Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What Do You See . . .

December 27, 2011, 10:00 p.m.

. . . When You Look At Iowa?

Stephen Bloom took a look at Iowans, and what he saw was "the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated [sic]) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that 'The sun'll come out tomorrow.'" Stephen G. Bloom,"Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life; Thoughts from a university professor on the Iowa hamlets that will shape the contours of the GOP contest," The Atlantic, December 9, 2011.

Olivia White, an adventurous 21-year-old woman from Tasmania who came to visit America, also took a look at Iowa. But she liked what and who she saw, decided to stay, and wrote about it recently in the local press this way:
I have now adventured and worked in more than 15 states . . .. I have seen the sites of Manhattan, D.C., L.A. and San Francisco. My travels have taken me to the Big Sur Mountains of California . . .. [T]he Kenai Peninsula of Alaska . . .. I volunteered for a ministry in the Bible Belt of America . . .. I have explored Amish country and enjoyed dreamlike summer buggy rides with the Amish people. I worked on a horse ranch . . . on the Meramec River in Missouri . . .. Finally, I found Iowa — what I would describe as the epitome of “fair dinkum” (Australian slang for “real” and “genuine”). . . . The way in which I found my way to Iowa truly encapsulates my feelings toward Iowa and its wonderful people. . . . I came across a couple outside their cabin [at the Missouri horse ranch]. . .. We chatted for half an hour or so comparing and contrasting Tasmania and Iowa and just enjoying some friendly banter. When the couple departed the next day, a note was left behind with information and an invitation for me to come visit them in Iowa. . . . Upon arriving in Cedar Rapids, I only expected to visit for several weeks. I did not want to take advantage of such a hospitable invitation. However, my new family encouraged me to stay longer and I realized that I was by no means ready to depart my new home.
Olivia White, "Journey Brings Her to Iowa; Tasmania Native Falls in Love with State While Exploring U.S.," The Gazette, December 25, 2011, p. C2.

Olivia White, who is among other things an accomplished swimmer, is now a Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School's swimming coach.

Of course, I am pleased that Ms. White, having taken a pretty good look at what America has to offer, chose Iowa for her home.

But I wouldn't continue to write on the subject if she was just one more of the three million souls who have also looked at Iowa, liked what they saw, and chosen to live (or continue to live, or to return) here.

No number of accomplished and enthusiastic Iowans will ever change the minds of those who are blind to what the three million can see so clearly.

How to explain this difference in perception?

In my response to Stephen Bloom's mean-spirited screed attacking Iowa I noted, "[M]ost everything we say, or write is little more than an indication of what's going on inside that electro-chemical sensory processing soup we call our brain. . . . When we say the view of [a] . . . mountain range, river valley, ocean [or] desert [is] 'beautiful,' that 'beauty' is of our own making. It lies inside of us, not in the molecules that make up the physical stuff we're looking at." Nicholas Johnson, "Taking the Bloom From My Rose; Another Perspective on Stephen Bloom's Iowa," December 16, 2011.

That's why I'm bringing Olivia White to my attention, and yours. It's not that she just appreciates Iowa and Iowans. It is that this young lady has learned at her age that there is something to appreciate everywhere -- Manhattan, D.C., L.A. and San Francisco, Big Sur, the Kenai Peninsula, the Bible Belt, Amish country, and Missouri horse ranches.

Whatever it is that is going on in her own personal brew, that "electro-chemical sensory processing soup" that is her brain, is obviously a delightful place to be. That's why she can see what Stephen Bloom cannot. That's why everyplace is, for her, a delightful place to be, and why, of all those places, she's chosen our place to live.

And though I've never met her, I rather imagine it's also why the places she chooses to be become, as well, delightful places for those who share those places with her.

Now listen to what Louis Armstrong sees when he looks at the world:

Or read the lyrics of "What a Wonderful World," as written by Robert Thiele and George David Weiss:

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom, for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces, of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, sayin', "How do you do?"
They're really sayin', "I love you"

I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow
They'll learn much more, than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Oh yeah

And, finally, the full text of Ms. White's article:
As a young girl growing up on the island of Tasmania, just off the coast of South East Australia, I would often dream of the day that I could take flight on my own and travel across the United States of America.

Doing what, I wasn’t entirely sure, but that was the whole point. I would take time to broaden my horizons, to excite my senses and to experience life as I didn’t yet know it.

Now, as I sit here in Cedar Rapids writing an article for the local newspaper, I realize I am indeed living my dream.

I grew up in a family of six children with an American father and an Australian mother. It was this cross-cultural influence that first sparked my desire to know my father’s country as well as my mother’s.

At 21 years old, I have now adventured and worked in more than 15 states across America. I guess one could say I have come to quite enjoy the itinerant lifestyle. I have seen the sites of Manhattan, D.C., L.A. and San Francisco.

My travels have taken me to the Big Sur Mountains of California where I worked on a goat farm, hand-milking goats and making fresh cheeses. On the farm, I lived without electricity in a Mongolian tent and bathed on a cliff face overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was a rugged yet spectacular lifestyle.

I spent a summer on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska deep sea fishing, bear spotting and exploring the wild Alaskan coast. I volunteered for a ministry in the Bible Belt of America where I became accustomed to chiggers, fried chicken and okra, and of course that wonderful southern drawl.

I have explored Amish country and enjoyed dreamlike summer buggy rides with the Amish people. I worked on a horse ranch located on the Meramec River in Missouri, where I rode horses and cleaned stables, foraged for morel mushrooms and escaped tornadoes.

Finally, I found Iowa — what I would describe as the epitome of “fair dinkum” (Australian slang for “real” and “genuine”).

I can’t say how many times I have been asked, “But why did you choose to come to Cedar Rapids, Iowa!?” I get the feeling the locals perceive me as a little crazy for willingly choosing such a location, not to mention enjoying it so much. I just smile and patiently deliver my (very familiar) spiel, as if it is the first time anyone has ever asked.

The way in which I found my way to Iowa truly encapsulates my feelings toward Iowa and its wonderful people.

While I was in Missouri working on the horse ranch in May of 2011, I happened to meet a couple who were vacationing on the ranch for several days. Late one afternoon, after finishing work for the day, I decided to try my luck foraging in the woods for the much-prized morel mushrooms. While walking down the gravel lane I came across a couple outside their cabin attempting to wrap up some grapevines. We chatted for half an hour or so comparing and contrasting Tasmania and Iowa and just enjoying some friendly banter.

When the couple departed the next day, a note was left behind with information and an invitation for me to come visit them in Iowa. Our chance meeting on the horse ranch was not only the beginning of my sojourn in Iowa, but the first of many connections that have all seamlessly fallen into place since walking down that gravel lane.

Having always been drawn to the folklore of the prairie and the old Midwest, I was excited by the offer to go to Iowa. My dad’s stories of his youth and spending his early years in Nebraska had always stirred my curiosity. Upon arriving in Cedar Rapids, I only expected to visit for several weeks. I did not want to take advantage of such a hospitable invitation. However, my new family encouraged me to stay longer and I realized that I was by no means ready to depart my new home.

I determined that if my visit was going to turn into something more permanent, I had better make myself useful and start working. I decided to rely on what I know best, swimming.

Swimming has always played a significant role in my life. My father is a swimming coach and my mother a swimming instructor. They built a 25-meter indoor swimming pool at our home in Tasmania, where they have owned and operated their own aquatic business for 15 years.

Naturally, all six of the children became competitive swimmers, succeeding at a state level as well as competing in national competitions. My own competitive swimming background and my parents’ expertise prepared me well and by age 14 I began teaching classes solo for my parent’s successful business. By age 18 I was a fully qualified swimming instructor teaching children and adults of all ages, as well as coaching
competitive swimmers.

When I arrived in Cedar Rapids in the spring of 2011 the timing was perfect to become involved with a local swim team. Due to a friend’s recommendation, I inquired about a coaching job at the nearby Elmcrest Country Club. I met with the pool supervisor, dropped off my resume, and was offered a job coaching with their swim team; another seamless connection falling into place.

Elmcrest staff and club members were both friendly and welcoming and the flexibility of my role allowed me to work with the kids according to their needs, developing their strokes and focusing on some of the more technical aspects of swimming.

I think for the kids, it was a bit of a novelty to have an “Aussie swim coach”. There were a lot of questions: “Do I keep kangaroos as pets?” “Why do I talk funny?” and “Do we drive cars in Australia?” Our conversations would always bring about some good laughs and the kids would leave knowing something new about the “land down under.”

As a result of my involvement with the swim team at Elmcrest, I was offered an assistant coaching position at Kennedy High School, the third seamless happenstance. I was honored to coach alongside John Ross, Rick Forrester, Holly Broadwater and Leslie Nelson. I sought my Iowa coaching certification at Kirkwood Community College, which allowed me to coach for schools in Iowa. For me, this was yet another excellent
opportunity not only to contribute and be a part of local swim team, but also a chance to gain more experience coaching at a competitive level alongside veteran coaches such as Ross and Forrester.

Both swimmers and coaches worked hard throughout the season and reaped the benefits. Kennedy placed first at the sophomore Mississippi Valley Conference meet while also winning our division at the varsity level.

Kennedy hosted a very exciting regional meet with our team missing first place by just one point. We took a tenacious team of 10 swimmers to the state meet in Marshalltown and finished a very respectable 12th place, up from 16th place in 2010. Our freshman class was extremely strong throughout the season contributing to our success while holding promise of a very bright future for Kennedy swimming.

Assuming I survive the harsh winter here in Iowa — Tasmania’s lowest temperature dives to a shivering 32 degrees — I plan to return to Elmcrest and Kennedy for another swimming season in 2012. I am both excited and motivated to develop as a coach and see “our” local swimmers continue to improve.

I will always remember and cherish my time here in Cedar Rapids. The friendships I have made will last a lifetime and I will never forget the incredible feeling of being a stranger who found a home in a foreign place.
Olivia White, "Journey Brings Her to Iowa; Tasmania Native Falls in Love with State While Exploring U.S.," The Gazette, December 25, 2011, p. C2.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

'We're Number One!' What's Your City's Ranking?

December 22, 2011, 3:50 p.m. (addition below, October 3, 2012)

And Why Rankings Are Silly

Mason Williams wrote in the Foreword to his book Flavors, "If I had to do it over again, I'd do it somewhere else. How about your house?"

Are you long-term unemployed, recently divorced, generally miserable? Like to start life over? If so, where's the best place to do it?

The Street.com blog decided to do the research for those seeking a fresh start. Jerold Leslie, "6 Best Cities for Starting Over in 2012," Street.com/Yahoo! Finance, December 19, 2011.

And what city came up Number One after all of their independent research? Well, Iowa City, Iowa, of course.

How significant is this? About as significant as the University of Texas' brag when I was a student there, that the school's marching band possessed "the world's largest base drum." As my friend, the late Molly Ivins sometimes observed, Texans believe that "more is better, and too much is not enough" -- illustrated by another brag at the time of the base drum: a billboard outside Austin that claimed to be "the world's largest billboard."

In my last blog entry I address whether being "average" is a necessary prerequisite for a state to be "first in the nation" with the presidential primaries and caucuses every four years -- something Stephen Bloom apparently thinks necessary, and finds wanting in Iowa: "Frankly, I don't think it obvious that the state to hold a presidential caucus or primary as first-in-the-nation has to be the 'most typical,' or 'average.' But if that's what you want, if that is your standard, Bloom to the contrary notwithstanding, Iowa is it. Michael Lewis-Beck, 'Iowa is a Natural for its "First in the Nation" Role,' Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 16, 2011, p. 9A ('50 states were rated on 51 important characteristics taken from U.S. Census data. Iowa turns out to be a highly representative state.')" Nicholas Johnson, "Taking the Bloom From My Rose; Another Perspective on Stephen Bloom's Iowa," December 16, 2011.

I have a similar take on the various "rankings" of cities. Sure, I prefer some cities over others, just as I prefer some states over others as first out of the gate in the presidential race. But just as I don't think "average" is necessarily the best criteria for picking caucus states, neither do I think rankings are the best way to pick cities.

(Nor are they the best way to pick law schools. For a more rational, focused and analytical way of thinking about the best law school for you, see one of the most long-term popular of the near-900 blog entries available here: Nicholas Johnson, "Random Thoughts on Law School Rankings," April 29, 2008.)

How I Prefer to Pick Cities: Their "Genuine Quality of Life"

So, what is the best way to pick cities, I hear you ask. It's not the point of this blog entry, but in brief, for me, it's what I call "genuine quality of life." What does that category include?

In another blog entry I commented, "Another nice thing about Iowa City is that an easy walk can get you to many of the places you want to go. If you're in a hurry you can bike. With time to spare, you can even drive." Nicholas Johnson, "Why Iowa? Chase Garrett and Robert Reich; Just Your Everyday Walk Around a Small Iowa Town," September 8, 2011. Of course, this can be said of any American rural town with a population less than, say, 25,000. The difference when that town houses a major state university -- such as Urbana-Champaign (81,000; Champaign), Bloomington (80,000), or Iowa City (68,000) -- is that the stress-free ease of "getting there" is combined with a high density of innovative, creative, intellectual, and cultural places and events worth getting to (as with Chase Garrett and Robert Reich, mentioned above). They are a sort of "best of all possible worlds" -- distinguished from the difficulty and cost (in time, money and stress) of "getting there" in, say, Los Angeles.

My home is three or four blocks from my office -- and a major research hospital, and a Big Ten football stadium. Many of our law students have an equally short walk from their apartments. That's worth something. In fact, if it were possible for millions of Americans to do this (as in some countries) it would pretty much solve our energy and obesity problems.

(An added, nostalgic "genuine quality of life" for me is that "my home" is the same house and lots my father bought in 1941, where I lived from then until graduating from high school in 1952. So that short walk to work also takes me through the neighborhood and woods where I delivered the Des Moines Register and played as a child.)

Genuine quality of life, for me, includes living in a town in which there is not only a radically reduced risk of theft, but one in which you occasionally hear stories of someone finding a billfold, and walking across town to deliver it to its owner -- complete with all cash and credit cards. It's a town surrounded by rolling hills, where a farmer who is seriously injured, or ill, wakes up one morning to find a column of tractors, or combines, his neighbors are bringing to plant, or harvest his crop; or perhaps when his barn burns, a "barn-raising" party of neighbors building the replacement.

It's what University of Iowa President Sally Mason noted in her response to Stephen Bloom: "[W]e were faced with a historic flood that devastated communities . . .. What I saw, . . . was the best that Iowa has to offer — our people. I saw sandbags being filled. I saw communities rallying together to help their neighbors protect what they treasured. I didn’t see woeful distress or abandonment." Sally Mason, "Bloom's caricature misrepresents Iowa and Iowans," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 16, 2011, p. A9.

When I was running for Congress from Iowa's old Third District, it was a practice of small town merchants when a customer paid by check. There were books of blank checks on the counter from the various small banks in the area. You simply picked the one from your bank, filled it out, put your signature on it, and handed it to the clerk. No routing numbers; no printed names; no required identification. Just a signature, recognized by the bank teller who ultimately received it. My experience at that time in Los Angeles was that stores wanted, literally, my fingerprint as well as a photo ID.

It's a memory from my childhood of watching a local bank president, one of the community's wealthiest and most prominent individuals, pausing for a lengthy visit on the street with one of its poorest and most challenged citizens. Ever since reading in junior high Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), with its explanation of "conspicuous consumption," I have always preferred communities that value reverse ostentation -- like billionaire Sam Walton driving an old pickup truck -- to those that depend on obvious shows of wealth to establish individuals' worth.

Many Iowans have little desire to rank individuals, or place them in their proper "class." Evaluations turn on one's character, honesty, and professional ability and attention to detail -- not whether the work is neurosurgery or automobile repair, but how skillfully, conscientiously and professionally that work is done.

It's embodied in the story of the fellow criticized for not wearing a tie who responded, "Where I come from we judge a man by what he has above his neck, not what he ties around it."

Some of my law school colleagues wear suits and ties the days they teach. But one of our most nationally prestigious professors would sometimes return to the law school from the tennis courts in tennis shirt, shorts and shoes. Among the faculty, "casual" does not mean a sports coat instead of a suit; it means a shirt or sweater, maybe with jeans or khakis. (As a Supreme Court clerk, I recall a couple clerks from Harvard Law School who used to hold serious discussions not only about the comparative virtues of various designer suits, but the details of the most appropriate procedure to be used by their dry cleaners.)

These are among the characteristics of locations or institutions that are factored into my judgment regarding their "genuine quality of life."

Prefer High Rankings to "Genuine Quality of Life"? Iowa City Has Them, Too

Thus, as with whether Iowa is "average" enough to be first in the nation in picking presidents (it shouldn't need to be, but if that's what you want, it is that, too), so it is with Iowa City's placement in various rankings of cities. As just discussed with regard to "genuine quality of life," I don't happen to think rankings are that important, but if you do here are some to consider:

The most recent [October 3, 2012] is the American Institute for Economic Research ranking of top college destinations, which placed Iowa City among the top five. Iowa City and the UI scored high for research, accessibility, earning potential, low unemployment, and entrepreneurial activity. "College Destinations Index, 2012-2013," American Institute for Economic Research.

One of Iowa City's most prestigious bits of recognition was its 2008 designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as one of the world's three Cities of Literature. Following UNESCO's designation of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Melbourne, Australia, all three cities became part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Coincidentally, this was quite a week of rankings for Iowa City. Sunday, December 18, the Press-Citizen reported that Iowa City had been ranked 19th among 138 American cities found to be the "most secure" based on a www.bestplaces.net database (noting 600 physicians per 100,000 population vs. a national average of 220.5, and a 3.6 percent unemployment rate vs. 9.1 percent nationally). By Tuesday the city found itself ranked 8th on the Milken Institute's annual Best Performing Small Cities List (noting its $6.7 billion economy). On Thursday, December 22, came the discovery that Iowa City was ranked number one among America's best cities to start over -- the ranking with which this blog entry began.

Iowa City has the fourth best schools in the nation (out of 334 ranked). Expansion Management Magazine, 2004.

It is the third best metro for livability in the nation (out of 331), according to the same source.

Forbes ranked Iowa City as the second best metro area for business careers, eighth best "up and coming," and among the top ten "smartest cities," March 2008.

Outside Magazine called Iowa City the "Top Town in the Midwest" when it recognized the nation's 30 best towns in July 2007. It concluded that Iowa City is one of the "smart, progressive burgs with gorgeous wilderness playgrounds -- and realistic housing and job markets." They also found that "some of the happiest people in the world live in Iowa City."

Iowa City was one of the "Top Business Opportunity Metros" according to Expansion Management Magazine, which designated the city as the fifth best (of 329) "Metro Areas for Expanding a Business" in 2004.

The February 2010 issue of Oprah’s O Magazine came out with an unranked list of "100 Things That Are Getting Better," and Iowa was the only state to make this list (e.g., “Legalizing gay marriage in 2009 + University of Iowa football landing among the top 25 college teams for the fifth time this decade + ranking second on MainStreet.com ’s Happiness Index = one seriously happening Hawkeye State”).

Men’s Journal, a national publication, in its February 2010 issue listed Iowa City as the healthiest town in the nation. CNN medical writer Dr. Sanjay Gupta considered locally grown fruits and vegetables, short commutes, availability of sidewalks, low pollution, green spaces and good weather.

The Iowa City area ranked 10th on the MSN CareerBuilder's "Today's Best and Worst Cities for Jobs" list. The CareerBuilder article cited the "Iowa City metro area's 1.2 percent job growth between July and October 2009 . . . only 19 [of 77 cities] posted growth rates of 1 percent or higher."

In September 2007, National Geographic Adventure Magazine listed Iowa City as one of the "50 Best Places to Live and Play."

Iowa City was ranked third by Money Magazine in its list of "Best Places in the Nation to Retire."

In March 2007, Iowa City was listed as one of the 10 most affordable places to live and work by Sperling's Best Places. "Iowa City feels progressive," Bert Sperling says. "It boasts a lively cultural scene, an attractive downtown, and active community efforts."

American City Business Journal ranked Iowa City among the top 4 percent in the nation for "quality of life," and number one in Iowa.

Iowa City was ranked the sixth best golf city in America by Golf Digest, August 2005.

Sporting News, August 2005, ranked Iowa City one of America's "50 best sports cities," and number one for college football.

Men's Journal, May 2003, ranked Iowa City as sixth in the nation among the "healthiest, safest, and sexiest places to live."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found Iowa City second in the country as an artist-friendly alternative to New York and Los Angeles, 2002.

USA Today, June 2002, judged Iowa City to be the "third most educated metro area in the country."

The University of Iowa in Iowa City -- and in Context

It is impossible to consider rankings of Iowa City without taking into account the many contributions of the University of Iowa, a major educational and research institution by any measure. Many of the local citizenry are either employees or enrollees of the institution. For example, Iowa City residents' easy access to quality, cutting edge health care, and the average educational level of the population, reflect the university's presence -- as would be true of other towns of comparable size that are home to major state research universities with hospitals.

U.S. News & World Report currently ranks The University of Iowa as the 28th best public university in the country. Of its graduate programs, 23 are ranked among the top 10 of their kind at U.S. public institutions. It is the only Big Ten university listed as a "best buy" in Fiske Guide to Colleges, 2011.

It is large: it has a budget of $2.8 billion, 30,000 students from over 100 countries, a 1700-acre campus with 120 major buildings, operated with 13,000 staff and 1700 faculty, offering over 100 areas of study including seven professional degree programs (MD, JD, MBA, LLM, PharmD, MNHP, and DDS), and an array of intellectual, cultural and athletic events that attract more than a million visitors a year.

The University has been around since 1847, was the first public university to admit men and women on an equal basis, and the first university in the world to accept creative work in literature and the arts for advanced degrees. West of the Mississippi it was the first to create a law school, educational broadcasting station, and college paper. As early as the 1870s it was one of the first public law schools in the country to grant degrees to women and African Americans. It had the nation's first female editor of a college paper. It is currently the home of the world-renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the National Advanced Driving Simulator.

University of Iowa Healthcare is "an integrated academic medical center under one executive leadership team, consisting of UI Hospitals and Clinics, the UI Carver College of Medicine, and UI Physicians, Iowa’s largest multi-specialty medical and surgical group practice." Its predecessors have been offering patient services since 1873. It is recognized as one of the best hospitals in the U.S., with nearly 10,000 employees (making it one of the state's largest employers), research grants in the $100s of millions (during a recent year the 11th largest NIH recipient), some 200 specialties and programs. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is currently again ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals,” now for the 22nd year in a row. Nine medical specialties are among the top 50 such programs in the nation: otolaryngology, ophthalmology, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, psychiatry, urology, surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, cancer, and kidney disease.

The UI's main library has been among the top 25 public academic research libraries. The law school's library is consistently ranked first or second in the nation; the research and writing of its faculty once placed it first in the nation among public law schools.

One could go on and on with such facts. All major U.S. educational institutions have their "brags": numbers of books and other publications, honors and memberships of faculty, quality of libraries, scientific inventions and cultural contributions, celebrity alums, new buildings and other facilities, athletic championships, or the size of endowments. Each institution has its strengths, its strongest colleges and departments, its "famous" faculty -- but also its weaknesses and its infamous faculty members. Iowa is no exception.

What does seem rather clear is that, by whatever standards and measures one may apply, the University of Iowa is clearly one of America's quality, public, research universities, and the full equal of its peers. Amongst those schools it makes even less sense to distinguish among them on the basis of a few positions one way or another in an arbitrary "ranking" than to decide who gets the gold and who gets the bronze on the basis of a 1/100th of a second difference in how fast they can ski down a hill. (At least there is agreement on the Olympics' criteria for such conclusions.) As I see it, anyone who can ski down a long hill at 90 mph and live to tell about it is a great athlete; and I feel the equivalent about our major research universities.


In my response to Stephen Bloom's mean-spirited screed attacking Iowa I noted, "[M]ost everything we say, or write is little more than an indication of what's going on inside that electro-chemical sensory processing soup we call our brain. . . . When we say the view of [a] . . . mountain range, river valley, ocean [or] desert [is] 'beautiful,' that 'beauty' is of our own making. It lies inside of us, not in the molecules that make up the physical stuff we're looking at." Nicholas Johnson, "Taking the Bloom From My Rose; Another Perspective on Stephen Bloom's Iowa," December 16, 2011.

It is an observation, if anything, even more applicable to our judgments about which are the "best places" -- for us -- during various phases of our lives. "Rankings" are of little use -- except for responding to mean-spirited characterizations of places and cultures by critics too limited to appreciate them.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Taking the Bloom From My Rose

December 16, 2011, 1:55 p.m.

[Since you're interested in this blog entry, you may well find of equal interest two more: "What Do You See . . . When You Look At Iowa?" and "'We're Number One!' What's Your City's Ranking? And Why Rankings Are Silly."]

Another Perspective on Stephen Bloom's Iowa

I'd like to get the Bloom that is Stephen off of the rose that is Iowa.

Stephen G. Bloom is Professor and Bessie Dutton Murray Professional Scholar at the University of Iowa. This year, he is the Howard R. Marsh Visiting Professor of Journalism at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America and The Oxford Project (with Peter Feldstein).

That's what he is. He is not, however, what we Iowans call, "Iowa nice."

[Photo credit: Jason Reed/Reuters/The Atlantic.] If one of the jobs of a professor is to promote inquiry and discussion -- the more heated the better -- Stephen Bloom has been hard at work.

Tasked with explaining why Iowa is, or is not, an appropriate state with which to begin the nation's presidential selection process, he chose instead an anti-Iowa screed that never answers the question, but must leave most readers scratching their heads as to what purpose he did have in mind.

It reminds me of the recently popular song with the line, "Someday, I'll be, living in a big old city, and all you're ever going to be is mean." Taylor Swift, "Mean." [Picture of portion of downtown Des Moines, Iowa.]

Stephen G. Bloom,"Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life; Thoughts from a university professor on the Iowa hamlets that will shape the contours of the GOP contest," The Atlantic, December 9, 2011 ("Whether a schizophrenic, economically-depressed, and some say, culturally-challenged state like Iowa should host the first grassroots referendum to determine who will be the next president isn't at issue. It's been this way since 1972, and there are no signs that it's going to change. In a perfect world, no way would Iowa ever be considered representative of America, or even a small part of it. Iowa's not representative of much. There are few minorities, no sizable cities, and the state's about to lose one of its five seats in the U.S. House because its population is shifting; any growth is negligible. Still, thanks to a host of nonsensical political precedents, whoever wins the Iowa Caucuses in January will very likely have a 50 percent chance of being elected president 11 months later. Go figure.").

It's a mixed bag. Bloom can be a very good writer, some of which pops up in this piece. Some is humorous -- sometimes right on, sometimes way off, sometimes just mean. Most Iowan's are aware of the genuine problems Iowa, and most other states, confront. The Iowa Policy Project, the state's investigative reporters, and numerous policy-oriented nonprofits are on top of most of them. Bloom doesn't offer a lot of data, but of what there is some is accurate, some is not. Mostly it's opinion -- as, indeed, most everything we say, or write is little more than an indication of what's going on inside that electro-chemical sensory processing soup we call our brain. What Bloom's article is not, by my standards, is "journalism" -- which is kind of odd, coming from a journalism professor. I would certainly hope he is not holding it up to his students as an example.

Most disturbing, from a general semantics perspective, is his apparent lack of awareness of the dramatic difference between the non-verbal space-time events of which we are a part and the ways in which our language permits grossly distorted "descriptions" of those events, often in the form of unsubstantiated generalizations.

When we say the view of clustered sky scrapers in an urban environment, mountain range, river valley, ocean, desert -- or, in my case, amateur radio antenna towers -- are "beautiful," that "beauty" is of our own making. It lies inside of us, not in the molecules that make up the physical stuff we're looking at.

There is no "Iowan." There are three million Iowans who are extraordinarily varied in their educations, professions, lifestyle choices, socio-economic status, religious beliefs, and so forth. Moreover, they are each changing over time. For example, to leave the impression that all Iowans are farmers (a) inaccurately represents the state's demographics, when less than 5% can be so classified, (b) conflates "agriculture" in 1930 with "agriculture" in 2011 (as different as newspapers and magazines in 1930 and 2011), and (c) denigrates the intellectual and professional skills required to run a successful agricultural operation during any year.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason has written a response that helps to put Bloom's assertions into perspective. Hopefully, The Atlantic will exercise the good judgment to run it. Sally Mason, "Bloom's caricature misrepresents Iowa and Iowans," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 16, 2011, p. A9 ("Iowans are pragmatic and balanced, and they live within their means. This lifestyle, while not glitzy, is humble and true and can weather the most difficult of times. One’s reputation and word are understood to be his or her most valued attributes. As a result, people cultivate a sense of fairness, cooperation and humility. . . . You also don’t have to look far to immerse yourself in the fine arts. No fewer than seven Iowa communities claim symphony orchestras . . .. When you can boast one of five [UNESCO-designated] Cities of Literature worldwide — and the only one in the United States — you’re in a class all alone.")

There's always the risk that boosters, as well as bashers, may error with their generalizations. Here's one involving myself from a blog in early September of this year:
Walking along downtown Iowa City's Washington Street, following a reception at a restaurant that can match many of those on the coasts, we came upon an amazing piano player, 22-year-old Chase Garrett. He was sitting at a piano kindly placed on the sidewalk by those who thought it would be a nice addition to this community of literature (one of three so designated by the United Nations), theater, music, and creative arts generally.

Here is a direct link to the YouTube location of my video, and a link to Chase's Web site: http://chasegarrett.com//.

It turns out I'm far from the first person to discover this guy and upload his music to YouTube. Put "Chase Garrett" (in quotes) into YouTube search, and you'll see over 100 more.

From there we wandered down the hill to the Iowa Memorial Union (about three blocks). (Another nice thing about Iowa City is that an easy walk can get you to many of the places you want to go. If you're in a hurry you can bike. With time to spare, you can even drive.)

What we found in the main lounge of the IMU was a standing room only crowd, packed to the walls, waiting to hear a free lecture by Robert Reich, http://robertreich.org, once Secretary of Labor and now University of California, Berkeley, professor of public policy.
"Why Iowa? Chase Garrett and Robert Reich," September 8, 2011.

So what was wrong with what I wrote? A reader's comment added to the blog put it well: "I believe the more proper title question for your article is 'Why Iowa City?' Unless of course you truly believe that your article applies to other places in Iowa. I've lived in Taipei, Singapore, Tehran, Los Angeles, Knoxville, Cleveland, Iowa City, Chicago, and Overland Park, and Iowa City ranks first among them."

I feel the way she does about Iowa City's rank, but she's right about my leap in assigning the benefits of living in a college town like Iowa City with the resources available throughout the state of Iowa. Generalizations and exaggerations can and do run both ways.

Frankly, I don't think it obvious that the state to hold a presidential caucus or primary as first-in-the-nation has to be the "most typical," or "average." But if that's what you want, if that is your standard, Bloom to the contrary notwithstanding, Iowa is it. Michael Lewis-Beck, "Iowa is a Natural for its 'First in the Nation' Role," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 16, 2011, p. 9A ("50 states were rated on 51 important characteristics taken from U.S. Census data. Iowa turns out to be a highly representative state. The characteristics cover a broad range of state life, which we organized under three general factors: Economics . . .. Social Problems . . .. Diversity . . .. First, Iowa falls close to the middle score for the overwhelming majority of the 51 separate measures. Only 12 are not near the middle, and about half of those are positive, representing desirable social conditions. For example, Iowa is below average in poor mental health days, wine consumption and housing prices; well above average in the high school graduation rate and voting turnout.")

Iowa's voting record is also about as representative of the nation as it gets, according to these figures from Gary Sanders:
In November 1992, Iowa voted: Bill Clinton, 43.3 percent; George H.W. Bush, 37.3 percent; Ross Perot, 18.7 percent. In November 1992, the country voted: Clinton, 43.0 percent; Bush, 37.4 percent; Perot, 18.9 percent.

In November 1996, Iowa voted: Clinton, 50.3 percent; Bob Dole, 39.9 percent; Perot, 8.5 percent. In November 1996, the country voted: Clinton, 49.2 percent; Dole, 40.7 percent; Perot, 8.4 percent.

In November 2000, Iowa voted: Al Gore, 48.5 percent; George W. Bush, 48.2 percent. In November 2000,the country voted: Gore, 48.4 percent; Bush, 47.9 percent.

In November 2004, Iowa voted: Bush, 49.9 percent; John Kerry, 49.2 percent. In November 2004, the country voted: Bush 50.6 percent; Kerry 48.1 percent.

In November 2008, Iowa voted: Obama, 53.9 percent; McCain 44.4 percent. In November 2008, the country voted: Obama, 52.9 percent; McCain, 45.6 percent.
Gary Sanders, "Iowa Is a Very Representative State," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 5, 2012, p. A7.

As I say, "average" (however it might be measured) need not be the only Polestar in our quest to find the perfect first-in-the-nation" state, but given Lewis-Beck's research, and Gary Sanders' historic voting data, it's really bizarre, misleading, and potentially dangerous for Bloom to assert, as he does, "In a perfect world, no way would Iowa ever be considered representative of America, or even a small part of it. Iowa's not representative of much. There are few minorities, no sizable cities, and . . . any growth is negligible."

I'm not about to assert that Bloom holds racial or other politically-incorrect prejudices. There's no basis for believing he does. However, much of the language structure he uses is analogous to the language of prejudice.

It is simply not a factually or descriptively accurate use of language to characterize "all" of any classification to be this or that. It's just that some such characterizations are more socially acceptable than others. America has a long history of humor, and epithets thrown at the latest immigrants -- Irish, Scandinavian, German, Italian, Polish, Chinese or Japanese. Ditto for religious groups -- Catholics, Jews, and today's Muslims.

Comments about Californians, New Yorkers -- or "Iowa farmers" -- are somehow more acceptable. One can make fun of any group -- and many do: "Ivory tower" academics, "dumb jocks," "greedy bankers," "lying politicians," "dumb blonds."

But all such characterizations are equally inaccurate. There are farmers in California and New York as well as Iowa. And there are corporate CEOs and rocket scientists in Iowa as well as in California. No state is "all" anything; and no identifiable group in any of those states has members that are significantly identical with regard to most characteristics.

I have been in every U.S. state and Canadian province, and probably worked or visited in some 40 countries. I have spent considerable time, or lived, in Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Washington, D.C., and London -- among other cities. Although I was born and raised in Iowa, I am now very much an Iowan by choice. (Returning home from D.C. has provided this blog's name: "FromDC2Iowa.") In fact, I have since 1989 literally been living in the very same family home I lived in from 1941-1952.

I mention that because I don't think it's that unusual. In my experience, bi-coastal sophisticates without a midwest background risk a greater degree of parochialism than midwesterners. Both midwesterners and New Yorkers, of comparable socio-economic circumstance, spend time in, and have some understanding of, both coasts and Europe. What many midwesterners also have, and some New Yorkers may lack, is an appreciation of America's "fly over country."

And speaking of "fly over country": at a dinner party in Kuala Lumpur one evening, a New Yorker was telling our Malaysian hosts that there was virtually nothing of worth between our east and west coasts. I reminded her that although our hosts had never visited America, let alone Iowa City, when they found out I was from Iowa City their eyes brightened and their first response was to ask about the University's International Writers Program. (They had not inquired about her Manhattan neighborhood.) I went on to describe the other centers of manufacturing and business, arts and academia, culture and charms of the mid and far western United States.

I look for each region's strengths, not what it doesn't have. When I go to New York I don't complain about the lack of Grant Wood vistas of rolling fields and hills. I don't object to the lack of ocean-front beaches in the middle of desert beauty, nor the lack of mountains on the Florida Keys.

When I finished my seven-year term as an FCC commissioner, the question was what to do next. I knew I wanted to get out of Washington to refresh my sense of the America "outside the beltway." But how to do it?

When asked, we are tempted to advise others to do what we have done. Bill Moyers suggested I should just take a long ride around the country, preferably in a pickup truck with a dog in the back. It was an appealing idea. But on reflection I realized most of the people I'd meet would be the truck drivers and waitresses in restaurants along the road. Besides, I'd made that trip with my wife and daughter during the summer of 1958. I was in the last law school class able to take the bar exam before graduation, and my first clerkship didn't begin until August. So we set off with $19 and a Texaco credit card to visit all the national parks west of the Mississippi.

About that time I got a call from some Democratic Party leaders in Iowa's old Third Congressional District. Long held by the seemingly unbeatable Republican H.R. Gross, the Party could not find anyone willing to run against him. That I would consider it turned me into something of a local hero. That is, until after my announcement Congressman Gross stunned everyone with the announcement that he was not going to run -- following which I was immediately considered a carpetbagger. There are lots of stories about that race to leave for another day.

The point of mentioning it in the context of Bloom's take on Iowa, is the reason why I ultimately decided to do it. The Third District was an almost perfect square of perfectly square counties located in the center of Iowa's boundary with Minnesota. It's attraction to me was that it proved to be a microcosm of America. I could rediscover America by traveling around in relatively small circles in one state, rather than covering the entire continent.

The District had a Latino population around Mason City, an African-American population in Waterloo, and one of the country's few Native American "settlements" (owned by the tribe) rather than reservations. (Its Meskwaki Casino is now doing very well, thank you.) Sure, the District had farms; although many of the husbands and wives who farmed also worked, or even lived, in nearby cities. But it also had young professionals -- lawyers, doctors, architects, and accountants. It had one of the greatest densities of small colleges of any area in the United States. It had the strong Local 828 UAW union, whose members worked at the world's largest tractor factory, and a major meat packing plant.

It was, and the memories always will be, much more representative of what Iowa is, and who Iowans are, than Stephen Bloom's mythical Iowa.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

TIFs Wealthy Relatives

December 6, 2011, 8:10 a.m.

$7 Trillion Secret Giveaways to Banks; Marlins' Stadium

"What questions should officials ask (and answer) before giving away our tax money with subsidies, bailouts or TIFs to for-profit private ventures?" "TIF Impact Statements; The Questions We Should Insist Officials Ask First," November 29, 2011. That op ed column (embedded in the linked blog entry) focused on TIFs. But the problems and concerns with giveaways of taxpayers' money go far beyond TIFs. Examining some of the more outrageous offenses helps to put TIFs in context, to recognize that they come from the same bloodline as their more wealthy relatives.
As the Marlins’ new stadium nears completion in Miami, the wreckage from the deal to finance it continues to mount.

The Securities and Exchange Commission subpoenaed the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County seeking details about what investigation and analysis they did before agreeing to issue nearly $500 million in bonds to pay for the stadium and adjoining parking lots in the Little Havana neighborhood.

In a 20-page letter to the county dated Dec. 1, the commission also asked for any documents concerning the team’s ability to help pay for the stadium.

It is also seeking records of any campaign contributions that the Marlins may have given to officials working for the city, the county and the state, . . ..

City and county officials approved the deal to pay for more than three-quarters of the estimated $645 million cost of the stadium and parking lots in 2009. They did so during a deep recession, when services were being slashed, and despite calls to hold a referendum on the financing of the stadium and lots, which are being paid for with hotel bed taxes and parking fees.

City and county officials were accused of spending too much money on the Marlins — a for-profit organization — when other buildings, like the convention center, needed repairs. The Marlins also refused to show government officials their financial books.

This became an embarrassment last year when leaked financial documents showed that the Marlins were profitable in 2008 and 2009.

It may be difficult for the commission to accuse the Marlins of misrepresenting their finances if they did not represent them in the first place. Rather, the blame would fall to county and city officials if a lack of due diligence were found before the bonds were issued.
Ken Belson, "S.E.C. Subpoenas Details on Marlins’ Stadium Financing," Bats/New York Times, December 3, 2011.

An even bigger robbery, perhaps the biggest in centuries of human history, is the secret gift of $7.7 trillion to our largest banks, banks which in my judgment were "too big to bail."
A fresh account emerged last week about the magnitude of financial aid that the Federal Reserve bestowed on big banks during the 2008-09 credit crisis. The report came from Bloomberg News, which had to mount a lengthy legal fight to wrest documents from the Fed that detailed its rescue efforts.

It is dispiriting, of course, that we are still learning about the billions provided to various financial firms during the crisis. Another sad element to this mess is that getting the truth requires the legal firepower of an organization as rich as Bloomberg.

But that’s the way our world works. Billions are secretly showered on troubled financial institutions to stave off disaster. Individuals get little or no help.

Here are some of the new figures:

Among all the rescue programs set up by the Fed, $7.77 trillion in commitments were outstanding as of March 2009, Bloomberg said. The nation’s six largest banks — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — borrowed almost half a trillion dollars from the Fed at peak periods, Bloomberg calculated, using the central bank’s data.

Those six institutions accounted for 63 percent of the average daily borrowings from the Fed by all publicly traded United States banks, money management and investment firms, Bloomberg said.

Numbers for individual companies were equally astonishing. For example, the Fed provided Bear Stearns with $30 billion to see it through its 2008 shotgun marriage with JPMorgan. This was in addition to the $29.5 billion in assets purchased by the Fed from Bear to assist in the buyout by JPMorgan. Citigroup, meanwhile, tapped the Fed for almost $100 billion in January 2009 — its peak during the crisis — and Morgan Stanley received $107 billion in Fed loans in September 2008. . . .

[I]nvestors didn’t know how dire the situation was at these institutions. At the same time that these banks were privately thronging the teller windows at the Fed, some of their executives were publicly espousing their firms’ financial solidity. . . .

Citi’s earnings release didn’t detail its large Fed borrowings; neither did its filing for the first quarter of 2009 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Other banks kept silent on these activities or mentioned them in passing with few specifics.
Gretchen Morgenson, "Secrets of the Bailout, Now Told," New York Times, December 4, 2011, p. BU1.

TIFs may involve fewer dollars, but the questions that need to be asked, and answered, before entering into them, the categories of adverse impact on our economy and society from these transfers of taxpayers' money to for-profit corporations, are comparable.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

TIF Impact Statements

November 29,, 2011, 9:50 a.m.

The Questions We Should Insist Officials Ask First

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Making a 'Prudent TIF' More Than an Oxymoron
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen
November 29, 2011, p. A7

Our recently elected Iowa City Council members have said that TIFs should be used “prudently.”

TIFs, you’ll recall, are one of the many shell-and-pea games available to elected officials for transferring taxpayers’ money to the bottom line of for-profit businesses.

Telling officials always to TIF “prudently” has proved as effective as liquor companies’ TV commercials, urging University of Iowa binge-drinking students always to “drink responsibly.”

TIFs, like alcohol, are addictive. TIFs, also like alcohol, are unlikely to go away.

They’ve received attention recently in these pages and elsewhere. Abuses are acknowledged. The Iowa Legislature may plug some loopholes.

Meanwhile, what can we do to minimize the increase in property taxes and decrease in public services that result from our officials’ TIF habit?

My very modest suggestion is that we at least start with TIF Impact Statements. Think environmental impact statements, or the Powell Doctrine for going to war.

The reason I support “military control of the civilians” (almost seriously) is because it is the civilians in government who respond to foreign challenges with chants of “USA! USA!” and “Nuke ’em!” Military leaders thankfully take a much more measured approach.

When he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell, asked questions such as:

Is a vital national security interest threatened?

Do we have a clear attainable objective?

Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?

Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?

Is there a plausible exit strategy?

We could have saved a couple trillion dollars of debt had the civilians done as much.

Recent attention has focused on the adverse impact of one town’s TIFs on the county, adjacent school districts and cities. (See, http://iowafiscal.org.) Those are serious harms. But they’re only one of a baker’s dozen categories of TIFs’ potential calamitous consequences. (See “The True Price of TIFs,” http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2011/10/true-price-of-tifs.html.)

What questions should officials ask (and answer) before giving away our tax money with subsidies, bailouts or TIFs to for-profit private ventures? Here are mine:

What for-profit projects have been funded by this government over the past 10 years, and how did the return (or loss) to the public from each comport with its promised benefits? What is budgeted for the next five years? How are projects’ results monitored and reported?

Why is this project needed at all?

Why does that need exceed all conventional needs for public funds? What is its opportunity cost? What will other government units lose? How much more will taxpayers pay?

Among all for-profit applicants for funds, pending and future, why is this project top priority?

Will the project potentially benefit all citizens (The Englert Theatre, for example), a small segment or primarily the recipient?

How much money is involved?

Are all other ways of funding this project with or without taxpayers’ money identified and explored? What are they? If found wanting, why?

How convincing is evidence this for-profit venture requires public funding? Why are entrepreneurs, their family and friends, venture capitalists and bankers — those who will profit from it — unwilling to invest everything needed? Is their reluctance equally applicable to public investment?

Why is it reasonable to consider the project’s business plan a virtual guarantee of financial success?

What is the “exit strategy” when it fails — the recipient doesn’t do what’s promised, skips town, there are delays in construction or bankruptcy?

What business, financial, political, social or campaign contribution relationships are there between the potential recipient of public funds and the officials dispensing them?

How much harm will befall the (unfunded) private competitors of this project from the recipient’s advantages (for example, decline in competing hotels’ occupancy)?

Even if a “prudent TIF” is not an oxymoron, the least a government can do is give us answers to these questions before giving away our money.
Nicholas Johnson, a former Iowa City Community School Board member and FCC commissioner, teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law, and maintains http://nicholasjohnson.org.

Press-Citizen online version: www.press-citizen.com/article/20111129/OPINION02/311290028/Making-prudent-TIF-more-than-an-oxymoron
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More Support for Going Communist Than Congress

November 16, 2011, 9:00 a.m.

"How Bad Is It?"

Johnny Carson occasionally used a call and response with his audience. If he were announcing the recent report of Congress' approval ratings, it might have gone like this:

Carson: "Congress' approval rating is really bad."

Audience (shouting in chorus): "How bad is it?"

Carson: "It is so bad that . . .."

So how bad is Congress' approval rating these days?

U.S. Senator Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) has pulled together some comparisons for us. (There's no direct link to his charts; so go to his Web site, http://bennet.senate.gov, and put "Congressional approval" into his Search box. The pdf will be the top choice on the list.) Others' selections from his list are going around the media and Internet, but his chart is the only place I've found with citations to the sources of this otherwise unbelievable data.

Let's start with his report that from 1997 to 2001 the percentage of Americans who approved of Congress ranged between 40 and 65%. OK?

Today it's 9%.

How does that compare with recent polls of our approval of other individuals and institutions?

The IRS that some Republican presidential candidates disapprove of so strongly that they advocate its abolition? It gets a 40% approval rating.

Lawyers get 29% approval.

President Richard Nixon, at the depth of the charges of his Watergate criminality and pending impeachment, was still approved by 24% of us.

The Wall Street and other banks that profited from bringing on the global recession headed to depression, contributed to massive unemployment and foreclosure of homes, and have engendered the anger of both Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, still get a 23% approval rating.

How about BP during the time its negligence resulted in the deaths of its offshore drilling rig employees and an uncontrolled spill of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico? There were still 16% of us who approved of BP.

And finally (among my selections from Senator Bennet's list), how many Americans approve of the "U.S. going communist"? It's more than the percentage who approve of their democratically, and campaign contributor, elected members of Congress -- a stunning 11%.

I'm reminded of an exchange with a well-educated Kazakh friend when I was visiting her country a few years ago. I'd asked what America could do to help, what do the people of Kazakhstan want and need? She replied, "What we need is another Stalin."

Here was a country, a people, who had just come out from under Russian domination as a part of the Soviet Union, and she was not the only Kazakhi who yearned for some leadership, working electric and water systems, and security on the streets.

Tom Friedman picks up that theme in his column this morning.
At a time when, from India to America, democracies have never had more big decisions to make, if they want to deliver better living standards for their people, this epidemic of not deciding is a troubling trend. It means that we are abdicating more and more leadership to technocrats or supercommittees — or just letting the market and Mother Nature impose on us decisions that we cannot make ourselves. The latter rarely yields optimal outcomes. . . .

[I]n the age of Facebook and Twitter, the people are more empowered and a lot more innovation and ideas will come from the bottom up, not just the top down. That’s a good thing — in theory. But at the end of the day — whether you are a president, senator, mayor or on the steering committee of your local Occupy Wall Street — someone needs to meld those ideas into a vision of how to move forward, sculpt them into policies that can make a difference in peoples’ lives and then build a majority to deliver on them. Those are called leaders. Leaders shape polls. They don’t just read polls.
Thomas L. Friedman, "Who's the Decider?" New York Times, November 16, 2011, p. A35.

We may not want a dictator like Communist Joseph Stalin -- although as many Americans approve of Hugo Chávez as approve of our Congress (9%). But benevolent "leaders" alone aren't the answer either. When 91% of Americans disapprove of their premier democratic institution, "the people's house," the U.S. House of Representatives, America itself, as well as its democracy, are in very serious trouble.
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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

College Football Scandals Larger Lessons

This blog entry is being continuously updated from time to time as events and revelations unfold -- most recently January 27. See, e.g., these direct links to "Thursday Edition Addition," . . . and more additions thereafter, "Subsequent comments of others worth noting". There have also been some modifications and additions to the original blog entry, which follows, immediately below:

November 8, 2011, 8:00 a.m.

Football's Privileged Tip of Abuses by Powerful

It's a sad, sad story coming out of Penn State football and spread across the nation's sports pages. Mark Viera, "Two Penn State Officials Stepping Down," New York Times, November 7, 2011, p. D3. You can read the details there if you want. I have no desire or need to repeat them here, except to identify that they involve alleged sexual abuse of young boys and a grand jury indictment.

[Arrest of Coach Sandusky. Photo credit: Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General] What I want to focus on is what this case reveals, not only about higher education's administrators, but about institutional instincts and crisis management generally. See, e.g., "Crisis Communications 101," February 14, 23, 2011; and the text and links in "Strategic Communications a Failed Strategy," November 13, 2009.

The pattern is all too common. There's a scandal in a collegiate football program, often involving something that can be designated as one form or another of "sexual." Nothing is done until it hits the papers. The initial reaction is some variation of denial, with expressions of support for those responsible. As the trickle of details becomes a flood, like the 100- or 500-year floods Iowa City suffers every 10 years or so, the media continues to poke holes in the levies until the facts spread over the campus can no longer be ignored. Then come the professions of the institution's high ethical and moral standards, an "investigation" is launched, and ultimately the university president and coach are still in place, with raises on top of already more-than-adequate salaries, and a couple of others in the chain of responsibility are thrown under the bus.

Susan Harman has written an insightful column about this phenomenon in this morning's Press-Citizen describing cases at both Ohio State and the current Penn State scandal this year. "Are Big Programs Turning a Blind Eye? Sandusky Charges May Tarnish Image of Paterno, Penn St.," November 8, 2011, p. B1.

Apparently nobody at Penn State did anything about eye witness reports of these crimes -- except for reporting up the chain of command from witnesses, to coach, to athletic director, vice president for finance and business, and on to the Penn State president, Graham Spanier. [Photo credit (left): Iowa City Press-Citizen.] Allegedly, the president did not report this to law enforcement (as the law requires), say anything to his Board of Trustees, insist on firing the alleged perpetrator, or follow-up to see if the offenses continued.

What he did have to say, after the two in the middle were indicted by the grand jury for perjury, was that he predicted they both would be exonerated and that "I have known and worked daily with Tim and Gary for more than 16 years. I have complete confidence in how they handled the allegations about a former university employee." As Susan Harman put it, he was "casting aspersions on the grand jury process and the testimony of many witnesses by almost dismissively asserting his administrators' innocence." (Only after a post-media-revelation emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees was the AD put on administrative leave.)

Sometimes in Japan, and elsewhere, following an institutional embarrassment of this magnitude, the person at the top actually kills themselves because of the personal humiliation. In this country, the more common honorable response is to take the responsibility for it -- even when the top administrator has had neither participation or even knowledge of the problem -- and resign.

I would note in this context, a football example of this honorable response. Iowa's Coach Kirk Ferentz, following the embarrassing loss to Minnesota October 29, did not blame the assistant coach most responsible for Iowa's failure to anticipate Minnesota's fateful onside kick, nor did he blame any of his players. He assumed personal responsibility for the decision and 22-21 loss. "'The onside kick, I’ll take that one. Just as soon as [the kicker] started making his approach, I almost called timeout. I’m standing next to an official. I should have in retrospect, but I didn’t.'" Jordan Garretson, "Notebook: Ferentz shoulders blame for Minnesota’s onside kick," Daily Iowan, November 1, 2011.

Clearly, in spite of the multi-million-dollar revenue, the powerful conflicts of interest, the challenges to integrity, the abuses, there are college athletic programs that have not fallen victim to this process.

But my point is not even about what one university president once told me he considered the "anomaly" of big-time football within the academy. It is a point potentially applicable to almost all large institutions that, as Harman puts it, "continually protect the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable."

As she points out, "universities are not so different from banks and Wall Street financial institutions or established churches in the way they wield power and influence."

And before the day is out, we will have heard from a Republican presidential candidate, with a good deal of power behind him, also involved in "sexual" allegations. Jim Rutenberg and Michael D. Shear, "Woman Accuses Cain of Groping; He Denies Charge," New York Times, November 8, 2011, p. Al. Will it also be just yet one more, like DSK and the New York hotel maid, "Dominique's Dominos: Strauss-Kahn and Sexual Assault," July 1, 2011, of protecting "the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable"?


Thursday Edition Addition

Normally I don't "update" blog entries, even though a significant number of the hits on this blog go to entries four and five years old. It's highly unlikely anyone today, November 10, 2011, is unaware of today's status of this story, but that may not be the case years from now. So here's one of this morning's accounts:

Mark Vera, "Paterno is Finished at Penn State, and President is Out," New York Times, November 10, 2011, p. A1.

Given that I'm assuming the Board essentially "fired" both Coach Paterno and President Spanier, it's not clear to me why the disparate characterization in the headline and story: "Paterno is Finished" but President Spanier is "Out"; "Joe Paterno . . . was fired . . .. Graham B. Spanier . . . was also removed by the Board of Trustees."

Nor is it clear, with Spanier and Paterno having been fired, and both Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President for Finance Gary Schultz having been indicted by the grand jury for perjury, why Curley has been permitted to have merely "taken a leave of absence" and Schultz has merely "decided to step down." "Penn State Fires Joe Paterno; Decision Made Wednesday Night," Associated Press/Hawk Central, November 9, 2011.

Questions have also been raised about the retention of assistant coach Mike McQueary: "That McQueary remains on the staff is shocking. Penn State fired legendary coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier on Wednesday for their failure to follow up on a 2002 report . . .. That report came from McQueary, who told a grand jury earlier this year that he saw everything." Andy Staples, "Penn State Making Progress, but Two Personnel Moves Still Remain," "Inside College Football"/Sports Illustrated, November 10, 2011. News the afternoon of the next day was that "Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary . . . has been placed on administrative leave. . . . [T]he school said McQueary would not be present when the Nittany Lions play Nebraska on Saturday because he has received threats." Genaro C. Armas, "PSU: McQueary Put on Administrative Leave," Associated Press/rivals.com/Yahoo!, November 11, 2011.

The Times' story also quotes Spanier's statement that, "This university is a large and complex institution, and although I have always acted honorably and in the best interest of the university, the buck stops here. In this situation, I believe it is in the best interest of the university to give my successor a clear path to resolve the issues before us.”

To me, that sounds like, "I am totally blameless, always having acted honorably, and am now an innocent casualty. But because I am theoretically responsible for everything that goes on at this large and complex institution, whether I know about it or not, and I have always put the best interests of the university ahead of my own, I am voluntarily resigning."

Now I recognize that, had he said this two days ago when I first wrote this blog entry, he would have been saying precisely what I was advocating he should have said at that time. It's just that, coming after he's fired by his Board, it sounds a little disingenuous.

So where are we with this now?

1. Legally. Most of the official, media, and public concern about this sad mess has focused on (a) the harm done to the young boys, (b) the offenses by defendant and assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, and (c) the moral (as distinguished from legal) obligations of all who knew. But there are remaining legal issues and actions as well -- possibly civil as well as criminal. See, for example, the grand jury indictment linked from the top of this blog entry.

Those issues make for interesting law school faculty luncheon discussions regarding who has a responsibility, under the criminal law of various states, to report what, about whom, when, and to whom. (Indeed, what are your legal (or institutional) reporting obligations when you have something between a strong suspicion and an eye-witness account of a possible crime?) Similar questions arise under the regulations of an individual university regarding reporting requirements.

I'm not going to provide that law-review-article-depth-and-lengthy, footnoted discussion here. Those things will sort themselves out over time, and the outcomes will be reported and available to those who care.

2. Morally. The primary issues here -- and the basis for the firing of a university's president and football coach -- may well be moral and ethical rather than legal. On the hypothetical assumption they both complied with their legal obligations, what more were they morally obliged to do?

The late Senator Ted Kennedy's tribute to his brother, Robert, at a memorial service following Robert's death, included a description of him as "a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

The moral judgment, it seems to me, turns on whether as much will be able to be said of the five adult principals involved in this case when their memorial services are held. Did they know that wrong had been done, that suffering had resulted, and did they then try to stop it?

As Buzz Bissinger put it, "This is not a football scandal of illegal recruiting and payoffs and prostitutes. It is a national scandal involving morality, weakness of character, passing the buck, inaction, cowardice, neglect and what appears to be outright lying. If the allegations are true, head coach Joe Paterno and top-ranking university officials allowed former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky to roam loose as a sexual predator even though there were clear indications of his abuse of children."
Buzz Bissinger, "This Is Not a Football Scandal," New York Times, November 10, 2011 (arguing that Saturday's Nebraska game, and season, should not be cancelled; from a collection of five comments worth reading that address, "Room for Debate: Should Penn State Cancel Its Season?").

If Sandusky did in fact do what he is charged with having done, I know of no one who would come to his defense. Some might prefer psychiatric treatment along with prison, but none would excuse his actions.

"The five," however, are not charged with such acts. In fact, to the extent they are charged with anything, it is non-action rather than action -- except for the two whom the grand jury has charged with perjury.

Bissinger undoubtedly has access to more information than I have. It certainly appears, based on what I've read in the press, that he is right. But my final, moral judgments of certainty are going to await more documentation of the details of non-action by "the five."

For me, much of the answer to the moral issue turns on the answer to the question another senator, Senator Howard Baker, reiterated during the Senate investigation of President Richard Nixon's involvement in the Watergate break-in: "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" What did Paterno know, and when did he know it? What did Spanier know, and when did he know it? (Coincidentally, today's news also included, Calvin Woodward and Nancy Benac, "Nixon's Long-Secret Watergate Testimony Coming Out," Associated Press/Yahoo!News, November 10, 2011.)

Paterno worked with Sandusky for decades. When did he first hear rumors, have suspicion, or actual knowledge, of Sandusky's child abuse? If he had been provided only vague information, would he have had a legitimate, reasonable basis for believing that Sandusky had been involved in only one ambiguous encounter, received treatment, and been "cured"? Was this something he'd had multiple, detailed reports about over a period of years, or something that he is now as shocked to find out about as anyone? (That lack of awareness can happen, as we occasionally hear in a story of a crime and a neighbor's response: "They were such a nice friendly family; always kept their lawn nicely trimmed; attended church every Sunday. Who would ever have thought they were terrorists building bombs in the garage?")

When the eye witness reported to Paterno, how detailed was that report, what exactly was he told?

Not incidentally, what were the university's regulations and social norms regarding the reporting of crimes and inappropriate behavior? Are administrators and faculty members merely expected to report to superiors (e.g., vice presidents, deans, or department heads)-- which Paterno apparently did by telling the AD? Or are they expected to take matters into their own hands, and make individual independent judgments in each case whether to file a police report, commit a person to a psyc ward or hospital, get them into Alcoholics Anonymous or drug rehab, or whatever else in their judgment is the most appropriate action?

Similar questions need to be asked, and answered, regarding Spanier. What precisely was he told and when? It would seem to me that his moral obligation would vary, depending on whether he was told, almost casually, during the course of a lengthy meeting, "We've got a little personnel problem in athletics with Sandusky, but the AD's taking care of it," or he was provided the shocking details of what had been witnessed.

Finally, I don't think the individual Board members are immune from this line of inquiry. Were each of them totally shocked, never having heard a whisper of the scandal, prior to the days they started holding emergency sessions? Were none of them ever told by Spanier of the problem -- the answer to which reflects on both Spanier (to the extent he knew but didn't tell) and the Board members (to the extent they were fully informed, but never acted before last evening).

If the Board members knew and did nothing, was their ultimate resolution last evening -- the peremptory firing of Spanier and Paterno, without according them a reasonable opportunity to be heard, or other due process protections -- the result of the Board's investigation of and response to the facts, or a knee jerk response to adverse publicity? Had the national media firestorm not billowed out of control might they, too, have continued to let it slide without taking action?

This was a sad story on Tuesday, and an even sadder story on Thursday. It will not quickly go away. While I have no interest in repeating here the rumors that are already beginning to fly, there may be more to be added to this blog entry over the weeks and months to come as additional, documented facts come out.

Subsequent comments of others worth noting . . .

Jon Stewart's Comedy Central "The Daily Show" offers up a four-times-a-week sharp, satiric commentary on the news that has become for many in its audience their primary source of news. Stewart found nothing funny about the Penn State scandal, but his November 10, 2011, commentary provides his own take on our relative priorities:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Penn State Riots
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A University of Chicago graduate student with many ties to State College, Pennsylvania, has itemized, taken on, and scorched the failings of an entire generation, for which PSU's handling of Sandusky's crimes is simply the last straw. Thomas L. Day, "Penn State, My Final Loss of Faith," "On Faith: Guest Voices," Washington Post, November 11, 2011.

The Times Nina Bernstein has endeavored to put the Penn State events into a context of analogous mishandling by other universities. Nina Bernstein, "On Campus, a Law Enforcement System to Itself," New York Times, November 12, 2011, p. A1.

November 15 update: "Close to 10 additional suspected victims have come forward . . .. Sandusky [says] he was innocent of the charges [but] acknowledge[s], 'I shouldn't have showered with those kids.' . . . On Sunday [Nov. 13], Jack Raykovitz, the chief executive of [Second Mile] . . . resigned." Mark Vera and Jo Becker, "Ex-Coach Denies Charges Amid New Accusations," New York Times, November 15, 2011, p. B13.

November 17: For an historical itemization and account of relevant events, see Justin Sablich and Alan McLean, "Timeline: The Penn State Scandal," New York Times, November 11, 2011, and Jo Becker, "Inquiry Grew Into Concerns of a Cover-Up," New York Times, November 17, 2011, p. B11.

November 18: Frank Deford's usually insightful take on an answer to, "what happened and why?"
[T]he consensus . . . is that, first, Joe Paterno didn't want to scar the reputation of himself or his football program; and then, university executives wanted to protect the reputation of the dear old coach and his moneymaking team.

Yet I must wonder, as well, how much the culture of the particular sport involved — football — abetted the conspiracy of silence . . ..

Because of [football's] reputation of machismo — that conceit, that creed — it surely becomes painful, almost traitorous, for men who love football to accept such an abject contradiction of their sport's manliness — the very rape of a little boy by a coach. . . .

Even Paterno himself may not know what caused him to fail such a basic test of decency. But still, I cannot help but wonder that, no, it wasn't primarily because of his own reputation or because of all the money Penn State football made that stopped him from acting. No, I wonder if, above all, Coach Paterno could not bear to see shame come to his beloved game of football.
Frank Deford, "Is Football Culture The Core Of The Problem?" NPR, November 16, 2011.

Deford may have a point, but educational administrators -- university presidents -- are not the only ones among us whose good sense and ethics can be bent, and sometimes broken, with the explanation that "revenue is needed." As I have often said of that rationalization, "once 'revenue is needed' becomes your polestar, your moral compass begins to spin as if on the North Pole." Clearly, Penn State's football program generally, and Joe Paterno specifically, were responsible for millions of dollars of revenue -- not just from football tickets and TV, but from the additional grants and gifts they stimulated for educational programs.

Long before the Penn State scandal broke, the Houston Chronicle's Nick Anderson captured the impact of football's cash on university presidents in another context:

[Credit: Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle, September 23, 2011.]

November 20: Sandusky's charity, Second Mile, is being investigated regarding what its administrators and board knew, and when they knew it, and what they did about it. Some donors are backing away. Mark Viera, Jo Becker and Pete Thamel, "Charity Founded by Accused Ex-Coach May Fold," New York Times, November 19, 2011, p. D1.

The NCAA, not exactly the first on the scene, is now considering an "investigation" that will not require any investigators in State College and appears to be little more than following the story in the papers and courts. In fairness, its "enforcement," as a private association, has been primarily focused on, and limited to, its own self-imposed rules regarding academic and recruiting integrity, sports betting, the amateur status (limitations on payment) of college athletes, and related matters. Criminal and other offenses that do not affect such matters, the field of play, and fair competition between teams, have been left to the individual universities. That may now change. Pete Thamel, "N.C.A.A. Begins Penn State Inquiry," New York Times, November 19, 2011, p. D3

Assistant Coach Mike McQueary emailed friends that he did intervene when he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in the shower, and that he did "discuss" the matter with the "police" (with no designation of "city" or "campus" police). However, both police departments now say they have no record of his contacting them."Police: PSU's McQueary didn't report Sandusky incident to us," Associated Press/Sports Illustrated, November 16, 2011.

November 21: Economists call them "externalities." It's a concept also applicable to criminal offenses. A factory belching pollutants in excess of permitted levels is fined, creating a financial impact on its profits. But there may not be as much public recognition of the impact on asthmatics. An over-leveraged Wall Street investment banker may throw the company into bankruptcy; but his behavior may also result in a foreclosure on a homeowner in Tucson, Arizona.

And so it is that Sandusky's alleged criminal behavior could have been predicted to cause a lifetime of harm to his victims, personal shame for him, risk a decline in ticket sales, and besmirch the formerly enviable ethical record of the Nittany Lions' football program. But the full reach of the fallout can only be guessed at now: a decline in donors' contributions to academic as well as athletic programs? New legislation from the Pennsylvania legislature -- as well as other states and Congress? A decline in students' applications for admission?

Today's revelation involves the impact on sales of clothing and other Penn State-logo items -- so far an unprecedented 40% decline. This is not an insignificant market: sales of $4 billion a year for college athletic programs; $80 million for Penn State, one of the top-10 schools. Joann Loviglio, "Scandal Hurts Penn State as a School and a Brand," Associated Press, November 20, 2011.

November 23: For a moving story about one of the alleged victims, and its fallout, see Nate Schweber and Jo Becker, "For a Reported Penn State Victim, a Search for Trust," New York Times, November 23, 2011, p. B13.

And an Associated Press story reveals the day-to-day impact of the internal power of big time sports on what is otherwise an academic institution:

Vicky Triponey, Penn State's "standards and conduct" officer, whose responsibility it was to enforce discipline, resigned in 2007. She had emailed Penn State President Graham Spanier on August 12, 2005,
"[Paterno] is insistent he knows best how to discipline his players ... and their status as a student when they commit violations of our standards should NOT be our concern ... and I think he was saying we should treat football players different from other students in this regard. . . . Coach Paterno would rather we NOT inform the public when a football player is found responsible for committing a serious violation of the law and/or our student code, despite any moral or legal obligation to do so." . . .

Triponey said that throughout her tenure at Penn State there was "an ongoing debate" over who should deal with misconduct by football players.

Her 2005 email was sent the day after a heated meeting in which Paterno complained about the discipline process.

"He knew better than anyone how to discipline them. We wanted to show him the (disciplinary) data and suggest that `Well, whatever it is we're doing, it's not working.' They're getting into trouble at a greater rate than they should. We wanted to find a way to address that," she said. "The meeting ended up being a one-sided conversation with the coach talking about his frustrations, his anger, his not being happy with the way we were running the system." . . .

A review of Associated Press stories over the last decade shows at least 35 Penn State players faced internal discipline or criminal charges between 2003-09 for a variety of offenses ranging from assault to drunk driving to marijuana possession. One player was acquitted of sexual assault. . . .

[P]ressure to go easier on football players increased as her tenure went on.

"Many times, (because of) the pressure placed on us by the president or the football coach, eventually, we would end up doing sanctions that were not what another student would've got," she said. "It was much less. It was adapted to try to accommodate the concerns of the coach."
Seanna Adcox, "Ex-PSU officer questioned player treatment," Associated Press/CitizensVoice/Times-Shamrock [Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania], November 22, 2011.

November 28: The culture and institutional pattern continues. This blog began on November 8 describing a pattern of institutional response to those crises that involve behavior of officials ranging from the embarrassing to the criminal -- institutional cover-up, initial media reports, institutional denials (often vociferous), media confirmations, institutional professions of shock, calls for in-house investigations, apologies to the victims (whose claims were earlier dismissed), and assertions "this will never happen again" (until it does), institutional firings, normally of someone in the middle, saving the jobs of the coach and university president. There are, of course, some variations in this pattern, as we've seen at Penn State, where ultimately the coach and president were fired.

So now it's Syracuse. What was head basketball coach Jim Boeheim's response when stories emerged that his associate head coach, Bernie Fine, had sexually molested two young "ball boys" during Fine's 36 years at Boeheim's side? He said the men's charges were "a bunch of a thousand lies . . .. I believe they are looking for money. I believe they saw what happened at Penn State, and they are using ESPN to get money. That is what I believe.”

There it is: the cover-up, the early media reports, the vociferous defense (remember Penn State President's defense of the AD and VP charged with perjury?), and yesterday's media confirmations, in the form of a third man coming forward and the release of a taped phone call with Fine's wife in which she appears to be aware of his behavior. Now Fine has been peremptorily fired, the president and Boeheim still securely employed. So, next phase? Boeheim is shocked, shocked I tell you, calling for an in-house investigation, and professing an apology to victims: "I believe the university took the appropriate step tonight [firing Fine]. What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated and that anyone with information be supported to come forward so that the truth can be found. I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse."

Isn't this just further evidence that the institutional failures accompanying big money, semi-pro athletic entertainment programs inside the academy are inevitable, systemic, and a part of the culture?

Penn State is not the "bad apple" in an otherwise flawless orchard. It is but one more example of a blight that can potentially strike any tree, and has. Pete Thamel, "Syracuse Fires Fine After New Allegations in Molestation Case," New York Times, November 28, 2011, p. D1.

December 1: "Earlier Wednesday, a new accuser who is not part of the criminal case said in a lawsuit that Sandusky threatened to harm his family to keep him quiet. The 29-year-old, identified only as John Doe, had never told anyone about the abuse he claims he suffered until Sandusky was charged last month with abusing other boys. His lawyer said he filed a complaint with law enforcement on Tuesday. He became the first plaintiff to file suit in the Penn State child sex abuse scandal a day later. . . . The lawsuit claims Sandusky abused the boy from 1992, when the boy was 10, until 1996 in encounters at the coach's State College home, in a Penn State locker room and on trips, including to a bowl game. The account echoes a grand jury's description of trips, gifts and attention lavished on other boys." Genaro C. Armas and Maryclaire Dale, "1st Penn State Abuse Suit Comes From New Accuser," Associated Press/Las Vegas Review-Journal, December 1, 2011.

December 3: "The former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, in his first extended interview since his indictment on sexual abuse charges last month, said Coach Joe Paterno never spoke to him about any suspected misconduct with minors. Mr. Sandusky also said the charity he worked for never restricted his access to children until he became the subject of a criminal investigation in 2008." [Photo credit: New York Times.] Jo Becker, "Center of Penn State Scandal, Sandusky Tells His Own Story," New York Times, December 3, 2011, p. A1.

December 12, 2100: One of the best overviews of, especially, the role of the "culture" surrounding the Penn State football program in permitting the continuation of Sandusky's behavior, is contained in this detailed and lengthy (3750-word) AP story: Brett J. Blackledge, Jeff Donn and Michael Rubinkam, "PSU culture explained away Sandusky," Associated Press/Yahoo.com, December 12, 2011 ("The warning signs were there for more than a decade, disturbing indicators that Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was breaching boundaries with young boys — or maybe worse. . . . Too many, from the university president to department heads to janitors, knew of troubling behavior . . . [but] the circle of knowledge was kept very limited and very private. Year after year, Penn State missed opportunity after opportunity to stop Sandusky . . . — all part of a deep-rooted reflex to protect the sacred football program. The fact that so few say they knew is all anyone needs to know about the insular culture that surrounds Penn State — . . . a university cloaked in so much secrecy, in large part, because it is exempt from the state's open records law, and a football program that has prided itself on handling its indiscretions internally and quietly, without outside interference.").

December 17, 2011: Peter Durantine, "Penn State’s McQueary Tells Court What He Saw," New York Times, December 17, 2011, p. D1 ("A Penn State assistant football coach testified Friday that in 2002 he saw Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy and that he reported it, in graphic detail, to Coach Joe Paterno and two senior Penn State University officials. “I described it was extremely sexual and that some kind of intercourse was going on,” the assistant coach, Mike McQueary, testified of the suspected assault by Sandusky, a longtime top assistant to Paterno.").

And see, Mary Pilon, "Scandals Test the N.C.A.A.’s Top Rules Enforcer," New York Times, December 17, 2011, p. D17 ("In terms of major scandals, this year has been one of the most calamitous in the history of college athletics. From reports in August about a University of Miami booster providing cash and prostitutes for its football players to sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and then against a Syracuse assistant basketball coach, fans and college officials alike have begun asking whether the big-money world of college athletics has sufficient oversight.").

December 20, 2011: Much has been written, and rightfully so, about the "culture" of college football, and, among other things, the widespread violation of, and difficulty of enforcing, NCAA rules regarding universities' administrative control of their big sports programs. In fairness, however, this might be as much a matter of institutional, or human, failing as of athletic programs' failing.

Consider a corporation's instinct to refuse to report a disaster, and then minimize its extent once reported. A police department's handling of an officer's killing an innocent civilian. The bank that never reveals a million-dollar embezzlement from inside, or a hack from outside. A military unit's characterization of homicide as mere "collateral damage." A hospital that denies the results of medical malpractice are anything more than an ordinary risk of surgery. Children who lie to their parents, parents who lie to each other, witnesses who perjure themselves on the witness stand.

These widespread examples do not make what was done in any of them right, but they do make each illustration less something uniquely associated with a given institution -- including college sports.

And so it is that we cannot express great surprise that the cover-up of Sandusky's failings by those running Second Mile were very similar to the cover-up by Penn State administrators. There is a heavy incentive, it seems, for anyone to want to avoid, or at least minimize, contributing to one's embarrassment (not to mention criminal self-incrimination). Brett J. Blackledge, Mark Scolforo and Michael Rubinkam, "Former 2nd Mile board members: We needed to know," Associated Press, December 19, 2011 ("Former board members of [Second Mile] . . . say its CEO never told them about a 2002 shower incident . . .. If they knew . . . they say they could have taken steps to better protect children a decade ago. 'Not one thing was said to us,' said Bradley P. Lunsford, a Centre County judge who served on the Second Mile board between 2001 and 2005. 'Not a damn thing.'").

December 23, 2011: How are these abusive relationships created? And even more puzzling, how are children persuaded to maintain them? One of the more instructive examinations of this form of child abuse from the perspective of the child emerges from an Associated Press interview with Bobby Davis of Syracuse. "Michael Hill, "Fine Accuser Felt He 'Owed' Coach," Associated Press, December 22, 2011.

Here's a sampling: "Bobby Davis was a basketball-crazy teen who was handed a virtual all-access pass to the world of big-time college hoops by Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine. . . . Davis heard halftime locker-room tirades from the legendary coach [Jim Boeheim], took shots at practice, sat courtside, hit the road and ate nice dinners. Davis, now 39 . . ., says the indebtedness he felt toward Fine made it hard to break from the man he claims molested him throughout his teens and into his late 20s. . . . 'As I got older, I understood more that Bernie had this power. You almost feel it's like a cult in a sense. You don't know how to get away . . .. And as more and more time went on, you feel indebted to him. You feel like you owe him.'"

January 12, 2012: Kevin Begos and Mark Scolford, "Penn State president to face alumni in Pittsburgh," Associated Press/Miami Herald, January 11, 2012, ("[Penn State President Rodney] Erickson is attempting to repair the school's image with alumni, faculty, staff, and students, more than two months since Sandusky was arrested, bringing with it controversy, criticism and contemplation. Some alumni have criticized the school failing to conduct a complete investigation before firing Paterno and ousting Erickson's predecessor, Graham Spanier, while decrying the school's leadership as secretive and slow to act.")

January 14, 2012: Sally Jenkins, "Joe Paterno’s first interview since the Penn State-Sandusky scandal," Washington Post, January 14, 2012, (“'I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,' he [Joe Paterno] said. 'So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little
more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.'”)

January 19, 2012: Pete Thamel and Mark Viera, "Penn State's Trustees Recall Painful Decision to Fire Paterno," New York Times, January 19, 2012, p. B15 ("The board, scrambling to address the child sexual abuse scandal involving the university and its football program, had already decided to remove Graham B. Spanier as president. Then, many of those present recalled this week, the tension in the room mounted. Joe Paterno’s future was next up. [John P. Surma, the chief executive of U.S. Steel and the vice chairman of Penn State University’s board of trustees] announced that an agreement appeared to have been reached to fire Paterno, too — the trustees having determined that he had failed to take adequate action when he was told that one of his longtime assistants had been seen molesting a 10-year-old boy in Paterno’s football facility. Surma, those present recalled, surveyed the other trustees — there are 32 — for their opinions and emotions before asking one last question: 'Does anyone have any objections? If you have an objection, we’re open to it.' No one in the room spoke. There was silence from the phone speakers. Paterno’s 46-year tenure as head coach of one of the country’s storied college football programs was over, and the gravity of the action began to sink in.")

January 27, 2012: Mark Viera, "Strong Words Resound at Tribute to Paterno," New York Times, January 27, 2012, p. B14, ("Phil Knight, the chairman of Nike, . . . in the memorial’s most riveting moment . . . lambasted Penn State’s board of trustees for firing Paterno . . .. 'It turns out he gave full disclosure to his superiors, information that went up the chain to the head of the campus police and the president of the school . . . The matter was in the hands of a world-class university and a president with an outstanding national reputation. Whatever the details of the investigation are, this much is clear to me: if there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation, not in Joe Paterno.'”)

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