Thursday, October 27, 2016

Baseball is still there, after 50 years of neglect

For the first time in about 50 years, I have watched a few innings of the World Series this week.

What has gotten into me?

I abandoned Major League Baseball in my 20s. It was just too dull compared to football and basketball. I quit watching games, and I quit following teams. I quit reading the sports section between the end of college basketball season and the beginning of football season. Right now, I would be hard pressed to name even one current Major League ballplayer.

As an adolescent and teenager, I followed baseball. All little boys were required to play baseball, I think. I argued with friends about the comparative worth of Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle. I watched or listened to World Series games.

What I discovered after turning on the World Series for a couple of hours Tuesday and Wednesday nights was that things have changed since I last paid attention. Changed a lot. The special effects that show the strike zone and where the baseball met that rectangle and the radar gun that tells you the speed of every pitch make the game more interesting.

Baseball has come a long way since the days I remember with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese doing the commentary and everything being black-and-white.

I don't think I will go back to following baseball. It still seems in many ways to a throwback to an earlier age when all boys played backyard baseball, often with balls held together by electrical tape. Those days extended from my father's era (born 1918) through my own baby boomer years. We were all characters in a "Little Rascals" world.

I won't go back to those days, but I am glad to see baseball is still around and has become a little more television viewer-friendly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Violence has no role in modern politics

The firebombing of the Republican Party headquarters in Hillsborough last week represents a new low in politics in a year of new lows in politics. But the firebombing and graffiti are more than just a new low. They are an attack on the American political/governmental system.

Politics developed as an alternative to the historical way of choosing leaders — armed combat. Democratic elections and campaigning evolved as a means of deciding who will lead a group or nation without bloodshed. Instead of the victor killing his rival, democratic politics allowed potential leaders to present their leadership qualities as more than brute force. Ideas, innovations, inspirational abilities, and resilience became factors in selecting leaders.

There have been occasional lapses into anachronistic brutality a few times in the American democracy, but those lapses have been rare. Political assassinations have been carried out primarily by deluded, mentally disturbed malcontents, not by political parties.

The 2016 campaign frequently has turned nasty, but nasty only in words, not in action. Nasty words from candidates and political advertising have repelled voters, but words have not devolved into violence — until the Hillsborough incident. Given the intensity of the contempt and hatred of this year's political rhetoric (just look at Facebook posts), it should be no surprise that words turned violent. 

Fortunately, both Republican and Democratic leaders condemned the firebombing for what it was, political terrorism and attack on the democratic process itself. Democrats raised money to help rebuild the GOP headquarters. More should be done in a bipartisan fashion to tone down the hateful rhetoric and lift up the mutual respect between the parties and candidates that used to mark American political campaigns. We need to bring back the "honorable representative from ..." and "my friends across the aisle" and "my honorable opponent." Such standards, even if insincere, would elevate the tone of debate.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Smoking is no longer socially acceptable

Over a period of more than two decades, I edited newspapers in two cities whose economies were dependent upon tobacco. As such, I frequently defended tobacco farmers and the tobacco industry against regulatory restrictions, taxation and social stigma. My arguments were not that there's nothing wrong with or unhealthy about smoking; rather, I argued that smoking is a rational choice (even if it's an unhealthy choice — one of many unhealthy choices people make) and that over-taxation threatens to destroy the tax base. If higher taxes discourage people from smoking, tobacco tax revenues will drop, leaving federal, state and local governments with budgetary holes.

In the early years of my newspaper career, smoking was prevalent. All of us put up with the smoke and the ashes and the butts and the fire hazard. We made do by seeking places to eat or to read or do other things away from the smokers and the odor that followed them. When restaurants began offering non-smoking tables, we rejoiced, though some non-smoking sections still exuded the foul odor of ashes. Smoking sections were not sealed off from the non-smoking. When restaurants began banning smoking and when state laws made it illegal to smoke in restaurants and office spaces, we rejoiced.

The smoke and ashes that had not bothered us so much years before suddenly became a major annoyance. When the smoke cleared (literally and figuratively), we recognized the odors left by cigarette smoke. Now, years after smoking was  banned in nearly all indoor public places, I can quickly identify smokers who come into my office or pass me in a hallway. The smoking odor stays with them. It's in their clothes, their hair and their skin, making them immediately identifiable to non-smokers.

In the past three or four decades, smoking has gone from an accepted practice in homes, offices, workplaces, schools and even hospitals and doctor's offices to an anomaly practiced by less than 20 percent of adults in this country. Those smoking adults, unless they are especially discreet, may be shunned by the non-smoking majority. It's not just the smoke and the ashes and the butts and the health risks. It's the offending odor and the obvious bad choice smoking proclaims.

When we were married 45 years ago, one of our wedding gifts was an ash tray, though neither of us smoked. But as congenial hosts, we would be expected to provide an ash tray in our home for our guests. No more. If you see an ash tray in a store these days, it's a strange anachronism.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

In this strangest of election years

Four weeks from the election, and things are going from bad to worse. Donald Trump, miffed at Speaker Paul Ryan's decision not to campaign with him, is calling Ryan names and waging war against the political party that nominated him. In Trump's mind, he is bigger than the Republican Party. He's bigger than anyone, than any organization, than any standards of conduct.

 The video tape of Trump's offensive comments about women, which was released last Friday, has been the most tumultuous event of this presidential election season. It topped his insults toward former presidential nominee John McCain, toward women celebrities and toward other Republican candidates.

What is astounding, but shouldn't be, considering the pattern of this campaign, is that Trump's loyal supporters, including women and highly religious voters, have dismissed his offensive remarks as meaningless. They say they are not offended! Nothing signifies the great divide in the electorate than this: his loyal followers are willing to accept any sort of misbehavior, any sort of petulant tantrum, any sort of offensive speech or action in order to elect Trump, a candidate whose campaign has been built not on understanding of the issues or the offering of detailed solutions but on 144-character quips and retorts.

Some of this myopia owes, no doubt, to his supporters' distrust of Hillary Clinton, whose life has been a swirl of controversy for 25 years. Many, perhaps even a majority, of the people who will vote for Clinton have some degree of discomfort with her honesty, openness, forthrightness and character. But they will swallow their doubts in order to avoid a Trump presidency.

On the state level, Hurricane Matthew may be the best thing that has happened to Gov. Pat McCrory this campaign cycle. The hurricane gave the governor a chance to display leadership and appear frequently in news broadcasts. He took center stage at hurricane updates, and he urged North Carolinians to obey evacuation orders and avoid hazardous situations. Less senior state officials could have handled the briefings, but McCrory, in his uniform-like Public Safety  shirt, took the podium. He's not the first governor to take advantage of a news opportunity (Jim Hunt perfected the procedure), but McCrory, trailing in the polls, needed the spotlight.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A tragic accident waiting to happen

I was a pedestrian on a neighborhood street (no sidewalks in our neighborhood) shortly before sunset last night when I was approached by a four-wheeled vehicle coming toward me. I moved closer to the curb and got more cautious as I realized the vehicle — like the vehicles used to move equipment or injured players at football games — was being driven by a little girl, about 8 or 10 years old by my quick estimation. An adult was seated next to her, but she was at the wheel. Another child was in the cargo area behind the seats.

Although I was prepared to leap onto someone's lawn if the vehicle veered toward me, it passed by without incident and then came at me again in the next block. All the things that might go wrong in this scenario frightened me. The little driver could misjudge her distance from me or other pedestrians and knock them down; she might accidentally spin the steering wheel and plow into them; she might simply lose control of the gasoline-powered vehicle and do all sorts of property damage.

No police car happened by while I was within sight of the vehicle, but I began counting up all the violations a cop might issue to the young driver and the adult beside her:

° Driving an unregistered (no tag) vehicle on a public street;
° Driving without a license;
° Allowing an underage, unlicensed driver to operate a motor vehicle;
° Seat belt violations — at least the kid in the back was not belted; I couldn't tell whether the adult and child in the front were wearing seat belts or if the vehicle even had seat belts;
° Transporting an underage child in the open bed of a truck.

It must have been great fun for the two kids and for the man with them, but that fun flirts with disaster and tragedy. If you must let children drive a vehicle like this one, find a vacant parking lot where no one else is jeopardized, then hope nothing happens to injure those in the vehicle.