More Not-So-Random Reflections: Fraud, Sports, Teachers, Language and Ban-Threats
Published: June 12th, 2021
Oklahoma City – Jack Webb, star of the old ‘Dragnet’ television series popular in my youth, had several versions of the weekly opening of the show. My favorite included his line, as an aerial view of Los Angeles was shown on the screen: “There are a million stories in the city. This is one of them.”
Here are some recent events provoking not-so-random reflections about stories from the world, nation, state and city where I live:
The key elements of a detailed news story from NonDoc.com (an online news service based in Oklahoma City) were captured (as was once the tradition in American journalism) by the story headline: “Hofmeister: Nutrition program fraud ‘being investigated by federal authorities’.”
By and large and on the whole, I have been disappointed (using a mild word, on purpose) by the tenure of Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.
But credit her and the state Education Department for this:
Reporter Megan Prather wrote that the agency has “deemed $1.6 million in claims for federal funds at child nutrition sites to be ‘fraudulent’ since April 2020.”
Prather — whose work is frequently “aggregated” through the news sites I administer — gives the details. I encourage readers to study them. Best place to start, at this point, is at this link to the NonDoc report:
With apologies to the late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen (for approximately the one-hundredth time in my writing career) adapting his memorable quip about “billions” in federal spending: $1.6 million in state government spending here, and $1.6 million there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.
That’s cash that could be used, wisely and prudently, for broadly-agreed upon purposes.
Or consider a not-so-random thought:
Taxpayers could keep the money in the first place, allowing those so inclined to step up and help others in need?
* * *
There has been a lot of concern expressed in recent days about inadequate sports facilities for women, at least when compared to those for men.
I never had a brother. However, I have four sisters.
They helped me, a skinny kid, learn how to be at least kind of tough.
The four girls had rather impressive skills playing softball, basketball, volleyball and … well, sometimes even variations of football.
That’s a long story, but not the point of this reflection, a not-so-random thought:
I remember when opportunities for female athletes were much more limited than today. Of course, in most cases, any good thing can be improved. Still, the recent dominant recent narrative about women’s athletics has been a little off-key.
A colleague from days at The Oklahoman, sports reporter Berry Tramel, wrote a fine essay just a couple of weeks ago outlining the process by which the facility which now houses the Women’s College World Series came into existence.
Tramel superbly distilled how the women’s softball world championship (or, at least the facility where it is played each year) grew from the vision of one man (the late Stanley Draper, 1923-2006).
I remember Draper but did not know him well. What stands out in memory is that he was willing to work with others, patiently, on important matters.
One step at a time, he and they built it, and then – rather quickly, in the historical sense – they (the teams and the crowds) came. If the Oklahoma City home of the WCWS didn’t exist, it would have to be invented. And odds are, it would never have emerged as nicely anywhere else.
Recent news stories and commentaries from media outlets based in places that don’t host the most significant (and well-attended) softball tournament in the world conveyed a description of Oklahoma’s softball venues that brought to mind the adage about a glass of water that is, at best, half-full.
But considering things through the prism of economics and philanthropy, of human limitations and possibilities, it might seem as if the glass is (after decades of work) at least half-full.
To sum up a few day’s activities:
The University of Oklahoma women’s softball team just won its fifth world championship, and got to complete at the facility (which has changed quite a bit since I first visited it) that Draper and Marita Hynes (once upon a time, the OU softball coach) and others brought to life. It rests on a rolling hilltop in northeast Oklahoma City.
It is a true “neutral site” because college softball teams each season promise themselves to work hard enough to earn a trip to … Oklahoma City.
For this year’s OU Sooners, it was not a long trip.
And Thursday afternoon (June 10), it was Home, Sweet Home.
Congratulations to the team, and to all those who made a day like that possible, building on the dreams of Stanley Draper, Jr., and thanks to Tramel for telling Draper’s story, one more time.
As for the future? Well, that depends on us – and on the willingness of people who might disagree on some other things to work together.
If, that is, people who disagree with each other on some things are still permitted to work together on other things.
Recently, a graduating teaching assistant at my alma mater, (Oklahoma State University in Stillwater) garnered worldwide attention when she said, during an online session based at a Connecticut university, that she had decided – in order to confront her “internalized white supremacy” — she should stop teaching Spanish. (https://www.foxnews.com/us/oklahoma-state-teaching-assistant-spanish-white )
Her musings garnered lots of attention, to put it mildly. I’m not a fan of “cancel culture” or what people now characterize as being “woke.” Reading about her was another despair-inducing moment.
The best math teacher I had in high school was Black. He was an elderly gentleman with a gravely voice. I’ve never forgotten him, and can still imitate his speech pattern 50 years after my last class with him.
The kindest French teacher I ever had was in high school.
Then, college: The best French teacher I had was an Englishman.
My Classical Greek teacher was a brilliant historian, a White American.
I actually don’t remember my high school Latin teacher, other than that I learned a lot.
After time to reflect and recover memory, I recalled that my college Latin teacher specialized in history, but guided me through two courses in Latin and that one in Classical Greek (yes, in Stillwater).
My German instruction (for reading only) was unmemorable but I was able to use the language in research for a few years. (Nowadays, all but a few phrases in German look like, well, like Greek to me.)
My Russian language professor was an American who had served in Europe at the height of the Cold War – and learned the language by eavesdropping on Soviet Red Army radio transmissions.
I did poorly in class (I never quite ‘got’ the Cyrillic alphabet) but became friends with the professor.
Russian stumped me, but my admiration for the greatest Russian writer of my lifetime (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) later led to a unique opportunity.
Years after I graduated from OSU I returned to deliver a lecture about Solzhenitsyn’s literary and historical works in translation. I came at the invitation of my old professor.
Near the end of college days, I learned daily conversational Italian in an informal way – from day-laborers at an archaeological site (San Leonardo al Lago) in Tuscany, near Siena.
I suppose the last experience (at a summer program sponsored by Villanova University) would be the only one to qualify as legitimate by the standards articulated by that teaching assistant at my beloved alma mater. Presumably, it’s ok to learn Italian from an Italian.
The lads from whom I learned idiomatic Italian were not privileged, they were merely patient with a graduate student from Oklahoma. I suppose my demonstrated willingness to get my hands dirty made me seem worth their instructional efforts.
What would those educators of varied sorts from my past think about an educated woman who decides not to share her knowledge of language with others because of a self-designation as “privileged.”
I was “privileged” – not because of my skin tone, but because those mentioned above were willing to educate me.
It was indeed a blessing to encounter capable teachers across the years.
The first thing I remember about each is what they taught me, not their skin tone.
Presently I work under the threat of a Facebook ban.
In the night, I sometimes imagine the threatened ban as something like the Sword of Damocles about which I first learned at Bishop McGuinness High School in Oklahoma City.
One reason for the threats received from Facebook’s ’bots was rooted in my citation and posting (clearly in a negative light) of an online post about a (now former) contributor to CNN who uttered deeply evil thoughts about the Jewish people and history.
The other reason for the threatened ban — at least as explained (a charitable term) by the Facebook ’bots – was my use of a story from The New York Post describing the purchase of upper-high-end properties across the land of the free (America) by a person who has described herself as Marxist.
Not long after Facebook blocked The New York Post’s first story, the issue went worldwide (what they deem “viral,” these days). It was vetted by other sources. After became a story even “liberal” publications agreed was true, Facebook stopped trying to prevent distribution. If this reminds any readers of other stories panned and banned, only to be later converted into conventional wisdom, it’s because those readers are paying attention.
I will refrain from further details, and perhaps avoid, for the moment, another ban-threat.
Here are not-so-random thoughts: In a long career in the news business, I have supervised the work of a wide range of people. During my decade working in Washington, D.C., I worked with 55 interns, students from universities and prep schools throughout the national capital area. They were an eclectic group, over time, large enough that over the course of ten years I encountered nearly every “type” you can imagine. None of them were stereotypes, they were human beings.
I enjoyed the work, and learned a lot about guiding young writers.
For 12 years, I ran the editorial/opinion pages at The Oklahoman. I was blessed with a good staff of writers. I had the opportunity to form a Board of Contributors that was consciously split 50-50 in terms of underlying political leanings, although I found some of the characterizations of “liberal” and “conservative” inadequate then, as I do now.
These days, I administer a newspaper with a website, and also run an all-online news organization.
Most of the writers at both of these websites are Oklahomans, although occasionally we print or post work originating from outside Oklahoma.
I describe myself as a Reagan conservative because that’s the best way to sum up what I look for in public policy. As for journalists, my heroes are Robert Novak and David Broder. Each of them spent their careers engaged in both straight news reporting and commentary.
Any list of my heroes in news-gathering must be partial, to be sure. It features people who, like me, have actually had to run a news organization or an important department within one.
As years passed, named like G.K. Chesteron, William F. Buckley, Jim Lehrer, the Edward L. Gaylord (all deceased) and others have secured a place on my list.
In the field of commentary, I look to the late Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Cal Thomas, Peggy Noonan, John Fund, Jeff Jacoby, Don Feder, and others when crafting a most admired summary.
Presently and in the past I have had people assist me in my work – as editorial writers, reporters, aides in technical/internet matters and in other aspects of my labor – who have policy and personal preferences different from my own.
This ongoing exercise of liberty in the way I conduct my business and my life is entirely in keeping with my understanding – I suppose it can be called a “conservative” mindset, but it seems to me more American than political – of the function of journalists who operate under the protection of the U.S. Constitution and its magnificent protections for “the Press.”
The idea that computer programs for a worldwide Big Tech firm can methodically and increasingly limit the reach of my work – and now raise the specter of a ban – seems deeply un-American.
There is no likelihood I will change my approach to writing, and thinking, and all the rest 52 years after my first sports story was printed in the student newspaper at McGuinness.
With all that in mind, for those who like my work here is a story and a link to save, to help find me should customary means of access go dark:
“Heads Up: If my posts go missing in action during these interesting times”
The websites are www.CapitolBeatOK.com and www.City-Sentinel.com .
Hard copies of the latter are available in racks around the heart of Oklahoma City.
Keep reading and, if so inclined, pray for this work to be sustained.
Note: Pat McGuigan is a member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.