Release the Pigeons

Here’s a weird bit of animal news for you:  around 5000 of 9000 carrier pigeons engaged in pigeon racing disappeared.  The pigeons were part of an obscure sport that races homing pigeons, and it’s unclear why over half of the birds never returned home.

Carrier and homing pigeons aren’t as necessary today as they were even one hundred years ago, what with improvements in communication technology.  When everyone is carrying around a Star Trek communicator with more computing power than the Apollo spacecrafts, the need to maintain a rookery of sky-rats is quite diminished.

That said, the birds are quite remarkable.  Carrier pigeons have saved thousands of lives in various conflicts around the world.  The piece in The Western Journal about the missing pigeons discusses the heroics of Cher Ami, a pigeon that saved the 77th Infantry Division’s “lost battalion” in the First World War “by delivering 12 messages and returning to his roost despite being shot in the leg”  The brave bird died from his injuries in 1919, but “was awarded the Croix de Guerre by France.”

Survivalists and homesteaders might take a particular interest in homing pigeons:  while they’re not particularly useful now, they could be quite useful in the event of a major failure of the power grid, or should the Internet and various cellular services go down.

But what of the missing birds?

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The Joy of Autumn

It was a hot and muggy Halloween here in South Carolina (with tornado warnings mid-trick-or-treating!), but my complaints about the season’s distinct lack of autumnality must have worked:  we’ve had a crisp, cold week.  Indeed, in true South Carolina fashion, we’ve largely skipped autumn and have headed directly to winter (of course, don’t be surprised if it’s 80 degrees on Thanksgiving Day).

I’m getting excited for Thanksgiving.  It’s been busy at work lately, and the natives are restless.  Teachers know when students need a break—there’s a weirdness to the atmosphere, and you can almost feel the kids clawing at the walls.  As a Leftie British colleague of mine once quipped, “You Americans think it’s a good idea to have eighteen weeks of school without a break.”  Usually I’m not one for foreign interlopers critiquing our awesome country, but even a progressive Briton is right now and then.

Mainly, though, I’m excited for some downtime with the family, with lots of filling food and cold, crisp days.  Sweater weather, as the vapid co-eds call it, has arrived, and I welcome it happily.  Like the vapid co-eds, I like all the pumpkin spice stuff, too.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Homecoming Week

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It was a wild Halloween Week for yours portly.  Halloween itself saw a tornado warning while trick-or-treating with the little ones, before the typically muggy weather turned into a frosty All Saints’ Day overnight.  Brrrr!

Meteorological phenomena aside, it was also Homecoming Week at the little private school where I teach.  That brings its own mix of fun and tornadoes.

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A Tale of Two Cyclists

The Portly Politico is striving towards self-sufficiency.  If you would like to support my work, consider subscribing to my SubscribeStar page.  Your subscription of $1/month or more gains you access to exclusive content every Saturday, including annual #MAGAWeek posts.  If you’ve received any value from my scribblings, I would very much appreciate your support.

I hate cyclists.  “Hate” is perhaps a strong word, but seeing spandex-festooned cyclists riding in the middle of a busy lane during rush hour raises my hackles almost as much as seeing the US Constitution written in Spanish.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Aiken Amblings

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It’s been quite a nice week, Hurricane Dorian notwithstanding.  Last night I called my first varsity football game (I’ve been calling junior varsity games for a few years now), and I am eternally grateful to the eagle-eyed coaches in the pressbox who fed me some of my best lines.

After the game—a blowout of such proportions that the second half instituted a “running clock,” which meant an abbreviated evening for yours portly—I drove to my hometown of Aiken, in the western part of South Carolina.  My destination for the weekend:  the large arts and crafts fair known as Aiken’s Makin’.

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An Open Letter to Papa John’s Pizza

Disclaimer—sigh:  I do not endorse racist ideologies or unnecessarily racist language, but I support free speech.  People shouldn’t go around using racial slurs, and may face professional and social consequences for doing so, even though it’s protected speech.  That said, I also believe nuance and context matter greatly.  It’s for the non-nuanced- or contextually-minded reader that I include this brief disclaimer, which I hate is even something I have to consider doing in an allegedly free country.

Pizza is a big part of modern American history, one of those beautiful examples of “cultural appropriation” that took the thin-crusted Neapolitan peasant street-food, improved upon it greatly, and made it a staple for all classes and races in the United States.

While everyone and their brother has their own opinions about the best slice and where to get it, my favorite of the “chain delivery pizza joints” (not to be confused with generally-superior ma-and-pop local pizza joints—or the Aiken-Augusta-area chain Pizza Joint) is, hand’s down, Papa John’s.

Sunday afternoon, I received “An open Letter from Papa John’s CEO, Steve Ritchie” in my e-mail.  Apparently, Papa John’s founder John Schnatter said The Forbidden Word, and has been forced out of his company.

You can read the full-text of Ritchie’s letter here.  A key line (emphasis added):

Racism and insensitive language – no matter the context – will not be tolerated at any level of our company. Period.

I began looking around to see what exactly Schnatter said.  What I found is that, yes, he used The Forbidden Word—in reference to Kentucky Fried Chicken’s beloved Colonel Sanders, on a conference call with a company training him on how to handle public relations better.

In essence, Schnatter was asked in a role-playing exercise how he would handle a situation similar to his remarks about the NFL National Anthem protests.  Schnatter had spoken out publicly about the protests, arguing—correctly—that they were hurting Papa John’s sales (Papa John’s has long been the official pizza of the NFL, so poor NFL ratings meant poor pizza sales; I’ve often enjoyed the ridiculously good deals they put out during football season).  As such, he’d already put a target on his back for progressive Social Justice Warriors.

As for the use of The Forbidden Word, Schnatter responded that Colonel Sanders used it, and then related a story about racial violence he witnessed or heard about as a boy in Indiana.  He wasn’t endorsing such violence, but intended it to show that he detested it.

Apparently, some employees of the public relations firm, Laundry Service, were offended, and—wow, wouldn’t you know it!—his use of The Forbidden Word was leaked.

Now he’s no longer working for the company he founded, and 120,000 employees (not to mention Papa John’s stockholders) are going to suffer.

I’m not holding Schnatter blameless here—he should know in the twenty-first century that a.) the Leftist mob doesn’t care about nuance, they just want another scalp and b.) you’re not allowed as a white man to say a word that thickly marinates every modern rap song—but a lot of employees, many of them black, might face layoffs because a handful of people got upset and leaked the contents of a confidential, training-based conference call.

It just goes to show that no one is safe, in any forum, at any time, ever.

In response to all this non-troversy, I took a moment to write a reply to Mr. Ritchie.  Here is the text in full:

Dear Mr. Ritchie,

Thank you for your e-mail.  I was unaware of the Papa John’s non-troversy until I received this e-mail.

From what I can tell from the news reports, John Schnatter may have been a tad careless with a culturally-taboo word, but he meant no ill-intent.

I suspect, rather, that he’s been crucified—the latest victim of such—on the cross of political correctness gone mad.  Given his past statements about NFL protestors hurting NFL ratings—and, by extension, your company’s pizza sales—he put a target on his back too tempting for the Social Justice Warriors to ignore, as he dared to make a truthful observation about one of their sacred cows.

Those statements, too, may have been unwise in a business context (even leaving out the possible racial component–and I don’t think arguing that players should abide by League rules is an inherently racist idea—it’s probably not a good idea to criticize publicly a major business partner), but they don’t warrant the kind of scorched-earth response that Mr. Schnatter has endured.

I am sorry to hear that his remarks have hurt actual people—the employees and franchisees of Papa John’s.  Surely you can agree that that’s the only tangible damage that has occurred here.  Otherwise, no person, of any race, was actually harmed by Mr. Schnatter’s use of the “N” word in an in-house conference call that, as I understand it, was a training session for avoiding future public-relations imbroglios (oops!).  In that context especially, shouldn’t the one receiving the training have additional leeway to learn without fear of some SJW ruining his life?

I hope that your employees will continue to make excellent pizza, as they have done for years, and will not be overly burdened by the kabuki theatre of your diversity initiatives.  I understand that, as a major company, you have to do your token genuflecting to the gods of multiculturalism and political-correctness, even though I’d personally rather see your Board grow some cajones and say, “Sorry for the misunderstanding and if anyone was offended, but the remarks have been taken out of context.  We serve pizza for all people, and while we don’t condone racism, we do support free speech, and believe that everyone should lighten up a bit—preferably over a slice of Papa John’s pizza.”


Tyler James Cook

The cost of doing business seems to be never uttering anything remotely controversial, ever.  Schnatter was doomed the moment he pointed out—again, correctly—that the NFL was losing viewership because of the politicized National Anthem protests.  Yes, he shouldn’t have said The Forbidden Word—even in the context of quoting someone else, it’s not allowed according to current social mores—but it was just a matter of time before the Twitter mobs, Social Justice Warriors, white knights, or overly-sensitive consultants (Laundry Service is designed to train people not to make public faux pas; surely they’ve had clueless clients before that needed teaching) brought him down.

Why can’t we just enjoy pizza without it becoming an exercise in political posturing?

Soccer Sucks

Over the weekend, France and Croatia squared off in the championship match of the 2018 World Cup.  The French team—which only has six players (of twenty-three) you and I would think of when we imagine a Frenchman—defeated the plucky Eastern European squad 4-2, an astoundingly high score for a soccer match.

Other than watching my students play occasionally, I can’t stand soccer.  The game has numerous flaws:  it’s overly-long, without any true breaks (an obstacle, as my brother pointed out, to monetization—you only have one half-time in which to show commercials); the scores are too low; and the action is rare.

The typical soccer game certainly requires a great deal of endurance:  I’m told that an average soccer player runs several miles during the course of a match.  But it’s all kabuki theatre, at least to my (admittedly) untrained eye.  All that running around seems to accomplish precious little, as players scamper about for agonizingly long stretches of time without really accomplishing anything.

In that meaningless but constant motion, I see a metaphor for the political systems found in nations that are perennially good at soccer.  Take this year’s champions:  France is not about actually being productive—scoring points—but about treading water.  Lycee-educated bureaucrats kick back to comfortable, easy jobs with short hours; workers of every stripe enjoy excessive labor protections; nothing is open on the weekends.

No wonder France’s unemployment rate in 2017 was 9.4% (down from a modest 10% from the previous year), while its youth unemployment rate is a whopping 19.3% (and didn’t get below 20% until April of this year).  French youngsters can’t get employment because the statist economic system limits growth, discourages innovation, and incentivizes bad or lazy employees.  Employees cannot be fired “at-will”—that is, without cause—and the process to remove underperforming employees takes month.  If you’re a French employee who knows he’s going to be fired, you might as well kick back for a few months and enjoy getting paid for doing nothing.  What’re they going to do, fire you?

While we should certainly treat workers with respect—and some labor protections are no-doubt positive—we have to remember there’s an employer who has put up a great deal of capital to try to make a profitable enterprise work.  No employer, no employees.  Sometimes a worker, while well-intentioned, just doesn’t work out, and the employer needs the flexibility to replace underperforming employees at will.

But I digress.  This essay is ostensibly about soccer.  Some additional thoughts:

Soccer is inherently un-American.  Yes, it’s hugely popular with younger children, which has led pundits to predict its ascendancy for decades.  But let’s consider why it’s popular.  John Derbyshire in his latest episode of Radio Derb argues that soccer caught on among upper-middle-class American children because their overprotective and status-conscious mothers saw it as “European,” and, therefore, more sophisticated and cultured (ignoring, as Derbyshire points out, all the hooliganism that goes with soccer).

A more compelling theory is Chuck Klosterman’s, from his 2004 book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, a collection of essays that I enjoyed immensely in my graduate school and early teaching days.  Klosterman argues that children like soccer because they’re bad at sports:

Soccer unconsciously rewards the outcast, which is why so many adults are fooled into thinking their kids love it. The truth is that most children don’t love soccer; they simply hate the alternatives more. For 60 percent of the adolescents in any fourth-grade classroom, sports are a humiliation waiting to happen. These are the kids who play baseball and strike out four times a game. These are the kids afraid to get fouled in basketball, because it only means they’re now required to shoot two free throws, which equates to two air balls. Basketball games actually stop to annihilate them.

That is why soccer seems like such a respite from all that mortification; it’s the one aerobic activity where nothingness is expected. Even at the highest levels, every soccer match seems to end 1-0 or 2-1. A normal eleven-year-old can play an entire season without placing toe to sphere and nobody would even notice, assuming he or she does a proper job of running about and avoiding major collisions.

When I read this passage originally—probably around 2007 or 2008—I experienced that state that constant readers know well:  the state of having read one’s innermost thoughts and experiences in a book.  As a perpetually plump (and extremely unathletic) child, I looked forward to soccer in Middle School PE class (and my high school NJROTC class) because I knew I’d be able to stand around doing nothing most of the time, and the good athletes would cover for me.

Again, we come to a metaphor for working life in socialistic bureaucracies (and, sadly, many corporate gigs):  if you just keep your head down long enough, someone minimally competent and motivated will get something done; just try to avoid messing up spectacularly and you’ll be okay.

When I’d heard that the United States failed to make it into the World Cup, I was relieved.  It’s not that I don’t want the United States to do well—if we’re going to do something like participate in professional soccer, we might as well do it as well as we can—but I was loathe to witness the spontaneous generation of soccer “fans” awakening from their four-years’ slumber to proselytize about how it’s such a good game.

Methinks they do protest too much.  Soccer sucks; long live [American] football!