Thursday, March 21, 2019

How Ryan Bingham’s Album ‘American Love Song’ Addresses Border Politics

By Jim Beaugez
February 12, 2019

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Ryan Bingham has been pondering the meaning of America lately — the optimism in the midst of struggle, the triumphs amid the losses. Men and women looking for a fresh start. Families like his, who pinned their hopes on the next town or job, always chasing that ephemeral dream.
Bingham has lived it all, and sometimes all at once. Just as his song “The Weary Kind,” featured in the 2009 movie Crazy Heart, thrust him into the national conversation — winning him Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe awards — he lost his mother to alcoholism and his father to suicide.
Nearly a decade and two albums removed, he’s pulled together a surprisingly upbeat, bluesy collection of songs that doesn’t shy away from big-ticket topics. American Love Song [Axster Bingham], out February 15th, is his most personal and political album to date, a rolling blues-country workout awash in slide guitar, soaring gospel-roadhouse stomps and meditative folk fingerpicking that takes on his past with a cautious hope for the future.
“This record is all about … these different pieces and moving parts of this country,” Bingham tells Rolling Stone Country. “It’s about growing up in all these different parts of America and experiencing all these different cultures … a bit of a love song and love story about getting through it all.”
Growing up on the margins in a ranching family set adrift, Bingham learned from the jump what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. His family’s land in New Mexico was gone by the time he was old enough to know it, scattering his extended family among the oil fields from Bakersfield to the Texas coast in search of steady work. The Binghams traveled light, and no matter where they landed, it never lasted.
“[Before each move], my old man would pawn a lot of shit, and we didn’t have a lot of room to pack stuff,” Bingham said. “You kind of had one box and whatever you could fit in it, that was what you got to take.”
Festering drug and alcohol problems followed them from job to job and kept them on the move, never to the nice side of town. While each relocation may have been a chance to start over to his parents, for a schoolkid the revolving door was a challenge to navigate.
“It was kind of holding on to these little pieces of an identity as you moved around to these different places, trying to hold on to who you are, but at the same time you always had to adapt to this new situation,” he says.
Bingham learned to absorb new cultures out of necessity. In Houston, he befriended Wilbert Fleming, a rodeo kid from the rough Acres Homes neighborhood who introduced him to the black cowboy scene, local hip-hop like UGK, and Cajun cooking from his Creole grandmother. In Laredo, Texas, he rode bulls on the south side of the border and learned the Tejano standard “La MalagueƱa” on guitar, measure by measure, from one of his dad’s drinking buddies.
Laredo, as it turned out, was where he began to put together all the pieces of his story. The music he had grown up hearing — albums by Bob Wills, Allman Brothers and Townes Van Zandt, salvaged from the tavern on the old ranch — were a link to something permanent and rooted. The bull-riding he learned from his uncle gave him something to look forward to on the weekends, when he could take his mind off the construction and handyman work he picked up during the week. He eventually started bringing his guitar to the rodeos to sing and play for his friends.
“Jingle and Go,” the first cut on American Love Song, picks up Bingham’s story from there. Driven by honky-tonk piano with an assist from Taura Stinson’s inspired gospel backing vocals, Bingham sings about his early days playing rowdy Texas roadhouses for tips. Festive zydeco fiddle plays the hook on the rocking “Pontiac,” while Hill Country acoustic blues backs Bingham on “Beautiful and Kind.” “What Would I’ve Become” muses on how things might have turned out had he played it safe and settled in one of the dusty towns he bounced around growing up.
American Love Song turns outward on “Situation Station,” which calls out politicians — particularly President Trump — for “selling them lies” to the working poor, while pointing out, “In the end, we’re all waiting in the same station.” The hits keep coming on “Got Damn Blues,” an anthem of determination to overcome the ever-present chaos he sees around him.
Throughout the album, Bingham intentionally relates his American story from the melting pot of influences that define him.
“There are so many different walks of life, there’s so many different people,” he explains. “I feel like I’ve been shaped by all these different things, whether it’s music from different cultures, food, different languages, all that stuff.”
Down in the border towns like Laredo, where a narrow river carves through the landscape and divides two countries, the question Bingham poses on “America” lingers:  “America, where have you gone? There was a dream you gave us once. Is it not for everyone?”
As a teenager, Bingham made trips across the Rio Grande with his friend Malacho, an American by birth who spoke broken English, to watch Mexican rodeos. Even though Malacho was an American citizen, he struggled knowing his prospects here were slim.
“He’s like, ‘What am I gonna do, Ryan, go mow lawns for a living or work at McDonald’s?’ When 10 of his cousins are, you know, making tons of money smuggling stuff across the border.”
Bingham doesn’t believe the current border narrative, that the majority of people crossing are “criminals and thugs.” From his own experience, he sees vulnerable women and children hoping to escape bad situations. Not unlike his own family all those years ago.
“I’ve helped some of them come across the border, and that’s exactly what they are — a lot of women and kids down there just kinda looking for a better life,” he says. “It’s pretty heartbreaking to me to see how anybody would not take some of these people in and try to give them a fair shot.
“These different kinds of people have taken care of me throughout my life and made me who I am. I feel like I’m as much a part of those cultures as I am anything.”

Today's Tune: Ryan Bingham - Wolves

Calling Out Around the World

By Mark Steyn
March 18, 2019

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Palestinian Muslim students at NYU accuse Chelsea Clinton of stoking New Zealand massacre

All jihad is local, but all "Islamophobia" is global. So, if a Muslim of Afghan origin shoots up a gay nightclub in Florida and kills 49 people, that's just one crazed loner and no broader lessons can be discerned from his act. On the other hand, if a white guy shoots up two mosques in New Zealand and kills 50 people, that indicts us all, and we need to impose worldwide restraints on free speech to make sure it doesn't happen again. I'm ecumenical enough to mourn the dead in both gay clubs and mosques, but I wonder why we are so conditioned to accept Islamic terror as (in the famous words of London mayor Sadiq Khan) "part and parcel of living in a big city" that it is only the exceptions to the rule that prompt industrial-scale moral preening from politicians and media. [UPDATE: Utrecht isn't that big a city - 350,000 - but it's today's designated "part and parcel".]

The Christchurch killer published the usual bonkers manifesto before livestreaming his mass murder on Facebook. Brenton Tarrant purports to be an environmentalist - indeed, a self-described "eco-fascist" - who admires Communist China (notwithstanding, presumably, its indifference to environmentalism). He wants to massacre Muslims in order to save the planet:
The environment is being destroyed by over population, we Europeans are one of the groups that are not over populating the world. The invaders are the ones over populating the world. Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by so doing save the environment.
Does he mean this? Or is it a giant blood-drenched leg-pull?

No matter. For the the politicians stampeding to the nearest camera to dust off their tropes, what counts is that, if you're American, Donald Trump pulled the trigger; and, if you're British or European and you're not prepared to say that Google-Twitter-Facebook should silence anybody to the right of Trevor Noah, then you're part of the problem. Here's the rather less homicidal environmentalist Catherine McKenna, Canada's Climate Change Minister, getting it pitch-perfect in two steps. First, visit a mosque (although obviously not to kill everyone to "save the environment", like Mr Tarrant); second, blame those whose exhibitionism isn't as gung ho as yours:
I spoke to parents at Ottawa Main Mosque today whose kids are too scared to pray & go to school. In Canada.
Meanwhile Andrew Scheer has to be called out before he can call out Islamophobia.
For non-Canadians, Mr Scheer is the Conservative Opposition Leader. But the point is you can call him out and, as Maxime Bernier noted of his former colleague, like many jelly-spined Tories he will instantly squeal, "No, wait, hold that last seat on the bandwagon for me." Even more disturbingly, the broadcaster Charles Adler denounced the Governor General for not "calling out" Islamophobia.

The Governor General of Canada is the Queen's vicereine. As the old joke has it, she is obligated to speak in governor-generalities - as, indeed, Her Majesty is. That is what is expected of an apolitical monarch. So, when there is an act of mass murder, the Crown and its viceroys express shock and sympathy and revulsion - and leave the politics to the likes of Ms McKenna and the hapless Scheer.

I would be interested to know why Mr Adler thinks it is in the national interest to lend the imprimatur of the Crown and the state to as specious and opportunistically deployed a conceit as "Islamophobia". One of our Antipodean Steyn Club members, Kate Smyth, drew my attention to a fine example of that: After the Islamic terror attack in Melbourne four months ago, Muslim community leaders refused to meet with Aussie Prime Minister Scott Morrison because of all the systemic Islamophobia. After the Christchurch attack, the same Muslim community leaders are demanding a meeting with Morrison because of all the, er, systemic Islamophobia. To say Terror Attack A is something to do with Islam is totally Islamophobic; to refuse to say Terror Attack B is Islamophobic is even more totally Islamophobic.

Were the Queen or the Governor General to pull an Andrew Scheer and sign on to this somewhat selective view of the world's travails, it would necessarily imply that "Islamophobia" is now beyond and above politics, and in that sense beyond criticism. The use of "Islamophobia" in the Melbourne attack is, in fact, its standard deployment: it is an all-purpose card played to shut down any debate.

Not, of course, that there's much debate as it is. And there's likely to be even less in the future. Facebook, which is unable to devise algorithms preventing a depraved psychopath livestreaming mass slaughter on its platform, is busy fine-tuning its controls to expel the most anodyne dissenters from the social-justice pieties. Less speech inevitably means more violence - because, if you can't talk about anything, what's left but to shoot up the joint?
Thus the revolution devours its own. It goes without saying that right-wing madmen like Donald Trump and Andrew Scheer are to blame for Christchurch, but did you know that, when you peel back the conspiracy and discover who's really pulling the Trump-Scheer strings, you find Islamophobic white supremacist Chelsea Clinton?
Muslim students have berated Chelsea Clinton at a vigil for the victims of the New Zealand mosques massacre, saying she is to blame for the attack...
'This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world,' says Dweik, gesturing to the vigil for the 49 who were killed in Christchurch when a white nationalist shooter stormed two mosques.
'And I want you to know that and I want you to feel that deeply - 49 people died because of the rhetoric you put out there,' Dweik continues, jabbing her index finger toward Clinton as other students snap their fingers in apparent approval of her words.
Click below to watch:

All poor Chelsea was doing was trying to cut herself a piece of the grief-signaling action, and suddenly she finds herself in one big unsafe space:
According to NYU student Rose Asaf, who posted the video on Twitter, students at the vigil were angry about Clinton's accusation last month that Rep Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, used 'anti-Semitic language and tropes' while criticizing Israel...
Clinton was one of many who condemned Omar's remarks, writing in a tweet: 'We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.'
It's hate-filled Islamophobic statements like that that will get us all killed, Chelsea. Personally I blame Christchurch on Nancy Pelosi's recent House resolution condemning the Dreyfus Affair.

But I'm sure Chelsea's learned her lesson. How eager do you think she'll be to criticize Ilhan Omar's next outburst?

Things are changing faster than you think. The urge to change New Zealand's gun laws might be politely excused as a reflexive response to the means by which an appalling attack was carried out. But the demand throughout the west to restrict both private gun ownership and free speech are indicative of a more calculated clampdown, and of broader assumptions about control of the citizenry on all fronts. In the transition to the new assumptions, we are approaching a tipping point, in which the authorities of the state (as in the average British constabulary's Twitter feed) are ever more openly concerned to clamp down on you noticing what's happening rather than on what is actually happening.
Finally, an observation from Steyn Club member Steven Payne:
Does anybody know how many mosques there are in the city named Christchurch? Am I the only one who sees the irony there?
Like the old Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah joke about the "24-Hour Dry-Cleaners" shop, "Christchurch" is just the name. In my bleaker moments, I recall a memorable line from the opening scene in Daniel Silva's novel The Secret Servant, about the murder of an old Jew in the streets of multiculti Amsterdam. He dies in the shadow of the Zuiderkerk, a seventeenth-century church where Rembrandt worshiped and which Monet painted, but long since converted into a municipal information center - although the bell tower remains:
No one intervened— hardly surprising, thought Rosner, for intervention would have been intolerant—and no one thought to comfort him as he lay dying. Only the bells spoke to him.
'A church without faithful,' they seemed to be saying, 'in a city without God.'

The Electoral College Still Makes Sense Because We’re Not A Democracy

September 16, 2016
The Electoral College has been on life support since a chad—specifically a “hanging” chad—tipped the White House to George W. Bush in 2000. The painful reality of how our Constitution works was never more apparent. The Gore/Lieberman ticket won the popular vote 50,994,086 to 50,461,092 but lost the electoral vote 266 to 271.
There was a lot more to it, but the punchline is that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Bush the winner because he won the electoral vote. It’s a tribute to the American national character that we weathered that cataclysm without civil war, but it left a bad taste in the electorate’s mouth.
During the 2016 Republican primary, when it looked as if Donald Trump would win the popular vote but still not reach the delegate threshold for nomination, that bad taste turned sour. Riding high on populism and “throw the bums out,” Trump complained that the election was rigged because the people wanted him, and whomever the people wanted, they should get. Fortunately for the country, Trump reached the delegate threshold, and we were spared a debacle that would have made 2000’s cataclysm look like a lemonade stand.
Cue the national election. No controversy, scandal, “info dump,” lie, corruption, defection, or dirty trick has been left unturned. Why would election night go smoothly? Frankly, the plane is going down no matter who wins; it’s only a question of water or land and how many survivors there will be. Chances aren’t looking good for the Electoral College.
“This is a democracy,” the people cry. “It should be one person-one vote, and that stupid Electoral College needs to go!” Poor Electoral College. So misunderstood. If the Electoral College has to go, it has to go, but we should at least buy it dinner first. While we’re at it, we might as well get to know it better.

Trust History: You Don’t Want Mob Rule

The sad lot of the Electoral College is that what you see isn’t what you get. Like the counter-intuitive fact that a tire blowout on the right requires a steering wheel correction to the left, the EC works backwards. What appears to deprive the populace of its power to decide a president is the very mechanism that preserves its power. It works that way because this isn’t a democracy; not a pure one.
“Pure democracy” is just another phrase for “mob rule.” Dictatorship of the majority means 51 percent of the citizenry rule the other 49 percent. That minority has no rights except those the condescending majority grants. It works well for those in the 51 percent, not so much for those in the 49. Plato knew it, and James Madison, who knew his Plato, did too. Plato and Madison both recognized that justice and liberty for the minority is possible only when power is shared between groups in society.
Plato’s “Republic” heavily influenced Madison and the other framers to devise a Constitution that protected the minority. Plato held that the ideal, i.e., just, form of government was one in which power was shared correctly between workers, warriors, and rulers. Madison held that the ideal, i.e., American, form of government was one in which power was shared correctly between judges, lawmakers, and rulers.
Inspired as it is, our Constitution protects the minority while preserving the best of democracy: we the people elect representatives to run the government (republic) and we do so by majority vote (democracy). Ergo, this is a democratic republic. Ergo, an Electoral College.

The Electoral College Balances Voting Power

The purpose of the Electoral College is to balance voting power across states so no one region of the country can gain too much control. If a president is elected by a simple majority of votes, a candidate who is wildly popular in one region (e.g., Ted Cruz in Texas, Mitt Romney in Utah) can ignore smaller regions and campaign only where large majorities are possible. Or a candidate who kills in California and New York can write off “flyover country” completely.
If, however, the Electoral College elects a president, a candidate who is wildly popular in one region must also prevail in a number of sub-elections to win. The Electoral College ensures a better result for the country as a whole than the democratic power play wherein 51 percent of us matter and 49 percent of us don’t.
Think of the Electoral College like the World Series. One person-one vote equates to the World Series Champions being determined by total number of runs scored. If the Dodgers win the first game 10-0, and the Yankees win the next four games 1-0, the Dodgers win the series. Even though the Yankees bested the Dodgers in four games, it doesn’t matter because the Dodgers scored 10 runs to their 4. One anomalous game decides the whole series. Without the Electoral College, a few heavily populated states decide the whole election.
So, the poor Electoral College sits condemned before its last meal because its power is misunderstood. How ironic—and tragic if no stay-of-execution arrives—that those who clamor for “one person-one vote” are seeking more power at the expense of power they already have.
Donna Carol Voss is a political commentator and the author of four books, including the recently released "Nothing to Apologize For: The Truth About Western Civilization." Follow heron Twitter.

How Do You Solve a Problem like AOC?

March 20, 2019
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I first noticed something was up in the New York City backwater called the 14th Congressional District when a friend across the aisle, a well-respected political columnist, tweeted out the news of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “upset” victory against the incumbent Democrat, Joe Crowley, just minutes after it happened.
Who cares? thought I.
Crowley, one of the last of the Irish machine politicians, had safely sailed to reelection to the House for a decade, often without even a primary challenger. But the 29-year-old AOC, as she is colloquially known, beat him in the primary with 57 percent of the vote—a number that sounds impressive until you realize that it was a mere 15,897 votes to Crowley’s 11,761, a difference of 4,136 votes. In the foregone-conclusion general election, she beat the Republican tomato can, Anthony Pappas, 110,000 to 18,000. Pappas was so indifferent to the outcome that he brushed aside offers to help and did not actively campaign.
Naturally, the media went wild immediately. Literally overnight, this former intern for Ted Kennedy, an ethnic Puerto Rican, became a national celebrity; you can tell the stories were prepped and in the can once her victory was assured.
Crowley’s name stayed on the fall ballot, under the rubric of the Working Families Party, but like the GOP candidate, he did not campaign. His reward was to land a choice spot last month as a lobbyist with the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, whose bipartisan ranks of swamp-dwelling trough snouts include former Speaker of the House John Boehner, former Senator Trent Lott, and other Washington hacks. With his future assured, and his services to the latter-day equivalent of Tammany Hall rewarded, he finally got around to giving up his government parking pass just this week.
In other words, the fix was in. Clearly, somebody was behind the rise of Ocasio-Cortez and that somebody didn’t care much about the niceties of getting her elected—including elements of her “girl-from-the-Bronx” biography, her actual residence, and her campaign financesTant pis!
Democratic firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rode into office railing against the influence of big money and hidden donors in U.S. elections. Yet the political operation that helped elect her to Congress was itself less than transparent—exposing her to attacks from conservative foes.
The New York congresswoman raised a hefty $2 million for her 2018 election while refusing to take money from business-related political action committees. Of that, 61 percent came from individuals giving less than $200—the highest rate of small-dollar funding among current U.S. House members.
At the same time, Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign committee and two PACs paid almost $900,000 to a consulting company for campaign services, providing few details on what the money was for or who ultimately received it.
That’s the question, isn’t it? Two million dollars for 15,000 votes and a shoo-in general election? Her mission accomplished—the first term is the hardest election to win—she’s been “quietly removed” from the board of the Justice Democrats PAC, according to the Daily Caller:
Democratic Rep. Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez and her top aide are no longer board members of the outside PAC credited with orchestrating her political rise, according to a corporate document filed Friday to a Washington, D.C., agency.
The New York Democrat and her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, who served as her campaign chair, joined the board of Justice Democrats in December 2017, according to the political action committee’s website. It also said the two held “legal control over the entity” at the same time it was playing a key role in supporting Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign prior to her shock victory over incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in June 2018.”
“Orchestrating her political rise.” You have to admit the timing was impeccable. The three freshwomyn—AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib need only a fourth to bring on the apocalypse, having quickly established themselves as the new triumvirate of the Democrat Party. The girl named for a city in Egypt, has openly sassed Maerose Prizzi, the speaker of the House, who, when it came time to offer even the most oblique censure of Omar’s blatant anti-Semitism, wound up deploring all “bigotry” instead, including “Islamophobia.”
Ocasio-Cortez is, as Obama was when the media invented him, too young to run for president for this cycle, but she can squeak in just under the wire in 2024 if her handlers deem that her time has come. Even then, if the example of Obama is any guide, that might be too soon: imagine if Hillary had been the nominee in 2008 and then a more mature and even more radical Obama had come along in 2016, on the tails of her two “moderate” terms; as it was, he was too inexperienced and frankly, too lazy, fully to implement the plan his backers had in mind for him.
And so, as the Democrats bum-rush to the 2020 starting gates, the two cheeks of their party have swung into view. Yes, they have become the party of peons and plutocrats, but for our purposes—and for AOC’s—they will soon be the party of geriatrics and the turkettes, who loathe their masculine forbears with true “feminist” ignorance and impatience. They know this is the last roundup for superannuated pols like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and even the former Nancy d’Alesandro, the pride of Ballamer, and that the future—one version of it, anyway, belongs to them:
For make no mistake: these neo-Socialists—whether they call themselves national or international and whether white, brown, or black—are all fascist brothers and sisters under the skin, bent on both submission and punishment. Behold how far and how fast even the “moderate” Democrats have adopted such things as reparations, the elimination of ICE, the abolition of the Electoral College, overt infanticide and other extremist positions—if that’s the platform they hope to run on next year, then they have well and truly earned their sobriquet, the Evil Party.
There are some signs that such extremism is turning off voters; despite the media’s cheerleading, AOC has seen her popularity polls crater; it seems that the more sensible Americans see and hear of her, the less they like her. Which means there’s hope for the Republic yet—but this is no time to get complacent.
Every socialist demagogue of the 20th century started life as an underestimated figure: Mussolini was expelled from the Italian Socialists as too radical; Hitler was a comic-opera figure who wound up in Landsberg prison; Lenin was exiled twice; Stalin was a seminarian who had lost his Orthodox faith and found a substitute in the writing of Karl Marx. Ilhan Omar may not be the brightest bulb in Minnesota, much less in Congress; Rashida Tlaib’s naked hatred for the West may be jarring; and AOC’s vapid, goofy “Green New Deal” narcissism will strike mature adults as risible and clownish, not to mention ruinous.
Just remember this: they mean it. As Rosemary says in “Rosemary’s Baby”:
Wake up, America. For, as scary as this may sound, after Joe and Bernie and Nancy comes le deluge.
How do you solve a problem like Omar, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez? By making sure their first terms in Congress are also their last.
Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and foreign correspondent for Time Magazine, for which he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. His works include the novels As Time Goes ByAnd All the Saints (winner, 2004 American Book Award for fiction), and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the recent nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. A sequel, The Fiery Angel, was published by Encounter in May 2018. Follow him on Twitter at @dkahanerules

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

No Rowing Experience? No Problem. Here’s a College Scholarship

The press is ignoring the role that universities and Title IX played in the Varsity Blues scandal.

March 20, 2019

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About five years ago, I heard about some interesting urban growth rumblings in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Some of the locals had discovered that the Cuyahoga River was a great place to have rowing leagues. You know, the sport with coxswains and sculling boats where you use your leg strength to move through yucky waters, all the while trying to avoid the 700-foot Great Lakes freighter with 45,000 tons of cargo on the starboard side.
In other words, it was sort of a more elite version of summer softball leagues, in a river that went up in flames in 1969 and helped start the EPA. “We row on a crooked river that used to catch fire,” one of the longtime women rowers told me. “There’s something very blue-collar and being a scrapper about doing that.”
But there was one thing that was very odd in this movement that seemed more Connecticut country club/preppy than Ohio steelworker/football. Around that time, a number of high schools and clubs were springing up for teenagers who wanted to row, with the unspoken truth that rowing could lead to admission in an elite college—especially for the young women.
One parent told me, “Most of the girls on any high school rowing teams get accepted for a college scholarship of some sort, and if they get that, it can save us about $10,000 to 15,000 a year.”
It wasn’t cheating in any way; it was a response to how the NCAA had changed the college admissions market. College athletics, in response to Title IX requirements that attempted to level the playing field among men’s and women’s athletic scholarships, had decided that the growth of women’s rowing would be an easy way to equalize things.
And of course, this was mostly about men’s football.
In 1990, there were 305 female rowers at 12 U.S. colleges, most of them on some scholarship. Last year, there were 7,277 female rowing spots at 145 schools. But the number of female rowers in high school hadn’t grown that much, something parents had figured out. The odds of your daughter getting into a good school with a discount on tuition were much better if she rowed in the afternoon on a crooked river that used to burn, instead of sitting at home and staring at her phone.
I was reminded of this huge influx of female rowers into collegiate life by the recent “Varsity Blues” scandal. This controversy is rife with intrigue: cheating on standardized testing exams like the ACT, the children of wealthy parents being falsely designated as athletes, and hundreds of thousands of dollars paid in bribes to coaches and admission officers.
The initial reaction was that a few bad apples were spoiling it for the rest of us, and they should be punished for their audacity. But missing from the discussion for the most part was that the college admissions system now allows a number of students to be accepted through the back or side doors, making these bribery cases not the exceptions for a few, but the expected for the many.
“Many sports—particularly squash, lacrosse, fencing and rowing—are pricey to play, so rich kids get opportunities that are out of reach for the poor,” Rick Eckstein, professor of sociology at Villanova University, wrote in The Conversation last week.
“It is not unusual to have 30 or 40 players on a college soccer or lacrosse team,” he continued. “Most will never play. [Women’s rowing teams] often have more than 100 rowers. Most will never get into a boat. Many will quit the team after one season but remain students.”
Many are focusing on how Hollywood actress Lori Loughlin and her husband paid a $500,000 bribe so that their two daughters could be admitted to the University of Southern California as recruits for the school’s women’s rowing team. Prosecutors claim that neither of the girls is actually a rower.
But missing from the discussion is how women’s rowing got so big in numbers—and how so many of its scholarship recipients never even rowed in high school. In fact, Full House’s Aunt Becky was so out of touch with the real world of admissions that the $500,000 bribe she paid to take care of her “social media influencer” daughter most likely wasn’t even needed.
First, a little history. When Title IX was enacted in 1972, college administrators had one thing to figure out when it came to sports. Men’s football had about 100 scholarships for each big-time school. If you wanted to balance out the men’s and women’s sports scholarships awarded, you either had to cut some men’s sports’ scholarships or find a women’s sport to add to the equation.
Women’s rowing was chosen as the football equalizer. Because one race had eight scullers, 60 women were needed for a full rowing team. Those weren’t exactly football numbers, but they were close.
Many schools got on that bandwagon, and women’s rowing jumped by a huge amount in the 1990s. NCAA’s Division 1 rowing had only seven schools with teams and 204 rowers in 1990. By 2000, that had leapt to 82 schools and 4,485 rowers on scholarship. By last year, there were 88 schools with 5,526 women rowers.
The problem with all this is that the number of females rowers did not keep pace with the number of rowers needed in college. In 1990, there were only 688 rowersin high school programs, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Last year, that number had grown to 74 schools with 2,094 rowers, but still far less than what the college needed to fill its boats.
To hear some tell it, women’s crew coaches are handing out scholarships like candy.
The NCAA found this to be somewhat of a problem. “A significant percentage of college rowers participated in other sports during high school and did not begin rowing until college,” it said in a 2015 study. It found that only 46 percent of college rowers had ever even rowed for a high school or a club team during their high school years.
The New York Times noticed this in 2004 and ran a story: “Never Rowed? Take a Free Ride.” They documented a five-foot-nine, 250-pound French horn player and music major who went to Ohio State University and was encouraged to start rowing. “She had never played a sport before. …Finally, she decided to give it a try. Suddenly, she had a new hobby—and a new way to pay her college education.”
In 2007, The Virginian-Pilot put it this way in an article about the University of Virginia women’s NCAA crew team: “To hear some tell it, women’s crew coaches are handing out scholarships like candy.” The piece also noted that because the mens’ team is not NCAA-sanctioned, they are like night and day on campus. “The men receive no funding from the athletic department, have no scholarships to give and ‘tend to live in a very hand-to-mouth kind of way,’ said their coach, Will Oliver.”
Some schools have noticed the problem in recent years. The Seattle Times found that the University of Washington was artificially inflating the women’s rowing roster to meet Title IX requirements in relation to football numbers so it could keep federal funding.
An investigation at the University of Iowa found, “Gender equity advocates say the popularity of college football—a multibillion-dollar industry—has pushed athletic departments across the country to add more benchwarmers to women’s [rowing] teams to comply with Title IX, the federal gender equity law, while avoiding the cost of starting new women’s sports.”
So while the Ivy League elites and Hollywood actresses are being accused of horrible scheming for their own good, it’s the colleges that have set this elaborate scam.
Want a scholarship? Go row. Why the hell not? Just pretend to row. That’s all we need.
Daniel McGraw is a freelance journalist and author living in Lakewood, Ohio.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The 'Second Christ': The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi

By Jack Kerwick
March 17, 2019

Imagem: Ordem dos Frades Menores Conventuais
St. Francis embracing the crucified Christ (Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1668-69)

The Lenten season is here once again and Catholics the world over are preparing for Easter Sunday. In doing so, it is to the lives of holy men and women from over the centuries and millennia that all Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, should turn in their quest to become more Christ-like. 

Saint Francis of Assisi is as good a place to begin as any, for such was the power of his example that he has enjoyed for centuries the unique distinction—one, tellingly, that neither the original twelve Apostles nor even Saint Paul succeeded in obtaining—of being regarded as “the Second Christ.” 

Saint Francis was born Giovanni Bernardone in Assisi in either 1181 or 1182.  His father was Pietro Bernardone, an Italian silk merchant, and his mother a French woman of whom little is known.  His father, who was away on business when his son was born, was reportedly upset when he discovered that his wife had baptized the baby with the name of “Giovanni,” after John the Baptist.  The last thing that Pietro wanted was for his son to become a holy man; rather, he wanted for him to become a man of the world, a businessman that would follow in his own footsteps both in the silk industry as well as with respect to being a Francophile, like Pietro.  

Thus, his father renamed the baby who would become known as the Second Christ as “Francesco,” which essentially means “Frenchman.” 

By the standards of the world, Francis had it good. He is said to have been handsome, charming, jocular, popular, and, of course, affluent. Though good-natured enough, Francis was filled with pride and sought attention by, among other things, dressing colorfully.  He was a ring-leader of sorts of a group of young men known for their proclivity toward acting recklessly by way of excessive drinking and other antics.  Francis himself would retrospectively concede that this was a period of his life during which he “lived in sin.” 

Francis was very much of the world, seeking, as Saint Augustine put it centuries earlier, “love of self to the point of contempt for God.” Francis thirsted for worldly glory. 

And so he went off to war. 

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Upper level of the Basilica in Assisi with Equestrian statue of St Francis

Assisi declared war on another Italian city called Perugia, and Francis happily participated. 

Yet Assisi lost, with most of its soldiers being killed. Francis had been taken prisoner and his life spared only because it was known that his was a family of means, a family, that is, that was capable of paying ransom for him. After spending one year of being confined to a dark dungeon, Francis was freed.

However, he resumed his old ways, and still longed for Earthly glory. So, when the Fourth Crusade was under way, Francis used his father’s resources to purchase a gold-decorated suit of armor, an exquisite cloak, and a horse so that he could become a crusader.  He assured his associates that he would return a prince. 

Given his resolve, one can imagine the shock of his contemporaries who knew him when, in less than one day, Francis returned.   Francis, who always wanted nothing more than to be loved by the world, suffered a dramatic reversal of fortunes as those who knew him mocked and disparaged him, charging him with, among other things, being a coward. His father too expressed rage after having invested in that first-rate suit of armor that Francis had now decided not to use. 

So what happened?

Francis claimed that while on his journey, the Lord spoke to him in a dream, assuring him that Francis’s priorities were radically misplaced and instructing him to return home.  It would be a while, but through much prayer and time alone—including time alone in a cave, where he broke down in tears as he lamented his sinful life—Francis drew nearer to God.  

When he encountered a leper one day, Francis—the man who had virtually every worldly good for which a person could wish—was repulsed by the leper’s sight and stench.  Yet he embraced the man and kissed his hand.  The leper reciprocated.  Overcome with joy, Francis waved to the leper as Francis rode off on his horse, satisfied that he had done what God willed for him to do.

This event marked a turning point on Francis’s spiritual quest, but, as we will see, he still wasn’t as enlightened as he would become. 

Image result for Chapel of the Crucifix in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi

Basilica of Saint Clare in Assisi, Italy

While praying at the church at San Damiano, Francis heard Christ speak to him: “Francis,” he heard Jesus say, “repair my church.”  This ancient church was in need of much work, and so Francis assumed that Christ wanted for him to attend to this particular church. He didn’t yet realize that it was the Catholic Church as a whole to which Francis was commanded to minister.  

Francis took fabric from his father and sold it.  The proceeds he gave to the bishop for the San Damiano church. When his father discovered what his son had done, Pietro charged Francis with theft and essentially disowned his son in front of the bishop and the people of Assisi.  Francis would no longer be entitled to his father’s inheritance from this juncture onward. Francis’ response, however, was revealing:

He in turn disowned all worldly possessions, in effect taking a vowel of poverty. Moreover, he used his father’s treatment of him as an opportunity to…rejoice. Francis paid back his father the money that he had taken and, in front of the townspeople, joyfully declared: 

“Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, ‘Our Father who art in Heaven’” (emphasis mine). 

It was at this moment that Frances took comfort in knowing that, ultimately, he had but one true Father, a Parent who would never disown him. 

Singing blissfully, Frances went off into the woods, into the bitter cold, wearing rags. 

And when bandits jumped him, threw him in a ditch, and stole what little clothing he had left, Francis climbed out of the hole and…sang.   

Within time, this once-worldly man, this man who not only possessed every conceivable Earthly good, but who relished in worldliness, became a living inspiration to his contemporaries. He rebuilt, with his bare hands, stone-by-stone, the church at San Damiano.  But he also began to rejuvenate the Church, the Bride of Christ that had become corrupted by greedy clerics, by way of his example of piety.

To underscore this last point: Francis was no fire-and-brimstone preacher.  While sleeping outdoors and begging for scraps of garbage to eat, he was always careful to show nothing but tender mercy to even those of the Church’s members who were most scandalous.  For example, when informed of a priest who had been openly living with a woman, the informant asked Francis if this meant that the Eucharist had been corrupted.   Francis responded by seeking out the guilty priest, kneeling before him, and kissing his hands.

Francis’s rationale for his action was that the priest’s hands had touched the Body and Blood of Christ.

His lifestyle began winning over people, folks from all social strata: merchants, educators, university students, and churchmen from the fields and the towns.  Francis refused to be recognized as their “leader.” Instead, he treated everyone as an equal, a child of God who, as such, was entitled to be treated as a being with an inherent dignity.  

He did, though, insist that those who would follow his example—Francis had no interest in founding an “order,” for he rejected what he took to be the military connotations of this concept—should do a few simple things, prescriptions that he lifted straight from the Scriptures, specifically, from the New Testament.  Those who wished to follow him needed to: (1) sell all that they had and donate the proceeds to the poor; (2) take nothing with them on their journey to spread the Gospel; and (3) assume their cross daily.

His following grew into the thousands even before Francis passed to glory at the young age of 44. 

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St. Francis Preaches to the Sultan by Bonaventura Berlinghieri (Detail of the altar panel depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis. Florence, S. Croce, Bardi-Chapel)

Other noteworthy facts regarding the life of this outstanding person and disciple of Christ include, but are not limited to, the following:

(1)During the Fifth Crusade, in order to put a stop to the warring between Christians and Muslims, Francis left Italy and traveled to Syria with an eye toward converting the Sultan and however many practitioners of Islam would lend him a hearing.

Francis and his companions were imprisoned. Mercifully, their lives were spared. Moreover, the Sultan was charmed by Francis and reportedly remarked: “I would convert to your religion, which is a beautiful one—but both of us would be murdered.” 

Francis and his friends were freed.

(2)Francis saw God’s blessedness incarnated in all of creation—not just in humanity, the crown jewel of God’s handiwork.  It is precisely because of the intensity and inclusiveness of his vision that Francis is known as the patron saint of the environment

In other words, Francis saw all creatures, animals, plants, the planets, moons, and stars as his brothers and sisters in God.  Even death itself Francis acknowledged as an intrinsic feature of the reality that God authored. 

Francis’s vision he beautifully articulated in his Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.  The following excerpts concisely encapsulate his theocentric reading of the cosmos:

Praised be You my Lord, with all Your creatures, 

especially Sir Brother Sun, 

Who is the day through whom You give us light. 

And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor, 

Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, 

In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, 

And fair and stormy, all weather’s mood, 

by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water, 

So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,

Mother Earth

who sustains and governs us, 

producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Death, 

from whom no one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they she finds doing Your will.

(3)Such was Francis’s compassion for all of creation that he supposedly preached to birds, imploring them to be thankful for their elegant clothing, their freedom, and the fact that God attended to them with care.  

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St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio (Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio)

Another account is that of a wolf who had been devouring the residents of a town.  The townspeople wanted the wolf dead.  Francis, though, intervened on behalf of the wolf and persuaded the latter to forego its predatory ways.  

The wolf subsequently became a pet to the community.  The people who at one point wanted to kill the wolf now made sure that he was fed and treated with compassion. 

Francis’s lifestyle of poverty and traveling caught up to him.  He became blind and was racked with other ailments. He nevertheless remained joyful.  It was after he was afflicted with blindness that he wrote his Canticle thanking God for Brother Sun, and it was during his trials, while approaching his deathbed, that he prayed to God to share in Christ’s Passion.  Upon seeing a vision of the Lord, Francis’s prayer was answered as he received the stigmataOn October 4, 1226, Francis went home to his Father in Heaven.

During this Lenten season, and every season, let us remember the man who memorably remarked that while as Christians we do indeed have a duty to follow our Lord’s injunction to preach the Gospel to all nations, we should use words only when necessary.