In This Episode: 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.
- 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.” (Note 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.”
How to Subscribe
Search for Uncommon Sense in your podcast app or on iTunes, or manually enter this feed URL into your app: https://thisistrue.com/feed/podcast
Or you can subscribe to email notifications in the sidebar (see the form labeled “Blog Post Notifications” which will send you an automated email notification of all new blog posts, including podcasts).
Comments and Questions?
Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham.
This 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.
Since this is a redo, comments start with those made on the original post — the dates are correct.