no excuse, but redemption for both is possible.  Michael Vick returned to pro football after torturing dogs he trained to fight.  In The Nation David Ziran, castigating the media for endlessly showing the surveillance tape of Janay Rice being assaulted, wrote:
“Just as we would protect the name of an alleged rape victim, just as we would not show a video of Ray Rice committing a sexual assault, we should not be showing this video like it’s another episode of Rich People Behaving Badly. If Janay Rice wanted to show this tape to the world, in other words if she had offered her consent, that [would be] a different matter. But showing and reshowing it just because we can is an act of harm.”

Janay Rice put out this statement on Instagram:
I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I'm mourning the death of my closest friend.   No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted [opinions] from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you succeeded on so many levels.”

During my two-year battle on Anne Balay’s behalf, I never demonized her detractors.  Maybe I should have when they acted like male chauvinist pigs.  They certainly deprecated and demeaned her, spreading malicious rumors that she was not collegial and going to incredible lengths to validate a few student complaints from bigoted or failing students, even inferring that she was racially insensitive, a ludicrous slander against one whose actions were just the opposite.  But that is water over the dam.  Anne has moved on; time for me to do the same.  Let the historic record be her redemption.

Business professor Anna S. Rominger prepared a eulogy honoring Marketing professor Joseph Kamen for September’s Faculty Org meeting.  I attended on Chuck Gallmeier’s invitation in order in order to pay my respects to Kamen, a brilliant scholar and well-liked teacher and colleague. Opening the meeting on a humorous note with (unless I’m mistaken) a wink in my direction, Gallmeier read off a list of reasons why God would have been denied promotion and tenure.  They included only having one publication that was not in a refereed journal and being too hard a grader because even though his test just had ten questions, nobody could pass it.  Lack of collegiality was another strike against God, who failed to show up in person at functions.  I was waiting for the final reason being, “because God is a woman.”

The main highlight amidst a mind-numbing array of announcements was Dean Mark Hoyert’s clever introductions of the six new Arts and Sciences faculty (including three for the English department, attesting to George Bodmer’s clout), making use of puns, limericks and self-deprecating asides.  A new Chemistry professor was not present, supposedly due to being in class, but Hoyert said he’d done an experiment with paper money and found traces of cocaine on 98 percent of the bills, perhaps accounting for his absence.  Reading abstruse statements of purpose from the syllabus of an assistant professor who had been to Harvard, Hoyert claimed it was incomprehensible to a simple down lineman from a state school (Maryland, also my alma mater).  One of the English newcomers has done research on a philosophical anarchist, so Hoyert expressed the hope that she wouldn’t orchestrate a coup against her dean.  With that caveat, he concluded, “I welcome you to IU Northwest.”

The last two speakers preceding Anna, Rochelle Brock and James Wallace, had the good sense to be mercifully brief.  Rochelle succinctly listed events associated with Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” the year’s “One Book” selection, including a personal appearance by the author.  James mentioned my name in connection with the upcoming film “My Name Is Gary.”  I wish Anna Rominger’s eulogy would have been first on the agenda instead of last because after 2 hours, people were sneaking out.  After a moment of silence, someone made an announcement concerning a bicycle rally, breaking the mood.   Few people in the audience knew Kamen, and I was hoping Sid Feldman and other emeritus Business faculty had been invited to attend.  
Joe Kamen in 2008
In researching a history of IUN, I interviewed Sidney Feldman, who put together the Business Division in half-century ago.  Sid told me that “Joe Kamen was probably the brightest and most creative person I hired.”  Feldman tried to hire candidates who’d want to stay at IUN rather than use the position as a steppingstone to another job, and he hoped they’d settle in Northwest Indiana and contribute to the larger community.  Kamen obtained a PhD on Psychology from the University of Illinois before carving out an academic and consulting career (AMOCO) in marketing.  Marilyn Vasquez recalled: “I almost changed my major from Accounting to Marketing because of Joe Kamen.  I took more classes from him than I needed.  He brought so much more than what was in the textbook.  He was very creative and on the cutting edge.”  Student Frank Perconti said simply: “Dr. Joe Kamen was a genius.”

In the journal Teaching Business Ethics is a 1997 article by R. Rosenberg entitled, “The Best Teacher I Ever Had Was … Joseph Kamen.”  The author, a CEO with 20 years of management experience before enrolling in Kamen’s course, wrote:
  Kamen was a fascinating lecturer.  This evaluation may appear somewhat surprising when I disclose that he had a serious speech impediment.  He stammered.  In fact, he not only stuttered, he would grimace, as he painfully, and often at length, tried to complete a sentence.  Amazingly, it did not take long for his students to adjust to what otherwise would have been extremely disconcerting and dismiss it as only a minor distraction.  He was fluent and articulate, but more than this he was a lively speaker, constantly in motion so that our attention was riveted.  Joe was not a textbook regurgitator.  He was a voracious and eclectic reader, and, as a result, what he had to say represented the encapsulation of a wide selection of marketing texts, books on special marketing areas, current journal articles, newspapers, and other media.  I never failed to come away from a lecture stimulated, and not without a sense of excitement at what I’d learned.
  Where permitted, Joe shared his current research work with us, combining methodology, analysis, and evaluation of the practical utilization of his findings.  I remember one such research project which involved a promotion featuring the late Johnny Cash, and another statistically oriented study which examined the price sensitivity of gasoline and the effect of price change on miles driven.  Although he was in every sense a brilliant teacher, Joe Kamen never let the teaching responsibilities, which he carried out so tirelessly, interfere with research and writing, and he published prolifically in the better refereed journals.”

During the early 1970s IUN hired a chancellor, Robert McNeill, who turned out to be a disaster.  At Faculty Org meetings he spoke so softly virtually nobody could hear him.  Mark Reshkin compared him to “a ghost, a wisp.”  Angie Komenich called him “a mysterious presence who had a special door installed to keep people away.”  The paranoid McNeill, convinced the “Old Gang” that previously ran IUN was out to get him (and maybe they harbored resentments that one of their own had not been selected to be chancellor) alienated his secretary and Vice Chancellor Bill Neil, who branded him a “whacko.”  George Roberts claimed he “had some kind of emotional or nervous breakdown” and “just fell apart.”  Joe Kamen headed a Faculty Org committee that orchestrated an evaluation process resulting in the chancellor’s ouster.  His successor was not Herman Feldman, leader of the “Old Gang,” as many had expected, but an outsider, Dan Orescanin, who favored the Business Division over Arts and Sciences.

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