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What Caused the Progressive Plague? February 14, 2016

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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When we look back at the ravages of a plague that has swept through a region or even a continent, it is many a person’s impulse to, once the dust has settled, do a little detective work and ascertain its origin.   Where did it begin?  What was its root cause?  What was the impetus that caused it to spread across an area so relatively quickly, leaving havoc in its wake?

George Will succinctly observed that for there to be an epidemic, one needs two things; a microbe, and an enabling social context.  For example, the enabling social context for the infamous Black Plague of the 14th Century was increased international trade.  The bacteria causing the deadly disease were found in the saliva of fleas laced with rodent blood.  They hitchhiked on the rats (or, gerbils, as a recent scientific study suggests) as whole colonies of them moved westward through Asia along with merchants traveling along the Silk Road, eventually reaching the ports at Crimea.  The rats wasted no time climbing the mooring ropes of merchant ships bound for ports in Europe, and the rest, as they say was history.  If one were to view a map of the number of dead per square mile (or kilometer) in Europe, it becomes clear that Italy, with its bevy of Mediterranean ports, was the hardest-hit area of Europe during the time of the Black Death almost 700 years ago.

 While media hype may have overblown the occasional Ebola outbreak in west Africa, nothing like the Black Plague has ravaged society like it did Europe so long ago.

 That said, another infectious plague, this time of the ideological persuasion, has been ravaging America for the past century:  that of Progressivism.  But what caused its spread at the outset of the Twentieth Century?  Sure, the microbe of the authoritarian ideology had germinated amongst some of the intelligentsia during the last couple of decades of the 19th Century (e.g, John Dewey and his idea that we should be “free” from poverty).  At that same time, Woodrow Wilson found out how to rationalize his knowing what was best for his fellow man.   He did so while studying for his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University, a school that imported the collectivist, bureaucratic German thinking of the age in the attempt to infect the American-nurtured concept of a freeborn citizenry.

 But while the ideological microbe had grown into a potent colony of cells by the 1900s, what was the social context that unleashed its destruction?  Blame the progress of that time, indirectly.  Joel Mokyr of the Manhattan Institute explains the context.  The hallmark of the 20th Century, he says, in terms of human progress, was large-scale technology.  Some examples include:  massive shipping containers; manned spacecraft (or just communication satellites) launched into space on huge rockets; oil-drilling platforms; massive power stations; steel mills and car assembly plants that take up many acres, not to mention huge airplanes (from Howard Hughes’ Hercules to the recently-retired Boeing 747).

 While these are familiar sights today, a century ago, such large-scale things would be absolutely awe-inspiring.  At that time, titans of industry were opening up production facilities at scales undreamed of then.  For example, Henry Ford opened up his Highland Park plant in 1910, and implemented the first auto assembly line there four years later.  By 1917, Ford already started building his even-larger Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich.  The size of this plant is mind-boggling even by today’s standards, what with its covering 960 acres (that is one-and-a-half square miles), and had 100 miles of internal railroad track.  At its peak, 100,000 men earned their livings in that gargantuan facility.

 At the same time, giant steel mills sprang up along the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, and even more so along the Allegheny and Monongahela of Pittsburgh.  As political scientist Michael Barone speculated, these had to have been breathtaking to people in the 1910s, since most of those folks grew up on farms where the tallest structure they had ever seen was the steeple of their local town’s church.

 Also during this time, immigrants came to America through New York harbor.  They travelled on ocean liners that were the largest ever built, and once in the Big Apple, they witnessed skyscrapers continuing to arise, one higher than the other.  Some of them held offices for the titan industrialists and financiers, like that of John D. Rockefeller at 26 Broadway and J.P. Morgan at 23 Wall Street.  Behind them was the 60-story Woolworth Building, which was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1913, and would maintain that distinction until the Chrysler Building was built in 1930

All this was amazing progress by the standards of any age, before or after.  But it came with a major side effect.  “Large” technology had the tendency to encourage large bureaucracies and large government.  To be sure, you needed this sort of large, military-style bureaucracy and centralized control in the private sector to manage those 100,000 workers at Ford’s factory complex in Dearborn, and eventually, to manage the big unions that grew with it and other plants.

It thus became an easy sell to the voting public that that with so much wealth and such gigantic means of production concentrated in the hands of so relatively few, that both (a bigger) government and (growing) labor unions should be a counterweight of power in society, lest we somehow become a Plutocracy (or so the Progressive narrative went as part of their sales pitch to the people).

Of course, that was 100 years ago:  this is now.  And now, the potentially new American Century is defined by small-scale technology.  Television is a good example:  they used to take up whole consoles in a living room.  Now, you can watch network and cable TV shows alike on your portable, lightweight smartphone on demand.  Henry Ford’s plants were an icon of that industrial age, while the smartphone is an icon of ours.

Another contrast between the ages, technologically-speaking, is the military.  Large technology begat large armies, as is evident in both World Wars.  Historian Niall Ferguson estimates that total casualties of the First World War alone to be about 9.5 million deaths and 15 million wounded.  Almost three decades later, military tactics evolved along with the technology.  Gone were the Napoleonic approaches of trench warfare; in was General Patton’s mechanized warfare doctrine, which, according to military historian Robert Shales, culminated in the march to Baghdad in 2003.  But the enemies adapted, and the mass armies that were of Patton’s time have given way to special operations forces who are more adept at dealing with asymmetrical warfare.

The reason that large-scale technology became the breeding ground for Progressivism to infect the public like the Plagues of yore was that it required the standardization of masses of people; it required centralized command-and-control, along with conformity to social norms (the latter of which might ironically appeal to social conservatives today, contingent on the social benefit of said norms).

Yet it is “small” technology of the current day and age that enables more individuals to make individual choices, to fashion our world in our own dimensions, and to apply our talents and pursue interests in ways that we choose.  In short, what has happened over the past 100 years, at least in terms of options in the market, is that standardization has given way to customization.

The B. Hussein Obama Progressives of today do not understand this at all.  They – the President included – see history as a progress from minimal government to ever-larger, ever-growing government.  This is only logical, since government is the false god they worship.  Indeed, such religious zeal blinds Progressives to the fact that history does not proceed in a straight line.  One only needs to see the decline of Rome, and the technological and economic stagnation of the Dark Ages that succeeded it, to understand this fact.

More to the point, that fact is on display today.  The Progessives’ religious fixation on big government has thus led to a major disconnect in our society.  Sure, it was an easy sell to the public 100 years ago given the afore-explained context of large-scale technology.  But the “small” technology of today requires a different approach; that is, more adaptability and responsiveness to constituents.  One does not get that from the bloated bureaucracies of a big government that is a disastrous holdover from yesteryear.

Kansas State: Shades of 1998 November 18, 2012

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We’ve seen this before.  This is not the first time that Kansas State’s national championship run was ruined late in the season.  The Wildcats made a similar run in 1998, defeating powerful Nebraska for the first time in 30 years, among other things.  But come the Big XII championship game of that year, K-State overlooked a hungry Texas A&M, who snuck up on them and overtook them towards the end of the game.  Although that bumped the Wildcats down to only no. 4 in the rankings, it was too late to get a decent consolation prize.

Everyone seemed to assume that K-State was a lock on the Fiesta Bowl (where the BCS national championship was to be held), so other teams got “locked-in” to other BCS bowl games (Orange, Sugar and Rose).  With the Wildcats’ unexpected loss, they were left out in the proverbial cold, having to settle for the Alamo Bowl, then given the no. 4 pick for both the Big XII and the Big Ten.  One would imagine that they would not be too happy with having to settle for that lesser prize.  Purdue, their opponent for the 1998 Alamo Bowl, was, conversely, quite happy to make a return appearance in San Antonio (a fun town for a bowl game, fyi.), having won that bowl game the previous year.  Though the Boilers were unranked and Kansas State was still the fourth-highest ranked team in the land, Purdue came in, what made the difference was that Purdue was happy to be there for the Dec. 29 game, K-State not so much.

Despite Coach Bill Snyder’s moderately happy-sounding speech at the kickoff luncheon the day before the game (Dec. 28, 1998) in a convention room of the Marriott Hotel in downtown San Antonio, where he assured both the Wildcat and Boilermaker fans in attendance that “we’re very much looking forward to playing the University of Purdue,” they sure did not give that impression on the field of play in the Alamodome the next evening.  After a scoreless first quarter, Purdue drew (if you’ll pardon the expression) first blood in the second with a Drew Brees touchdown pass to Chris Daniels, and we never let up for the rest of the game.  Only in the last few minutes did K-State manage to inch ahead of us with a touchdown of their own, but Purdue answered on the very next possession, marching right down the field and put it away for good.  The Wildcats did have the last possession of the game, but with only less than a minute or so left in the game, they were unable to muster the necessary score.  We triumphed in the end, 37-34.  It was our biggest win in probably 20 years.

I say “we” because I was but a freshman student manager on the Purdue team during that game, witnessing all of this first-hand.  The point in all of this, given recent developments, is that we’ve seen this scenario with K-State play out before.  The Wildcats seem to be on the same path today.  The only saving grace for K-State today is that this sudden, season-derailing loss from last night came earlier than when the Big XII championship game would be (there is no such game for this season, given the recent changes in conference membership). Hence, there is still time to salvage things with earning a more prestigious bowl berth than the booby prize of the Alamo Bowl from 14 years ago.

Yet another reason for K-State getting, well, hosed that year is a manifestation of certain perpetual handicaps against the program.  Unlike traditional powers including, say, Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, or even Notre Dame, all of whom have strong, national fan bases, Kansas State, although a strong program, lacks that advantage.  Strong fan bases equal strong money and clout, something the Wildcats continue to lack.  Kansas State University is located in Manhattan, Kan., nicknamed “The Little Apple.”  It is in the middle of nowhere, in a state that has the same reputation.  It has no major market to tie itself to, unlike the Longhorns, who can not only claim Austin, but also Dallas and Houston.  The Buckeyes claim Columbus, as well as Cincinnati and Cleveland.  Even Notre Dame can claim Chicago, and to an extent, New York itself.  K-State lacks that major market anchor, and that goes a long way towards its overall lack of relative clout.  Even a team like West Virginia can claim Pittsburgh as its anchor market.  Claiming Kansas City is a stretch for KSU, who must also share the area with the Kansas Jayhawks, along with the Missouri Tigers.  Does that leave KSU Wichita?  Geography has conspired to make the lack of clout an unsolvable problem for the Wildcats, as far as one can foresee.

But another key difference in scenarios today is that, in the wake of K-State being kicked down to the no. 4 bowl pick for the Big XII Conference in 1998 —  much less the overall rankings — shortly thereafter the BCS implemented a rule that a team ranked that highly* would get an automatic berth into one of the BCS “big four,” instead of being relegated to a second or third-tier postseason game.  Perhaps the Fiesta Bowl is not out of the question, boys, but you still must pass through the eye of the needle that is Texas in two weeks’ time.

*Although Kansas State was ranked no. 4 in both the AP and Coaches’ Polls, they were actually ranked no. 3 in the BCS.

Bobby Petrino’s Potential Next Job(s) October 19, 2012

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The approximate half-way point in the college football regular season is upon us, and while many surprises and other developments surely await us fans, some coaches are already feeling the heat…the heat of the hotseat, that is!  Deny it as they might, certain fanbases are restless, and already talking about who might replace their failing current head coach.  One candidate that keeps emerging in water cooler conversation is none other than Bobby Petrino.

Yes, as mentioned in a previous blog entry, he is so mercenary as a coach that he gives other mercenaries a bad name, to borrow a line from Paul Freeman’s character in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But he wins, and has proven to do so at Louisville (taking the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2006 season), and at Arkansas, making the program so strong as to merit a preseason top-ten ranking in the eyes of the voters.  Had he not exhibited a horrible lapse in judgment in putting his mistress on the department payroll – to say nothing of having a mistress in the first place while being a married man – there is no telling what sort of memorable season the Razorbacks would be having right now.

A coach that can win like that, despite his baggage and his less-than-loyal track record, will surely have offers by season’s end.  The teams that will likely extend that offer – the likelihood being of a considerable varying degree from team to team – are listed and explained as follows:

Kentucky:  Despite his denials at SEC Media Days earlier this summer – denials of him “not feeling any heat” — Joker Phillips, as decent a man as he may be, is clearly in over his head as the coach of Kentucky’s program.  Rich Brooks left the program in decent shape (actually, in very good shape by Kentucky’s standards), but Joker is a reminder of the inevitable program decay that follows when one promotes the long-time loyal assistant to the head man role instead of an ambitious outsider.  In two-and-a-half seasons as head coach, Phillips has only managed to go 12-20.  Given his geographical disadvantages (it is Kentucky, after all), and that UK plays in the SEC, any coach faces an uphill challenge.  But the fans nevertheless have been understandably grumbling, as the empty seats in Commonwealth Stadium attest.  Could Petrino be brought in to turn things around?

It’s Possible:  Given how mercenary Petrino is, he could very well coach against Louisville.  In a weird way, it would be somewhat fitting, given that his recruiting techniques were pioneered by Fran Curci, the head coach back in the late 1970s.  Petrino himself perfected the recruiting technique (recruiting talented athletes that are potentially, er, troubled) by adding a new layer to the approach with his own, patented system of keeping the potential troublemakers in line and on  a short leash.

It’s Impossible:  Joker’s current salary is $1.7 million a year.  Not bad, but Petrino would expect a lot more to make up for the fact that his team will take a back seat to basketball team due to the UK faithful’s perpetually misplaced priorities.  The bigger problem, though, is in Petrino’s skill set.  The program will be in something of a mess.  Some head coaches are skilled at being turnaround CEOs (think:  Steve Spurrier, or, more to the point, Howard Schnellenberger; in the pros, think:  Bill Parcells).  But turnaround CEOs do not always do well long-term because their skillset is turning a struggling program around into a respectable one, in good working order.  Petrino’s skillset is that of a caretaker CEO; taking programs that are already in decent working order and tweak them slightly to gradually make them better and better.  It is not proven that he can take a program struggling as badly as Kentucky is and take them to where Arkansas was prior to his sudden ouster.

Alabama:  Try not to laugh.  Yes, Nick Saban continues to solidify his bona fides as one of the best coaches in the business while the Crimson Tide is on course to vie for yet another national title.  But there is a potential drawback in this.  Saban is so good in part because he is highly aspirational, and highly aspirational people get bored very easily.  One more national championship, and it is quite likely that Saban will be looking for a new challenge, either another program to rehab, or a franchise if he chose to go back to the pros.  Keep in mind that he built his reputation as a capable coach under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, before he left the defensive coordinator job there to become the new head coach of Michigan State back in 1995.  Not only might he get bored after winning yet another national title, but he could also be sick of dealing with the insane fans and boosters, having to recruit all the time, and not being able to go to the grocery store for fear of getting mobbed by a fanbase that has been known to love its program to death.  All these things ought to be kept in mind.

It Could Happen:  Timing, in this case, is everything.  If Saban leaves after this year, and Petrino does not have many more appealing choices, this could work.  Alabama has demonstrated they are willing to pay top dollar for the best coaching talent and will commit whatever resources the circumstances require to be a perennial championship contender.  It could work, if certain potential developments first occur.

It Ain’t Gonna Happen:  As ambitious as Petrino is, does he really want to coach in what has been acknowledged to be the biggest pressure cooker in all of football, college or pro?  His ambition would surely be put to the test with such a job.  Aside from that, the timing could be bad.  Saban might not leave for newer challenges after this year, assuming he does so at all any time soon.  Petrino is not going to hold his breath while other programs might come calling.

Auburn:  Don’t laugh.  Sure, Gene Chizik is only two seasons removed from winning the BCS national championship in a thrilling game against Oregon.  But he is only 1-5 thus far this season.  Football fans in the Yellowhammer State, either pro-Tide or pro-Tiger, will not stand for such a disgrace.  As Doug Gillett of EDSBS reminds us, Winston Churchill, one of history’s greatest statesmen, was given the pink slip by British voters just 58 days after the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany.  Auburn already courted Petrino on the sly before while the mercenary coach did his stint at Louisville.  He was the offensive coordinator before deciding to lead the Cardinals starting in 2003.  His ties to the loveliest little village on the Plains is thus well-established.

It’s Possible:  Only if Chizik sets a new record for the quickest time a coach is fired after winning a national championship.  He already has been [ahem] ‘awarded’ as “Desperately seeking….ANYTHING” in the CFB Week 7 Awards.  The upcoming Vandy game is, at this rate, a toss-up, and Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama remain on the schedule.  Will the War Eagle faithful countenance a potential 4-8 year?  If not, guess whom they might call.

It’s not Possible:  Only if the above scenario of ousting Chizik after only two years when we won the whole darn thing does not come to fruition, and be mindful that it would set a new record/precedent if it did.

Texas:  Let’s face it; Mack Brown’s record against hated rival Oklahoma is spotty at best.  The Sooners have to recruit Texas in order to be successful.  This template dates back to the days of Bud Wilkinson (!).  The Longhorns have the built-in advantage of, well, already being there.  The University of Texas is THE flagship school/program of the biggest, best football state in the entire U.S. of A.  They have the pick of the litter; first dibs on the cream of the crop.  Yet they were given a 63-21 butt-whipping at the hand of Bob Stoops’ Sooner squad in the Cotton Bowl this past week.  Losing to a high-powered West Virginia team was one thing, but losing this badly to Oklahoma is too bitter a pill to swallow for the Texas fans, as thoroughly decent and gracious a man as he may be (indeed, on that front, one of the classiest acts in the business.)

It Could Happen:  If enough movers and shakers in Longhorn Nation think that the game has passed Mack Brown by, a vacancy will open.  If enough of said movers and shakers are committed to the idea of never allowing such a loss to Oklahoma to happen on their watch, guess whom they might call.  If they do, the potential upside is tremendous.  As things currently stand, the team is not a mess, just short on playmakers.  With Petrino at the helm, the Horns could become an overnight juggernaut that would give Stoops and Co. in Norman, Okla., more than cause for notice.

It Couldn’t Happen:  There is a great duality to Longhorns fans.  Yes, they care very, very deeply, but unlike the Alabama faithful, they have something called “lives.”  This gives them perspective on things that other devoted fans sometimes lack, and might not call for Mack Brown’s gentle ouster until things could get worse.  Again, as mentioned before, Petrino is not exactly a man to hold his breath, even for the best job in all of college football (along with USC).
(Addendum 10-21-21) Tennessee:  One reader very simply commented, “Tennessee?”  Such an obvious suggestion, and it makes me kick myself in the pants for not adding this [theoretical] possibility to the list in the first place.   So what about it?  The Volunteers are current 3-4, having just lost to Alabama, arguably their most hated rival in a conference that is certainly full of them, to varying degrees.  Earlier in the year, the Vols blew the game against Florida, seemingly a winnable contest at the time.  The loss to Georgia may be understandable, but losing to Mississippi State is still a hard one to swallow, no matter how much improved the Bulldogs are.  To say that Derek Dooley is on the hot seat is therefore an understatement, and it will not get any easier next week, as they must a South Carolina team looking to get well on them — in Columbia, no less!  Make no mistake about it, the Volunteer Nation is grumbling, and a potential 7-5 year will not necessarily pacify them.

It might happen:  Already plenty of Tennessee fans are calling for Dooley’s head on a plate, and let us not forget that he was essentially a stop-gap/default hire after Lane Kiffin’s sudden departure.  Of all the coaches in the SEC, Dooley might be on just as thin ice as Joker Phillips at Kentucky.  If the ice were to break, it is not much of a stretch of the imagination as to whom AD Dave Hart might call.  Tennessee has the resources to pay Petrino a competitive salary; the tradition, fan base, and resources are there to make it a “destination job,” and he would no doubt get the administrative support he would need.

It might not happen:  Only if the fan base and administration are happy with another [potential] 7-5 season and a  mediocre-to-lower tier bowl game.

Other (very) longshots:  Forget Arkansas; no way they will re-hire someone whom they fired for egregious indiscretions in the first place.  Florida might have been on people’s radar screens as a potential job opening, as the fans and media alike were not, for a while, sold on Will Muschamp as their guy.  But he seems to have righted the ship this year with a very stingy defense and improved QB play, meaning that he could be Gator Nation’s guy after all.  Organizationally, Petrino would be a good fit for Florida, and would kick butt like nobody’s business, but things are currently going fine in Gainesville, at least for this year.  If any of you dear readers would like to speculate on where else BP could end up, please offer your thoughts in the comment section!