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Blue Star

Blue Star


By Scott Sullivan



I thought Disney World was the Happiest Place on Earth till I looked at my billfold after. At least Disney execs were happy.

“You should be too,” said my partner. “Forget money. Embrace the magic.”

“The magic of being broke?”

There’s a reason she’s now a then-partner. “Happy,” I began to lecture, “is in the beholder’s eye. Let’s discuss ethical philosophies.”

“Do we have to?”

“Relativism,” I went on, “is the theory no absolute truths exist. They are relative to the subject and can vary from person to person, culture to culture. Absolutism asserts that certain actions are right or wrong in and of themselves, no matter how people or groups interpret them.”

“That’s the trouble with our vacations,” she sighed. “You’re never not there. We’re finished.”

She was absolute about that one. Happier too. As for me? Depends.

To make things simpler, I looked up “happy.” Which made things harder. The dictionary listed multiple definitions. Is it:

  • Delighted, pleased or glad, as over a particular thing: to be happy to see (or not see) a person?
  • Characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment or joy: a happy frame of mind?
  • Favored by fortune, lucky: a happy coincidence?
  • Obsessed by or quick to use something: be trigger-happy, have happy feet?

Is happiness a warm puppy? Warm gun? Choice? Only real when shared?

Had she stayed, I was eager next to define “define.” Is it:

  • To state or describe exactly what a word means?
  • Clearly mark out a word’s boundaries, limits?

Turns out “making definite” is as relative as the next thing.

The 2018 World Happiness Report is even less absolute. It goes on for 172 pages describing assessment criteria, methodology, variables and more excuses. Pages 22-24 cut to the chase, sort of, ranking Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland the happiest countries. Burundi nipped other equatorial nations to claim 156th place, dead last. Some like it hot, but more are happy with stable governments and cold cash.

Given that, what’s with Michigan State University trying to bail out or cover up how key leaders, such as Saugatuck native and now-former osteopathy dean William Strampel, failed to monitor sports doctor Larry Nassar as he sexually abused women for 20 years?

MSU, like the University of Michigan, my alma mater Purdue and others, is a great learning institution whose size is such you’re not proud of everyone who escapes there.

Have a problem? Deal with it. Choose to ignore it, dismiss victims’ claims and/or hide it, it just gets worse. Institutions should serve individuals, not vice versa. MSU isn’t the first to reverse that order and have hell to pay for it.

There, I made absolute statements. Time to equivocate. The American justice system (read “institution that’s mostly stable”) assumes we are innocent till proven guilty.

Say a girl complains about Larry Nassar. He, a celebrated sports physician, explains what he’s done is a medical procedure. Absent physical evidence, do you fire him?

Then you hear another complaint. Then others. Now it’s he said/a lot of shes said. Nassar worked for MSU 20 years; at what point did overseers hear alarm bells? Did doubt become reasonable enough to assure he was monitored directly?

The women abused are of course the worst victims. Next come others who feel unsafe, neglected and unprotected on that or any other campus. Why should MSU graduates have their degrees tainted by these actions?

Who gets held accountable? Even though MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis have “retired,” they remain on the payroll big time. Strampel is still tenured unless and until a faculty hearing committee revokes that status.

Wait, there’s more. MSU paid roughly $500,000 in January for a New York PR firm to track media coverage related to the Nassar case, and now faces settling more than 200 civil suits filed by women and girls against it.

Why should my Michigan taxes continue rewarding financial “stewards” like these? Should tuition be raised or the school’s endowment tapped to cover one cent of this?

“Here’s the latest,” I told my daughter Flannery, 18, who is coming into this world her predecessors have bestowed on her. “The arrested MSU dean is a Saugatuck boy made bad. Last I reported on Strampel two years ago, a veterans group was awarding him highest honors.”

“Does that make you happy?” she asked.

“Ambivalent. What’s gone on is awful. The silver lining — if one exists — is victims gained courage to speak out in numbers until they were heard.”

“Pretty late in the game. Will the evil empire soon be toppled?”

“I wish. But this branch of it has absorbed a few chips. I hope more will follow.”

“Does that make you happy?”

“It’s a work in progress. Depends,” I said.