011: We Need Better Heroes

In This Episode: Some people — usually people with Uncommon Sense — aspire to something greater than the whims of the masses and can make a huge impact on the world. This episode looks at what we as a society pay a lot of attention to, at the detriment to the much more important things we pretty much ignore. The difference: mind-blowing.

011: We Need Better Heroes

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Show Notes

  • To help support Uncommon Sense, see the Patron’s Page, or the form in the sidebar.
011: We Need Better Heroes
Jeanne Rousseau all dressed up, and plenty of places to go. The spy, ready for action.
  • KUSA Denver’s report on the cheerleaders being forced to endure pain, despite their protestations. Note that the TV station has a warning at the top: “Editor’s note: the video included in this story is difficult to watch and may not be suitable for all viewers.” (This report isn’t the basis of True’s story: that was from reports by the Denver Post, here and here.)
  • The Honorary Unsubscribe of WWII spy Jeannie Rousseau.
  • The Washington Post’s 1998 interview of Rousseau is here (but note: as an older story, it’s behind a paywall.)
  • I mention that Rousseau was “humble.” Here’s an example quote from that Post interview: “What I did was so little,” Rousseau said. “Others did so much more. I was one small stone.”


We get more of what we pay attention to. But some people — usually people with Uncommon Sense — aspire to something greater than the whims of the masses and can make a huge impact on the world. This episode looks at what we as a society pay a lot of attention to, at the detriment to the much more important things we pretty much ignore. I have a story about each, and the contrast is mind-blowing.

Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham.

011: We Need Better HeroesThis is a redo of a first-season episode through the lens of the newer Uncommon Sense slant. It was triggered by a story from issue 1211 of the This is True newsletter, which will be included on the Show Page at thisistrue.com/podcast11. It’s called, “Save The Cheerleader, Save The World.”

The title is a catchphrase from the TV series “Heroes” …which I actually didn’t watch except for the episodes featuring my friend David Lawrence, who played the Evil Puppet Master toward the end of the series.

I’m not going to read the story to you — you can find it on the Show Page — but you’ll get the idea. Apparently, East High School in Denver, Colorado, is known for its cheerleading squad. KUSA TV news in Denver was given some videos taken at the school’s Cheer Camp in June 2017. The eight videos show multiple cheerleaders being pushed — verbally and physically forced — to do splits, and every one of them is screaming in pain and asking the coaches to stop.

That sounds pretty horrible, and parents complained about this, putting the blame on coach Ozell Williams. And even though several parents complained, and showed school officials the video evidence, the school didn’t do a thing about it. They specifically complained, they said, to assistant principal and athletic director Lisa Porter.

While this happened in June, this didn’t actually hit the news until late August. And that’s because apparently the parents went to the media and took these videos to the TV station to show them, because the school wouldn’t do anything about it.

Even if the school officials didn’t do anything about it, once it hit TV, Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg did do something about it: he immediately put five school officials, including a district official, on administrative leave. By the next day, after the Denver Post picked up the story, he fired the coach. Meanwhile, the Denver Post says, the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper reported that Coach Williams was fired from his job there as a paid consultant to the Boulder Valley School District after similar complaints in 2016. So, it’s not like he didn’t know that maybe his techniques would be controversial.

Boasberg said, “We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy. We do not and will not allow any situation in which a student is forced to perform an activity or exercise beyond the point in which they express their desire to stop.”

What about the videos? “With regard to certain videos,” he said, “I cannot state strongly enough, as the superintendent of the school district, and as the father of two high-school-aged daughters, that the images and actions depicted are extremely distressing and absolutely contrary to our core values as a public school community.”

Now, you would think that the school officials would have a similar attitude about that, but apparently not. He suspended not only coach Williams, but also principal Andy Mendelsberg, assistant principal and athletic director Lisa Porter, mentioned earlier, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis, and the district’s deputy general counsel — their lawyer — Michael Huckman: all placed on administrative leave, and then Williams was fired. Again.

So even if the school officials didn’t do their job, assuming that they did in fact know about this incident, the superintendent did, and rather quickly. And, Boasberg said, as part of the investigation, the school district is “looking into internal communications to ensure that such oversights like controversial information not working its way to the top, does not happen in the future.” Well there’s a good idea: maybe Superintended Boasberg has Uncommon Sense!

My tagline on this story was, “How to tell society hasn’t grown up yet? When everyone in power ignores screams of ‘Please stop!’ because only females are complaining.” The girls complained, begged the coaches to stop. The mothers complained, and were ignored — even by a female school official — for weeks. But once it hit the news, OK! Then the guys jumped in and things happened. I think those girls felt really let down that even the women that were in charge ignored them.

But to widen this point a little, the bigger issue isn’t just these girls who were apparently hurt, but that schools put way too much emphasis on athletics to begin with. I thought schools were there to teach kids about reading, writing, arithmetic, science — not football and rah-rah cheers. Some schools — even high schools — put millions toward football, and then plead poverty when it comes to music, art, and science: the things that move society forward.

So why is that? I think it’s because we put emphasis on the wrong things. We hold up professional athletes as some kind of heroes, but I prefer different kinds of heroes. That’s what the Honorary Unsubscribe is about: someone featured in the newsletter just about every week. I call them “the people you wish you had met.” And the same issue that had the cheerleader story had an Honorary Unsubscribe for Jeannie Rousseau, an incredible lady who lived a long, long life. I’ll link to that writeup on the Show Page.

Rousseau died August 25th, 2017, at age 98. And what she was, most people even in France didn’t know about: she was a spy in World War II. She actually got information about Hitler’s guided missile program to London in 1943, even identifying exactly where the plant was where they were developing the weapon. The first V-1 wasn’t even launched toward London until 1944, and were known as buzz-bombs because of their pulse-jet propulsion.

The Nazis had amazing fortifications to protect the facility, so one bombing run wasn’t enough: the British did four different bombing runs on this over the course of months. Even though that still didn’t destroy the whole complex, since it was so well fortified, it did slow the Nazis down, so Rousseau clearly saved thousands of lives.

One of the reasons that people didn’t know about what she did during the war came out in a 1998 article in the Washington Post, which I’ll link to on the Show Page. And that concluded, “she dodged most reporters and historians and reluctantly accepted a special medal from then CIA director James Woolsey in 1993.” Woolsey had heard about her because the text of her reports about the Nazi’s V-1 rocket program appears in the book “The Wizard War” by Reginald Jones, who was the chief of Britain’s intelligence efforts relating to science during World War II. So the citation she got from the CIA “lauded her for brilliant and effective espionage and for courage that is truly awe-inspiring.”

And isn’t that more of the kind of hero that society should look up to? We have strutting football players who — woo hoo! — got the ball over the goal line! …versus a humble woman who saved thousands of lives by shortening a war, and helping the good guys win over the evil-doers who started it.

It wasn’t easy for her: Rousseau was captured and endured two concentration camps and, get this, a “punishment camp.” When the concentration camp isn’t punishing enough, Nazis sent you to a punishment camp! Yet, they didn’t break her. She was a slight pretty young woman in her 20s when all this happened, and the Nazi interrogators couldn’t get her to talk! As the CIA said in their citation, “truly awe-inspiring.” There aren’t many football players who could do it!

So how did she do it? She got herself invited to parties of German officers in Paris, looked pretty, and listened to everything they said, since as a language expert she was fluent in German — and then rushed home and wrote it all down. To get more details, she would say things like, “Oh no, that can’t be true what you’re talking about!” And the German officers would reply, “Let me show you these reports and plans!” — and they did! And once she got it all written down, she sent the information to London. It’s like an episode of “Hogan’s Heroes”!

I actually have a little excerpt of one of her two main rocket reports that’s been translated into English. I’m not sure who did the translation, but I’m guessing she did it herself: since she was an expert on languages, she knew that sending reports of this magnitude to London, the best way to translate it is to translate it yourself so that you’re sure that it says exactly what you want it to say. Let me read you just a little section:

It appears that the final stage has been reached in developing a stratospheric bomb of an entirely new type. This bomb is reported to be 10 cubic meters in volume and filled with explosive. It would be launched almost vertically to reach the stratosphere as quickly as possible, initial velocity being maintained by successive explosions. The trials are understood to have given immediate excellent results as regards accuracy, and it was to the success of these trials that Hitler was referring when he spoke of “new weapons that will change the face of the war when the Germans use them.”

So London knew, before the buzz bombs started coming in, that Hitler was coming up with something new and he definitely intended to use it. Her contact — her handler, if you will, as a spy — was Georges Lamarque. And apparently he was known to the British and trusted by them. He actually wrote a little foreword on Rousseau’s report. And he says, “This material looks preposterous. But I have total faith in my source.” He was vouching for her. He was trusting her. And good thing, because she was totally right. Another little part of the report says, “A German officer estimates that only 50 to 100 of these bombs would suffice to destroy London. The batteries will be sited so that they can methodically destroy most of Britain’s large cities during the winter.” That’s one hell of a threat, and she got those details by asking questions. Uncommon Sense? You bet.

So, no wonder this was sent directly to Winston Churchill, and he personally ordered that site to be bombed. When you have somebody like this woman versus even an absolute sports star? There’s no question in my mind who I think is a hero.

Kids need to know there’s life after Cheer Camp, and after high school: there are goals much higher to aspire to when you liberally apply Uncommon Sense: we need better heroes than “sports stars.” And they’re there …if we look for them.

The Show Notes for this episode are at thisistrue.com/podcast11

I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.

Comments Note

Since this is a redo, comments start with those made on the original post — the dates are correct.

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14 Comments on “011: We Need Better Heroes

  1. I’ve read several stories about spies during WWII. This is possibly the most amazing! I will have to find that British book… Keep up the good reporting!

    And I frankly despise the emphasis on sports. I was in music all through school, and know that those kids suffer in more ways than physical…

  2. Good stories! I never listen, but the reading is cool! Thanks for the text.

    The solution to the people who were making young girls “do the splits” is very simple: Make them do the splits. In public, of course. 5 times s/b enough.

    And the layoffs? Permanent. And no more jobs involving people under 21 for you people, because, well, we are not sure you can handle having authority.

    And the school? No cheerleading team/squad for you for 3 years. The news would get around. And it would NEVVVER be forgotten.

    Brutal? Mayhaps. But effective, for sure.

  3. The podcasts are thought provoking. Although cheerleading never was high on my list of interesting things to do, I have felt their presence.

    Is coach a bit of a sadist? Sickens me a bit that two months of pain before a response. Only after media gets involved!?! Weird, too weird!

    I’m looking forward to the next podcast. I wanted to let you know that one person in Chicago is listening.

    Thanks, Maria! -rc

  4. I enjoyed a couple of books about spies in WWII. I loved them and the people who braved everything for freedom. I never heard of this lady. She is awe-inspiring.

  5. The paragraph about Georges Lamarque’s comment supporting Rousseau is very pertinent, as Churchill’s scientific advisor completely dismissed the possibility of the V2. Anyone interested in the might read “The Mare’s Nest” by David Irvine, the story of the V weapons.

    Influential experts being very wrong is not a new phenomenon!

  6. Um, I think you have your bombs/weapons mixed up. You refer to the “buzz bombs” and her report that the new bombs would be “launched almost vertically to reach the stratosphere as quickly as possible”. This seems to imply that the “buzz bombs” were what her report was referring to. It was not. It was referring to the V-2 stratospheric missile, the world’s 1st ballistic missile. The V-1 “buzz bombs” were not “launched almost vertically to reach the stratosphere as quickly as possible”. They were launched almost horizontally (i.e. they were most similar to today’s Cruise Missile). The German bombs that WERE “launched almost vertically to reach the stratosphere as quickly as possible” were the V-2s and they were not “buzz bombs”. The “buzz bombs” did get their name from the sound of their pulse-jet engines, but that was only because they could be heard as they flew along at about 640 km/h (400 mph) at 600 to 900 m (2,000 to 3,000 ft). A weapon “launched almost vertically to reach the stratosphere as quickly as possible” would also fall almost vertically and so would be almost silent as it fell since it’s not a powered decent. The “buzz bombs” (due to their horizontal flight & speed vs. that of British fighters) could be shot down by British fighters, but the V-2 ballistic missiles were impossible to shoot down due to their near vertical, silent descent & impact speed of about 2,880 km/h (1,790 mph) or about Mach 2.3.

    I indeed couldn’t cover the whole story of the technology being developed at the time in a short section of a short podcast. Let’s review.

    German scientist/editor Paul Rosbaud and Norwegian engineering student/XU* agent Sverre Bergh submitted the first detailed description of the Peenemünde facilities and size/shape of missiles to British intelligence in 1941. Their reports were largely ignored until corroborated by Rousseau.

    Rousseau sent her first rocket report to London in September 1943 describing the officer in charge (Col. Max Wachtel), information about the plant location (Peenemünde), lots of technical detail, and the locations of planned launch locations. This is what prompted Britain to take action.

    The pulsejet-powered V-1 (the “buzz bomb”) hadn’t even been launched at that time; it was first launched at London months later, on 13 June 1944 — the first of 9,521 launched toward England alone. Those attacks continued through March 1945. That was indeed the V-1 I described in this episode.

    And yes, the Nazis were also working on a successor to the V-1: the V-2, which was the stratospheric missile Rousseau was describing in the excerpt I read later in the episode from “one of her two main rocket reports.” I see no error or conflict: my conclusion that “London knew, before the buzz bombs started coming in, that Hitler was coming up with something new and he definitely intended to use it” is obviously correct.

    The V-2 wasn’t ready for use as a weapon until September 1944. In all about 1,172 of them were launched toward Belgium, the U.K., and other targets, with the final one launched 27 March 1945. The intelligence provided by Rousseau (and the resulting attacks on Peenemünde) clearly slowed its development, and saved many thousands of lives. -rc

    *XU (X for “unknown” and U for “undercover agent”) was a clandestine intelligence organization working for Allied powers in occupied Norway during World War II. Though its work proved invaluable for operations against German operations in Norway, most of its activities were kept secret until 1988.

  7. Reading again about Mme. Rousseau, who I remembered well from your inclusion of her as an Honorary Unsubscribe, reminds me of how awful it must have been to be one of the senior officials, particularly the British, who knew what was coming but dared not do anything to save the people in the path of the V-1s and V-2s, or the tons of bombs dropped, lest it alert the enemy to the fact that the German Enigma machine code had been broken. To know that many, many thousands of the people you are sworn to protect will die to protect a secret is on a much larger scale like Mme. Rousseau’s ability to resist the tortures the Nazis inflicted on her trying to get her to talk. One pain was mental, the other physical, but both must have been truly terrible.

    I totally agree that sports stars are, virtually without exception, unworthy of the ridiculous admiration and celebrity and CRAZY salaries they receive today, while thousands of wonderful, inspiring people toil for long hours at crummy jobs with low salaries and no admiration whatsoever. Your friend Leo’s daily email story that I signed up for thanks to your recommending it sometime back is a big help right now in reminding me that there ARE wonderful people out there, just not the ones who are famous for being famous (Exhibit A: the Kardashians)! People doing small things that make such a huge difference in other people’s lives are the kinds of stories we learn about too seldom. Thanks for this story; it’s a very vivid example of how we’ve gotten our admiration all twisted up into something unrecognizable from what it should be!

    And I hope all those poor girls got some help to recover from the abuse inflicted on them by that dreadful man!

    • Might I remind you that the “CRAZY salaries” being paid to sport so-called superstars is being paid for by the team owners, and ultimately, by those who attend the overpriced games in the overpriced stadiums (a better name would be “arenas” or “Roman circuses.”) And I will not get into how the cities are suckers for paying for the stadiums.)

      It’s the second part that really irks me…. -rc

  8. I believe that you should do a piece on high schools sports teams and venues, and the inappropriate amount of money being spent by some schools for football stadiums (some of which rival those of older college institutions,) and complexes.

    I found myself fighting an “Independent School District” (ISD) in San Antonio, TX where my children attended. In trying to explain to my 8th grade daughter why her mother and I wanted her to attend a private school despite the argument “all my friends are going to X, and I won’t know anyone at Y.” I requested the ISD to provide me with information about how many children had been awarded scholarships to college and how many had been appointed to the Service Academies. The request was made in late March, and the schools in Texas graduated in early May. I also wanted a breakdown of how many scholarships were for sports and how many of them were for girls and for boys.

    This particular ISD only had one (1) high school, and it was known to be a football powerhouse within the State.

    The school claimed they could not give me the answers because they didn’t have that data. They also refused to answer a Freedom of Information Act request, and I was not wealthy enough to go to court against them. When I took that daughter to the private school at the end of March, the halls were lined with the names of the seniors, what colleges and universities they had been awarded scholarships for, where they had acceptance letters for, and there were multiples of both for every senior girl in the school.

    Yet, this high school had a stadium with greater seating capacity than that of the University of Detroit when I attended. Paid for by, supposedly, game football ticket sales and “the booster club.”

    When our children and grandchildren do not receive a decent education because the school is emphasizing sports, when the boys are getting the vast majority of scholarships and those are for sports, when (as is the case in San Antonio) ISDs are in existence in order to racially separate the majority from the minority (in San Antonio, the majority is Hispanic, and “those people have to be kept in their place.” Whites are actually a minority in that City of more than 7 ISDs,) it is not only the children who lose out, it is society.

    And everyone should be madder than hell about that.

    “The school claimed they could not give me the answers because they didn’t have that data.”

    And that is the problem! If they were truly in the business of education, they would track that and proudly make the results available, just like the other school you toured! So… which school did your daughter end up going to?

    As for “a piece on high schools sports teams and venues, and the inappropriate amount of money being spent by some schools for football stadiums,” that’s part of what this episode is about. Indeed it’s not very deep, but in fact I’ve been contemplating just such a post in relation to my own alma mater. Stay tuned! -rc

  9. University of Arkansas’ Football coach is paid $2 Million a year. The president of the university receives $500,000. The university just spent $100 Million renovating the stadium. Yet there’s no money for upgrading academic facilities. But anyone questioning this is “disloyal.”

    And let’s not forget the linebacker arrested for drug & weapons possession. He’s been “suspended” from the team, but not officially removed.

    He’s clearly well qualified for the NFL. -rc

  10. This struck a major chord with me. I am a retired teacher, and have detested all the sports hero worship for years. The fact that they want to erect a Kobe Bryant statue in Philadelphia is just one more insult to true heroes. What about the other folks who were in that helicopter? The news never names them. I am so tired of the news media making a fuss over what lipstick color a celebrity was wearing, or the naming of a sports figure’s baby, but neglects really important things like the teardrop memorial in New Jersey after 9-11 that was donated, at least as far as I know, by Russians. But very few people have ever heard of it. It is even difficult to find — a few small signs in the area.

    As you know, I’m with you! The groundbreaking for “To the Struggle Against World Terrorism” (the official name of the Tear Drop Memorial, which is located at the end of the former Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne), was in September 2005, and it was dedicated on September 11, 2006, so I’m not really surprised that it’s not in the news much lately; neither is the memorial at Ground Zero. It was indeed a gift from Russia. -rc

  11. I’m an engineer. One of the things I liked about my college (nmt.edu) was the only sports teams were (and still are) student-run teams. In contrast, UNM and NMSU have football teams, and the coaches are paid about 5 times what the college presidents are. Obscene. And — the players don’t see much; most will not go into the pros, and their studies are degraded because of practice demands. This leaves them with a minimal education to try to find a job outside of sports.

    (The numbers are clear: 1 in 100 high school players make it to college on a sports scholarship; 1 in 100 of those will make it to the pros. Just about any nerd who makes it past their first year of college — about 1 in 3 — will go onto graduate with a degree.)

    Who changes the world? You can count on your finger and toes the number of sports folks who have changed the world — Jackie Robinson, for example. *Any* nerd (engineer, scientist, etc) who is in the field for 10 years has changed the world at least once. I have been on several teams where we have. For example, one project was the first tunable telecom laser — something that affects all net and phone communications.

    So all of the money spent on sports does nothing really useful. The only benefit I can see is social cathartic release – not necessarily a bad thing. But it doesn’t change the world in a positive manner.

    I’m guessing you were winging the numbers, but according to the NCAA, 7.1% of high school football players make it onto an NCAA team. Then, after that (again per the NCAA), the chance of getting into the NFL is closer to your number: 1.7%. Of course, getting to an NCAA team or an NFL team doesn’t mean success: some percentage are cut. Still, staying with those numbers, 1.7% of 7.1% is 0.001207% of high school players can be expected make it “to” the NFL. The odds are very, very poor. -rc

    • The 1:100 ratio is what I was told a number of years ago. But they are still in the right range. Basically, 1:10000 make it high school to pros. This basically matches your numbers.

      So the kid who only shoots hoops while dreaming of making it to the NBA — they probably will not. But, if they study math and science, they stand a *much* better chance.

      If you make it to engineering school, you have a 1:3 chance of making it. I think this is a pretty good ratio. We *want* those who are not suited for a career as a nerd to learn quickly and drop out. Saves them a lot of heartache, time, and money. Saves the resources for those who will do well, and means society will get good nerds. A good engineering school is pretty brutal. Has to be, considering the effect one nerd has on society, and the responsibility of that nerd to do their best. *Everything* we touch was designed and implemented by nerds. Ponder that for a minute.

      The stuff I do affects *millions* of people, and I am not unique. I am a design engineer for medical equipment, telecom, and avionics — best case of failure is instant loss of $millions to $billions then burning $millions per hour, average case is people die, worst case a lot of people die.

      I want everybody on the team to be the result of a good Darwinian process. And women engineers are top because they had to go through a more harsh process than the men. Personally, I *love* being on a team with a woman engineer — I know I’m *not* the smartest person on the team, and I have good proof I’m no dummy.

      (Unless I am bleeding out on a street, I will *always* choose J Random woman doctor over a man. She is the product of a more Darwinian process, and she will *listen* to me.)


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