Friday, April 30, 2021

Baseball, Is That You Again?

Two old codgers and a baseball bat

For the first time since I started publishing this blog 12 years ago, Baseball Opening Day came and went without so much as a wink or a nod. 

I wouldn't say that my passion for the game I love has dried up, hardly. It's just that A. Bartlett Giamatti's description of it as a game "designed to break your heart" has become all too real, especially for my son.

The funny thing is that unlike most of the kids he played baseball with over the years of Little League, Travel Ball, and High School Baseball, my son, in college now, is still directly involved with the game.

That's a little bit of a mixed blessing because while he'll always be able to say he was on a college baseball team, he may not get a chance to play. 

But he's still at it and for that I can't admire him more. I would have given up years ago. So this is dedicated to him and to all the kids out there, young and old, still living the dream. 

Oh by the way, who are the "two codgers" pictured above, still living the dream in what appears to be them long past their prime? Well if there were a Mount Rushmore of baseball players, these two would have been finalists on just about anybody's list, Ty Cobb, on the left and Honus Wagner on the right, both members of the "original class" of  Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. In the voting, Ty Cobb came in first of all players nominated and Wagner came in second, tied with Babe Ruth.

Here's a photo of the two in their playing days when they faced each other (for I believe the only time) in the 1909 World Series. The two most dominant players of their era, Cobb played for the American League Detroit Tigers and Wagner for the National League Pirates.

In case you're interested in a World Series that took place 102 years ago, and for God's sake why wouldn't you be(?), the Pirates won the 1909 championship four games to three. 

That's the beauty of baseball, it's a game that lives equally in the present, in the future, and in the past. 

Play ball!


Thursday, April 29, 2021

Knowing Less and Less as I Grow Older

When I was 14, my daughter's current age, I knew everything there was to know about the world. Everything made sense, the good guys were always good, the bad guys always bad, and there was no messing with Mister In-Between. Most important, new ideas were always preferable to the way things had been done for basically ever. Why couldn't my parents understand that?

My father, God rest his soul, always took the bait and we'd end up in screaming matches so intense that it occurred to me one day that if there had been a gun in our house, one of us (not sure which one) would have used it.

Perhaps what all these years of life on this planet have taught me, is never  argue with people who have all the answers.

So unlike my father, I don't.

Yea me.

As I get older, I have more and more questions, and fewer if any answers, at least ones with any credibility. Surely for example I thought, several years ago after one of the most  the most heart breaking events of the century after 9/11, people would finally come to their senses and realize that the lives of first and second graders are vastly more important than the right to own semi-automatic rifles capable of killing people as quickly as it takes for the shooter to pull the trigger. 

What do I know? Today, nearly nine years after the Sandy Hook massacre, guns are easier than ever to procure in this country and there is a serious movement underway to push through the courts, new laws to make it even easier to carry a weapon of mass destruction out in public in the United States. Given the makeup of the current Supreme Court, these laws are likely to stick. 

Same thing a few weeks ago during the trial of Derick Chauvin, who in his role as a Minneapolis police officer, murdered George Floyd. The backlash from Chauvin's kneeling on the neck of an unarmed man and taking his life was so profound, surely I thought, police all over the country would have thought twice before using deadly force.

Once again, I was wrong, just moments before the guilty verdict was read in a court in downtown Minneapolis, there was another police shooting, this time in Columbus, Ohio. And in the weeks prior to that reading and in the subsequent week, there have been several others, two notable ones here in Chicago, one involving a 13 year old child. Their names were Anthony Alvarez and Adam Toledo

In all these well publicized incidents, the officer was white and the decedent was a person of color. As everyone knows, black people and other people of color, die in numbers proportionately greater than their population at the hands of the police.

That is a fact. 

It's also a fact that while not quite in numbers rersenting their population, white people also get killed by the police. In 2020, 457 white people (44% of all deaths at the hands of the police) were killed by the police in the US. 

By comparison, 241 black people (23% of all deaths at the hands of the police) were killed by the police last year as were 169 people (16% of all deaths at the hands of the police) of Hispanic origin. 

As roughly 12 percent of the US population is black, the death rate for black people at the hands of the police is nearly double that of the population of black people in this country.  Given that, it's not an unreasonable conclusion that there is a racial bias in this country when it comes to police violence against the general public, although as these numbers might suggest, not quite as much as we are led to believe. 

After all, today in virtually all the reporting surrounding police killing of civilians, the victims are people of color, and the police doing the killing are nearly all white. But as you can see from the numbers above, white people also get killed by the police, yet we almost never hear about it.

That is also a fact.

Another sobering statistic is this. In 2019 (the last year data was available for this statistic), 53 percent of all murder victims in this country were black, a number way out of proportion to the black population of the US.

And there are other statistics involving black folks in the US that are way out of proportion to their population, things like levels of poverty, education, and children raised in single, or no parent homes.

So what are we to make of these numbers? Well I guess that all depends upon how much you know about the world and especially which side of the fence you're sitting on. To the know-it-alls on the right side of the fence, one answer might be a lack of initiation on the part of black people. To those on the left, a one word answer will do, racism.   

But to those of us with less confidence in our knowledge of everything under the sun, there are no easy answers. True, the numbers are telling but in the immortal words of Benjamin Disraeli:

There are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies, and statistics.

As we just saw, people can use the same set of data to tell a vastly different story. That's just the nature of things I guess. 

There are factors that run much deeper than numbers, sometimes you just gotta feel them in your heart. Take so called "white privilege." Like many, I cringe at the term as I feel it has become overused to the point where it has lost much of its meaning. It is now little more than a "talking point" for folks on the left. 

After all I too, a white guy, have had several encounters with the police in my life, none of them pleasant, including once being subjected to a humiliating body search in full view of the public. 

But here's the thing, yes, in every one of these encounters I complied with what the police asked of me, because I knew the police have the power to make one's life miserable. In other words I deeply wanted to avoid unpleasant things that might befall me such as getting thrown into  jail. On the other hand, never for one second did the notion that I might lose my life cross my mind.   

There in a nutshell is the critical difference between a typical white person's experience with the police, and that of a person of color. 

Call it what  you will, but as white parents, my wife and I have never felt it necessary to have "the talk" with our two children, explaining to them in great detail what to do when (not if) they have an encounter with a police officer, not so they won't get thrown in jail, but so the won't get killed. 

While every day I worry about our kids, including their personal safely living in a neighborhood where it's not all that unusual to hear gunshots, one thing I don't worry about is them being killed by a police officer. 

Sadly that's a luxury no black parent in America enjoys. 

Because of our personal experience, we white folks assume that if people of any color simply comply with what the police ask of us, there would be no trouble. But simply complying with what the police ask of us doesn't always work, especially if you're a person of color.  If you don't believe me, when you get to the afterlife, just ask Philando Castile

This is not to say the police are never justified in using deadly force. Sadly, sometimes it is necessary in order to protect innocent lives, and their own. This is why it is essential to not lump every act of police violence against civilians together. 

In the case of the above mentioned police shooting in Columbus, the victim was wielding a knife against another person when the officer shot her. I don't know the exact details, at this moment I don't think anybody does, but given that information, no one can deny there is a world of difference between the tragedy in Columbus and the one that took place in Minneapolis last Memorial Day.

The actions of Derick Chauvin that day against George Floyd were reprehensible, of that there is no question. There is no credible police officer in this country who can  reasonably defend Chauvin's strangle hold of a man who had already been subdued. 

Nor could any reasonable person defend the actions of Jason Van Dyke, the former Chicago cop who in 2014 emptied his weapon into Laquan McDonald, a young man who was carrying a knife, but at the time of his death, shown by video to not have posed an immediate threat to anyone. 

Both Van Dyke and Chauvin were rightfully convicted of murder.

But not all cases of police violence are open and shut like these, at least not for someone like me who doesn't have all the answers.

To me the question isn't always good cop vs. bad cop, but what is and what is not acceptable procedure. Take for example the tragedy of Daunte Wright who was killed by an officer this past April 11, about 10 miles from where the trial of Dereck Chauvin was taking place. Mr. Wright was shot by the officer who had apparently mistaken her gun for a taser. Of course the whole world asked the question: "how could anybody make such a mistake?" In all honesty I think I could have. But to me the more pertinent question is this: was it really necessary in that situation for the officer to fire a weapon in the first place? 

Again, more questions than answers but a far as policing goes in my opinion, much of the problem lies with the training of police officers in this country and the policies regarding their use of lethal force. 

And of course the eternal question of what is the proper role of police in our society.

To my simplistic thinking at least, unless lives are threatened, there is no reason why a traffic stop, even one where there is an arrest warrant pending, should end up deadly. 

Let alone an encounter with a unarmed man suspected of passing a counterfeit double sawbuck. 

And please, please, don't even get me started with Breonna Taylor.

But what do I know.