Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bigotry at Hamline

I've had two interactions with Hamline University in my life. The first came back in 1974, when several of my high school buddies and I were trying to decide where to go to college. At that age it matters a bit what your friends think, and so we decided to visit several colleges together, even though we weren't likely to attend the same schools. But four of us made trips to different schools, sometimes taking advantage of the offer to spend the night, other times just making a day trip.

At each school, the person assigned to guide us around understood the drill. Only one or two of our group was considering the school, but the opinion of our peers meant something, and they took care of our group.

One of the guys wanted to check out Hamline. He had grown up Methodist, and Hamline was - at least marginally - still considered a Methodist institution in those days. So the four of us took off one day to tour the school.

Some staffer was assigned to meet us, show us around, get us to the cafeteria at lunch time, etc. My friend listened closely, asked some questions and was trying to size up the place. At one point in the course of the day, our tour guide asked me about my plans, and I told him that I was likely going to attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He asked another one of us, who mentioned that he was leaning toward the U of M's Morris campus.

At that point he started berating us, saying that we were "wasting his time" and "not being honest" by taking a tour when we were probably going to go to a different school. We were pretty taken aback and left soon afterwards. Needless to say, no one in our group went to Hamline, and the lasting impression I had was that the place was full of arrogant jerks.

I thought little about Hamline for the next 25 years or so, until my oldest son, Travis, announced that he wanted to attend Hamline. I told him the only impression I had of the place was that it was full of arrogant jerks, but if he wanted to attend, it was fine with me. So we set about getting him admitted, arranging financial aid and getting him set up in his dorm room.

And he came home in about 30 days. "Get me out of here," was more or less his plea, and when I asked him why, he said the place was "full of hippies." Everything was about gay rights and save the planet and the professors finding a liberal message in everything. Which pretty much dovetailed with my impression of the place, and so home he came.

(Keep in mind that Travis isn't some fire-breathing Young Republican. His views are considerably to the left of mine, he's a practicing vegan and makes his living as a manager at an organic food co-op in Minneapolis. We're not talking about Ron Paul, Jr. here.)

Which pretty much ended any thinking I did about Hamline until a few weeks ago, when the school again went out of its way to come off like a bunch of arrogant jerks. Former Republican candidate for governor, Tom Emmer, had reached an agreement with the school to do some teaching in the business department. The whole story can be read here, but in a nutshell, a handful of professors whined about hiring someone with conservative views, and the school reneged on the offer.

The opposition was led by a petty little associate professor named Jim Bonilla, who - get this - carries the title of "Consultant on Diversity in Higher Education," according to the school's web site. It's hard to find a better example of what a farce higher education has become: Putting a bigot in charge of "diversity."

The school's behavior is indefensible on so many levels, including the fact that Emmer is a bright, talented, engaging guy (he's an attorney who currently hosts a very entertaining morning radio show) who was more than qualified for the job. And then there's the entire question of what someone's political views have to do with teaching a business course.

The message from Hamline is loud and clear: We hold our liberal viewpoints near and dear to our hearts, and "education" can only be provided by those who share our politically correct views. A university is not for exploring other ideas or expanding minds, its sole purpose is to indoctrinate impressionable young minds in the ways of liberalism. Like the Italians, Irish and "Coloreds" in years past, conservatives need not apply.

I've written enough over the past year (see the archive list on the right) about the declining value of higher education, and this sordid episode helps make the point. The whole question of "value" is particularly acute for small, private schools like Hamline, St. Thomas, Carlton, St. John's and others, who have largely priced themselves out of the market for the middle class. A year at anyone of these schools will cost you close to what an Ivy League school costs, without any of the commensurate benefits. There is far more value to be had at a state college than at any of these schools, and given the competition, you wouldn't think Hamline would be going out of its way to tell the public what a closed-minded, bigoted faculty it has in place.

As for Emmer, he comes out of this looking far more classy than either the Hamline faculty or administration.

Sometimes the first impression is correct, and I'm more willing than ever to stand by the judgment I made in 1974.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

A must-read article

National Review's Victor Davis Hanson is always worth reading, no matter what he is writing about, but yesterday's contribution is particularly worthwhile.

In addition to his teaching, writing, lecturing, etc., Hanson raises grapes on the California farm that has been in his family for generations. Yesterday's piece tells the story of what can only be called a breakdown of civilization in the beautiful farming valley he lives in near Fresno.

But it's not just a tale of some local crime spree; It's a look into the future of American society being brought to us by those who value "diversity" and "tolerance" above all else.

Read it here, and enjoy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Vaclav Havel, RIP

A cynic might suggest that my only real knowledge of the Czech Republic comes from interacting with and watching so many of their hockey players over the years. And while it's true that I have much admiration for those in a long line that includes Hasek, Sykora, Hlinka, Jagr and so many others, there was one Czech in particular whom I admired, and I don't think he ever wore skates.

Vaclav Havel died yesterday at the age of 75, and if Lech Walesa was the man who led the downfall of Communism in Poland, Havel was the man who did the same for Czechoslovakia.

Havel never set out to be a political figure. He was a writer who used his work to try, at first, to "soften" the Communist system that enslaved his country. But when the Soviets rolled their tanks into his country in the 1968 "Prague Spring," effectively ending any attempts at liberalization, Havel realized that Communism could not be appeased, and must be stopped.

His writings reflected that belief, and the government took notice. First, they sentenced him to three months in prison for "subversion." When that didn't stop his writing, they charged him again, and sentenced him to 4-1/2 years, prohibiting him from writing anything but letters to his family.

Finally, the government put pressure on him to emigrate, figuring he would be less of a bother outside of the country. He refused to leave, instead working a menial job at a brewery and chipping away at the Communist regime. Finally, in 1989, after the Berlin Wall fell and Communism went on the run, a group of Czechoslovakian patriots gathered to form a new government, and made Havel their new president.

In 1992, as the Czech Republic and Slovakia began to go their separate ways, he resigned rather than preside over the breakup of the country. But when the separation was complete, he was elected President of the Czech Republic.

As President, he was very pro-American, having fallen in love with New York City in a 1968 visit, and he even continue to write essays and plays later in life reflecting his belief in individual freedom and liberty. Czech writer Erik Tabery summed it up this way: “While the Communists ruled for 40 years, most Czechs stayed at home and did nothing. Havel did something.”

One of my favorite old sayings is that "The pen is mightier than the sword," and Havel's life proved it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hypocrisy in action

You just can't make this up: Call it irony, call it hypocrisy, call it whatever, but the ongoing "amateur hour" vibe given off by the Obama administration was on display again yesterday in Texas.

Corrupt Attorney General Eric Holder (see Black Panther intimidation case, Fast and Furious, etc.) went to Texas to make a speech condemning efforts by legislatures to protect voting rights. Yes, that's right, Holder (shown at left, digging for some evidence) and the Obama kids are AGAINST laws to protect YOUR voting rights.

Over the past couple of years, more than a dozen states have passed laws requiring those who want to vote to show a photo ID before they can vote. It's in response to numerous instances in Minnesota, Wisconsin and other states where large numbers of people who later shown to be ineligible to vote have cast ballots.

Of course, every ballot cast illegally diminishes the value of YOUR vote, while also undermining the integrity of the election process itself. That's why so many states are trying to tighten up the process.

Holder doesn't like this. He's okay with weapon-carrying Black Panthers standing in front of polling places to intimidate voters, but he doesn't like asking people to produce an ID before they vote. Launching into Barney Frank-like hysteria, Holder said that asking people to show ID is a "deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, [and] minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”

And I suppose that being required to show ID before boarding an airplane is a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students and minority and low-income voters from flying.

So, you ask, where is the irony? Where is the hypocrisy?

Well, in order to attend Holder's speech, you had to show a photo ID before you were allowed in the building!

"Do as I say, not as I do," is a long-standing liberal credo, and Holder provides us with another great example.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

GREAT customer service

I complain often enough about lousy customer service, so I think it's only fair that I take a moment to single out someone who provided me with a fantastic service experience.

Sunday night my cell phone died, which was a big disappointment. I've had a Palm Pre for a couple of years, and it's a terrific phone...Besides making calls, I can surf the web on it, take high-quality pictures, play music, do pretty much whatever I need to do. But the Pre has a small design flaw that sometimes results in the phone's battery being unable to take a charge. Something comes loose in the little USB port on the side of the phone, and when you plug it in to charge it up, nothing happens, and then the battery just slowly dies.

That's what happened with mine Sunday night. Fortunately, I've had mine long enough that the folks at Sprint have been sending me emails, reminding me that I could now upgrade my phone at a reduced price, if I would just renew my contract. So I went online to look for a new phone.

There I found something called the HTC EVO 4G. It sort of looks like the i-phone, had all the features I need (plus quite a few more) and best of all, it was FREE (with the renewal of my contract.)

I have an acquaintance at the Sprint store in South St. Paul, so Monday morning I sent him an email asking two questions: 1) Was this the right phone for me; and 2) Could I come up to the store and pick it up? Here's where the plot thickens.

He told me that in order to get all of the available discounts that made the phone free, I would have to start the ordering process online at the Sprint web site. During that process, he said, I would have the option to "reserve in store." By choosing that option, I could order the phone, and then two hours later show up in his store to pick it up.

So I went to and started through the ordering process. I got all the way through and was ready to place the order, but I still hadn't seen the "reserve in store" button. I didn't want to submit the order and then find out I had to wait for the phone to be shipped, which the site said would take 2-5 days. So, I called the customer service number on the side of the screen to make sure I could get the phone at the store.

My call was answered by a guy named Jeff, and I had every reason to expect that Jeff would be like most customer service people and would do only the minimum amount of work necessary to get me an answer and get me off the phone. I was wrong. Way wrong.

I explained the situation, and Jeff said that, yes, I should have been able to find a "reserve in store" button on the web site, and he seemed genuinely puzzled that I couldn't. He asked if he could put me on hold while he talked to some techie. I said that would be fine, and expected a long wait.

He was back within a minute or so, and explained the problem. It turned out that I had been on the right screen in the ordering process, but I missed the "reserve in store" button because it was disabled, and reserving in store was not an option for this particular phone. This meant that I could only order the phone to be shipped, which meant I would be 2-5 days without a phone.

(Which isn't the end of the world, but from both a business and personal standpoint, it's difficult. I have an office line, but almost no one calls it, because my clients have all been conditioned to call my cell since I'm out of the office a lot. Also, I have all of my emails forwarded to the phone, so that if I'm on the road all day, I can still respond to an email without waiting to get home at night. Plus, my kids are conditioned to keep in touch with me by texting me. And most importantly, I have to have a device to play Sudoku on before I fall asleep at night! So several days without my cell is quite an inconvenience.)

I said I would call the store and see if there were any other options, and apparently Jeff could hear the disappointment in voice. At that point, it would have been reasonable for him to say, "I'm really sorry, there's just nothing I can do about it. Place your order and we'll get it shipped out as soon as possible."

Instead, he said, "Call your friend at the store and see what he says, and I'm going to call you back in a half-hour or so and check on things."

I called the Sprint store, and my guy said, "Sorry, I guess we're stuck." But he assured me that if I ordered it, they usually arrived in just 2-3 days.

At that point I was resigned to calling my clients and telling them I had no cell service for a few days, and that I might not respond to emails very quickly.

Then Jeff called back.

First, he wanted to know if the Sprint store had been able to help me out. When I said "no," he said "I've had your case open here for about an hour, trying to figure out what we can do. What if I could overnight you the phones? Could you get by the rest of they day without your phone?"

I said that yes, I could get by for the day, although I wasn't crazy about having to pay for overnight shipping. "No, we won't charge you for that," he said. Then he went online himself, accessed my account, and placed the order to provide overnight shipping.

At that point, I was thrilled with the level of service. Then it got even better.

"Now, let's talk about the Palm Pre," he said. "Let's try a couple things to see if we can get it going." He had talked to another techie, who gave him a couple of things to try involving removing the battery, re-plugging the phone in, etc...Unfortunately, none of those worked.

"Well then," he said, "I can set it up to have all of the calls to that number forwarded to a different number for today if that will help." Yes, I said, that would help immensely. So I gave him my office number, and Jeff went to work setting up the forwarding of my cell phone calls to my office line.

In the middle of all this, something he said about the battery reminded me that I had another cell phone battery in the house. My sons both have Palm phones, and I had bought Travis a couple replacement batteries and a charger because his battery wasn't holding a full charge. I was going to give them to him on Wednesday, but I still had them in the house. So I took out my Pre's battery, put in a charged replacement battery, and my phone came back to life!

At that point, Jeff cancelled the forwarding, so that calls would again come to my Pre. So, in about a 90-minute period after taking my call, Jeff had:

-- Found an answer to my original question about the "reserve in store" button
-- Realized that it wasn't a satisfactory answer and started looking for a solution
-- Called me back with a solution that got my new phone ordered
-- Tried to help with my old phone, leading to a solution to that problem

And all the while he was friendly and chatty, telling me he worked just down the road near LaCrosse, Wisconsin, had been out ice-fishing already, etc., etc. By the time we were done, he had solved every phone issue I had, and now - only about 24 hours later - I'm sitting with my new HTV EVO 4G.

I don't know how he could have made this interaction any better, short of personally fetching the phone from the warehouse in Kentucky, driving it up to my home himself and waxing my car once he got here.

It was a phenomenal customer service experience, and it's a shame that it's so rare these days that it merits a blog post. So, Jeff....thanks, man.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Just because it's fun

For about 18 months back in the '80s, I lived on Capitol Hill in D.C., where neighborhood parking was always at a premium. So I can relate to the reaction this driver had when he saw a parking spot that was just the right size for his car. I can't condone it, but I can relate, and I post it here just for the comedic value. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why I remember Pearl Harbor

Today, of course, is Pearl Harbor day, the 70th anniversary of Japan's sneak attack that more or less launched the U.S. into World War II.

There are a few historical events that I consider myself pretty well versed on. From the time I was young, the Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations fascinated me, and I've read virtually everything I could get my hands on about those two events. (FYI - Oswald did it, and did it all by himself. Every other theory is crap.)

Another is Pearl Harbor, though I can't really take credit for it. Credit goes to a wonderfully gifted history teacher from Princeton High School named Pete Finelli.

We moved to Princeton after my freshman year, and U.S. History was a required sophomore course, taught by Finelli. I'd always enjoyed American history (see this entry about the Landmark series of history books I read as a kid), and on the first day of class, Finelli asked the class a series of pretty basic questions about American history, designed - I guess - to gauge where the class' knowledge baseline was.

I must have had a large number of shy classmates, because I know I wasn't any smarter than most of them, but I ended up raising my hand a lot and answering most of the questions. After class, Finelli came over, noted that I had recently transferred into the district, and asked if I had taken American history the year before at my former school. No, I told him, I just read a lot about history, and he seemed to like that.

Over the next few years, we moved beyond a normal teacher-student relationship and became pretty good friends. It turned out that Pete not only shared my love of history, but of baseball as well. He had been a minor-league pitcher, and served as a) the pitching coach for the high school baseball team, b) a sports writer for the local weekly paper and c) the play-by-play guy for the local radio station. Talk about two guys having something in common.

(Slightly off-topic story: I was reading a biography of Red Sox great Ted Williams, and learned that his first wife had been from Princeton. The next day after class, I rushed over to Pete's desk, anxious to share my discovery with him, and maybe amaze or surprise him a bit. I showed him the passage and asked, "Did you know Ted Williams' wife was from here?" It didn't have the desired effect. "Yeah, Ted and I used to go fishing together in the off-season," Pete said.)

And one of Pete's favorite topics was Pearl Harbor. Each year he would spend an entire week lecturing and quizzing on Pearl Harbor, getting us ready for a great learning experience: Watching the movie Tora, Tora, Tora. This will be hard for my children to understand, but in the fall of 1971, there were no VCRs, DVDs, computer downloads, Netflix or any other means by which to watch a full-length, feature motion picture in a classroom.

Unable to bring the movie to the class, Pete figured out how to bring the class to the movie. He convinced the local theater owner to rent the movie and screen it for Pete's history class. Preparing for Tora, Tora, Tora day was a big production. In addition to teaching us all about the attack, Pete would prepare us for some of the film's cinematic shortfalls, such as the way white letters were used in the subtitles, and didn't show up very well with white naval uniforms in the background.

Come movie day, we had a prescribed path to walk the 8-10 blocks from the school to the theater. A small herd of 150 or so kids would make the hike, watch the movie, then trek back to the school by lunchtime. It was about a 10-day immersion in all things Pearl Harbor, culminating with the film, and I have to believe that every kid who graduated from PHS in those years could quote Japanese Admiral Yamamoto saying, "I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve."

As I mentioned, Pete and I remained friends beyond the classroom years. I dabbled in radio, and he eventually brought me on as his stat guy for football broadcasts, and as a color guy for baseball broadcasts. When he stopped writing for the local paper, he helped me get hired there for my first real sportswriting job. We were even linked to another historical event: I was in Pete's RV, along with his family, on the way to the state Legion baseball tournament in New Ulm on August 8, 1974, when we had a flat tire just north of Mankato. While waiting for the tow truck, we listened on the radio to President Nixon's resignation speech, and enjoyed sharing an historic moment together.

Pete has now retired and lives in Rochester, but I never get past Aug. 8th or Dec. 7th on the calendar without remembering a terrific teacher and all-around good guy who worked very hard to make history come alive for his students.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The war on jobs

George Will is almost always worth reading, and the column you can read here is a typically strong one.

There are so many failures in the Obama administration that it's hard to select the biggest one. But certainly among the most egregious is its assault on job creation. Whether it's blocking the XL pipeline, having the National Labor Relations Board try to stop a Boeing plant in South Carolina or trying to block domestic oil exploration, Obama consistently pursues policies that deter job creation.

Will's column focuses on the effect the threat of a fully-implemented Obamacare program is having on job creation. Here's the money quote from a CEO:

“...employers everywhere will be looking to reduce labor content in their business models as Obamacare makes employees unambiguously more expensive.”

"Reduce labor content" means "not hiring as many people." That's the effect Obama is having on everyone who needs a job. Enjoy Will's column.