Friday, December 21, 2012

Pointing to the sublime to avoid the obvious

Anyone with any hopes that the National Rifle Association felt any responsibility for the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., last month is undoubtedly disappointed that its president, Wayne LaPierre, held a news conference today in which a) he said the solution to the problem is a police officer with a gun in every school; and b) didn't take questions.

Way to go NRA. Stick your head in the sand, disavow any part in any of this, and keep pushing your agenda.

Well, fine. If that's how he wants it, then don't give him and his group a seat at the table. Move to a new table and tell him he's not wanted.

The problem with the NRA is the same as with all agenda-driven groups. They're so proprietary that they miss the big picture. You want to ask them to take a step back and take in the entire landscape. Sick people don't use knives or baseball bats to commit spectacular murders so that they can leave this world in a blaze of glory. Unless they're devious enough, and smart enough, to be able to dose the water supply with strychnine, they use guns.

And weapons that can get off as many rounds as possible in the least amount of time are the preferred guns, too. Can't take the risk of popping two or three victims before someone catches up with you. That's not spectacular enough. To cause the type of carnage the killer (won't mention his name) caused last week, you need high-powered weapons that can spray bullets all over the place.

And then, once you get it all out of your system, you shoot yourself. That's how you end it. You don't go peacefully. Unless you're Mucko McDermott (and believe me, he was a rare bird).

Wayne LaPierre is free to say what he wants. And we're free to reject it ... in the strongest, most public ways we can. And I hope we do.

It's not that LaPierre is entirely wrong (something that pains me to say). He has some valid points. There is too much glorified violence in our entertainment industry. Someone on The View said the other day that these were "arcade murders" and that's exactly what they were. And while I've never been one to blame the media for the actions of people who are so disconnected from reality that they can't see the difference between a video game and 20 little kids, I'm willing to concede I may be wrong about that.

I'm willing to concede that the onus is on anyone who manufactures video games that dehumanize violence that the time has come for them to move away from that. I'm willing to concede that we, as a society, reject such "entertainment." If that costs the industry money, so be it.

I don't think you get anywhere banning things. All that does is turn the people whose products your "banning" into victims (and it's truly odious to me that the NRA can claim victimhood because of any imagined violation of the second amendment), and it turns the banned product into forbidden fruit.

What works is pressure. Life can be reduced to simple elements at almost every level, and when you understand that you're on the right road to a solution. Tom Brady cannot be Tom Brady if four great big, mean, nasty defensive lineman are in his face all day long

And were it not for Candy Lightner, perhaps we'd still be living in the dark ages with regards to drunk driving. But because her daughter was killed by a serial drunk driver, she got angry enough to form Mothers Against Drunk Driving -- an organization that went about putting pressure on authorities to change the way they think.

Has MADD stopped all drunk driving fatalities? No. Of course not. It's an imperfect world, people aren't perfect, a lot of them think that laws apply to everyone but themselves, and some are just truly ignorant of what driving while impaired means.

But Candy Lightner didn't set out to ban alcohol. In fact, she left the group she founded because she felt it was moving too far toward what she called "neo-prohibitionist." All she wanted to do was make it as difficult as possible for people to get behind the wheel when they've been drinking; and to make the penalties for those who drive drunk as severe as possible. She wanted no part of banning booze.

Similarly, banning all guns isn't the answer. Most reasonable people agree that the entire paradigm has to change. It's all-encompassing. But part of that paradigm involves guns. How can it not? How can anyone seriously suggest that guns are not a part of this equation?

We have the power in this country to reject that thinking, and to coalesce nationally to form a lobby as powerful as the NRA. And before anything gets done, that is what's going to have to happen.

And that means we have to frame the issue. It's no different than global warming. We're having a "storm of the century" every other year, it seems. If Sandy wasn't a wakeup call nothing is. My true belief -- despite what the Mayans said -- is that our species will be extinct well before the Biblical version of Armageddon ever occurs. And that's because we will -- by our inaction and squabbling on global warming -- render the planet uninhabitable for human life ... which, for all the gifts it has received in advanced intellect and reasoning skills, is perhaps more fragile than many other species.

But we haven't been able to frame the issue in such as way as to produce consensus. We are overrun by fanatics on both sides of the issue, and that prevents us from being able to come up with a reasonable set of objectives and goals to address the problem.

So it is with guns. To those who say the answer is to confiscate all guns: Don't be foolish. Nothing will drag this discussion down faster than to paint responsible people with the same brush as the lunatics and socio/psychopaths. Gun violence is the problem ... not necessarily gun owners.

 But saying that doesn't absolve the NRA -- as the primary spokespeople for gun owners -- from at the very least being willing to examine its own agenda, and its own membership, and to add to the national dialogue in a meaningful way. And while it's disappointing LaPierre chose not to, it's also not surprising.

They are who they are. And too many of them don't see the connection between what they hold near and dear and what reality is. And reality is that it's much easier to commit mass murder with a gun than it is with any other means of violence. It's over quicker, and it sufficiently dehumanizes victims because you don't have to look them in the eye, or get close enough to them to even see who they are. You can just go into a room and start shooting indiscriminately.

It's pointless to argue that the framers of the Second Amendment were talking about muskets, because the Constitution was written as a document that its authors hoped would stand the test of time. These weren't stupid people. They'd already seen enough change in their world to understand that nothing remains the same. They'd just survived a revolution!! Maybe they couldn't foresee the scope of modern weaponry, but I'm sure it occurred to them that someone, someday, might come up with a more reliable one than a musket.

But they weren't 100 percent clairvoyant. What they perhaps couldn't foresee was how much the times would change ... and how society would move so much faster 200 years from the time the Bill of Rights was passed ... and how thoroughly detached some of the ones who just cannot seem to catch up seem to feel. We were largely an agrarian society in the 1790s. There hadn't been an industrial revolution ... there hadn't been mass immigration ... perhaps we hadn't developed the hard, almost avaricious version of capitalism that exists today.

I'm just throwing things out here to make the point that there are so many people fighting for the same crumbs of the pie, and the fallout from it is akin to a feeding frenzy of lions fighting their way to get at the zebra they've just taken down.

Some people just go completely off the rails. And they fuel themselves by what they see around them ... and that's all-encompassing. And in the long run, THAT'S what has to change.

In the meantime, though, we have to address these problems as they come up. And while gun violence is but one symptom of a hornet's nest of sociological issues, it is a symptom that cannot be ignored any longer. We cannot keep pointing to the sublime in an attempt to avoid the obvious.

Yes, we are an avaricious society that smiles proudly on anyone who can make a buck ... no matter how. If you happen to make your money peddling the worst kind of mindless, dehumanizing violence, good for you. If you get rich enough, you'll see your name in Fortune 500 and be treated as if you were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

Yes, that has to change. But that's going to be a slow evolution, and it's going to involve waiting until enough people make the connection so that they can -- of their own volition -- reject such manufactured inhumanity. And that's not going to happen tomorrow, that's for sure.

And yes, we are going to have to -- at some point -- pull the belts in and concede that a society with so many members falling through the cracks gets more and more dangerous with each passing days. Thy whys and wherefores don't really matter. The reality does. And the reality is that there are far too many untreated -- even undiagnosed -- cases of mental illness of all varieties, and with every new case is the potential for enormous tragedy.

Overriding any of that, though, in the year 2012 going into 2013, is the common denominator. Guns. None of this happens without guns.

So the problem is to frame the argument in such as way as to come to a consensus, so that the numbers of those with a responsible plan of action can successfully butt heads with the Wayne LaPierres of the world.

But we cannot keep sitting there, sucking our thumbs, and crying that there's nothing to be done. Not true. We just have to figure out what it is. And do it. We can use the bully pulpit too. But we have to understand that's what it's going to take. Because unless we do something like what Candy Lightner did in 1980, all the politicians are going to do is wring their hands, say all the right words about how shocking and terrible this all is, and go right back to changing the subject to something far less challenging and divisive.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some straight talk on pro athletes and strikes

It's' time for some straight talk on professional athletes who either go on strike or dig in at contract time, thus forcing their leagues to lock them out.

First, I've been in a union my entire professional life. I was even president of one back in the eighties. I certainly recognize the need for them, and will defend their existence to anyone who tries to claim their obsolescence.

But this doesn't mean everything unions do is right and holy. Sometimes, they pick the wrong hill to die on. Job actions involving professional athletes? The worst, most wrong hill possible.

Nobody says it's easy negotiating contracts. But it should be easier when there's a pile of money lying in the middle of the table that could probably finance a third world country for a decade. When the squabbles involve divvying up that much money, the only thing standing in the way is greed. On both sides.

It's certainly hard to hold either side blameless in the NHL labor dispute. Owners seem to want to put the entire onus on players to rescue them from their bad decisions, and, of course, that isn't fair. But players have to understand, too, that they stand to make, in their short careers, more money than most of the fans who pay their salaries will make in a lifetime. They have to negotiate with that in mind ... that sacrificing a few bucks when the money they make in comparison to everyone else on the planet is obscenely out of balance would certainly be a noble thing to do.

Nobody suggests that a player turn down a contract worth gajillions if an owner wants to pay it (though it might have been a good idea in Carl Crawford's case). But if an owner doesn't want to pay it ... when an owner (or group of owners) sees that, even within the context of the Monopoly money being thrown around, the entire thing is getting out of control ... then you know what? It's time to make the best deal you can and go back to playing hockey. That's what the rest of us -- the ones who will probably have to work until they die on the job to be able to afford living -- have to do. And that goes for jobs covered by unions as well as those who aren't.

Those who support the union in this case always say "you're making us pay because you cannot control yourselves." Maybe. But if I make two or three million dollars over the course of a five-year career, shouldn't that go a long way toward setting me up for life? Is it an owner's fault if you blow through that money because of your lack of discipline and planning? When I hear an athlete say "I'm talking about feeding my family" when he's ALREADY making about six million a year I want to scream.

Does this person have any clue?

Do these players have any clue? All any of them have to do is turn on the TV and listen to story after story about teachers who heroically threw themselves in front of bullets to protect their pupils in Newtown last week. They didn't make one tenth of what Zdeno Chara makes in a month. Don't these players -- and the owners too -- look foolish? Do they have any relevance at all?

One of these times -- and it may just be this time -- the fans who feel betrayed by athletes and owners fighting over incomprehensible amounts of money aren't going to come flocking back. How many times must our intelligence by insulted by the likes of Donald Fehr? He may be a brilliant negotiator, but it's questionable, at this point, whether his hard line will end up being helpful. Sometimes you overplay your hand.

Most fans understand that the Bruins aren't as important as what goes on in the real world. We know they're a diverson ... a way to escape the challenges of our own lives in hopes of seeing something truly memorable every time we watch TV (and we pay for THAT, too). That's all we ask. It's not much. And most of the time, we even accept -- albeit grudgingly sometimes -- that the special skills these players possess make them deserving of the money they get ...

... Until they start wanting more ... until they become party to job actions that put what they make versus what they do under a harsher microscope. And until their protracted absence gives us the opportunity to examine their contributions to society against those who do far more for its advancement -- and make far less money -- than they do.

They may be right in principal. But being right never got anyone anywhere. Being reasonable is better. And making a deal and going back to playing hockey is even better.

I'd suggest that they NHL Players Association do that. In light of today's economic climate, and the enormous tragedies that have befallen this country, they look like fools every day they're still squabbling.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's time for some serious introspection

I feel the same way today that I felt on September 12, 2001: I woke up to a permanently scarred, and permanently changed, America.

How can things ever be the same after the carnage in Newtown, Conn., yesterday? There is no way they can be. What kind of a depraved human being could walk into a grammar school, filled with little kids, and shoot 20 of them dead? How horrific must it have been for those teachers and administrators who had to make snap, heroic decisions to throw themselves in front of children in the line of fire ... knowing they were giving up their lives for their pupils? 

In the wake of September 11, 2001, this country launched a massive effort to improve security at airports and in other venues where, when you think about it for a second, people have probably been sitting ducks for these enormous tragedies for decades. All it took was enough depravity on the part of the perpetrators so set such a historical atrocity into action.

We may have had debates about whether everything the president did back then was ethical and moral, and whether it was an erosion of our liberties. But he operated under the belief that one of these tragedies was one too many ... and that two would be absolutely, positively catastrophic.

And while we may have argued over the direction George W. Bush took in that "war on terrorism," nobody with any sense could deny there needed to be one.

So why can't we take the resolve we showed after September 11 and apply it to what has happened in our society over the last few years. Because seriously? What happened in Newtown yesterday is simply the culmination of  a series of mass shootings where someone who had no business having access to one gun, let alone three, was able to shoot his way into an elementary school in an upscale community and kill 26 people -- 20 of them children -- before turning his weapons on himself.

This is when I wonder whether we have any national resolve left in this country. I can't pinpoint when, exactly, the tipping point was, but nobody in this nation wants to confront difficult issues anymore. Oh, we talk our way through them and around them. But we don't do anything. We don't have the courage to confront serious economic issues and establish a consensus that prevents us from falling off the "fiscal cliff." We don't have the courage to come up with a meaningful policy on immigration. We'd rather stand on opposite sides of the street and scream at each other than meet in the middle and solve anything.

What I find ironic about this is that the people who complain the loudest about "entitlements" act pretty damn entitled themselves when it comes to stepping up to the plate, compromising, and sacrificing anything they feel they're owed. 

And we can throw the obstinate among us who simply refuse to view all this carnage without feeling a bit of responsibility for any of it into that mix too. If I heard it once I heard it a thousand times yesterday: Now is not a time to "politicize" this tragedy. It's a time to mourn and to pray. We can do the debate later.

Let's just get this out of the way now. How many "laters" are we allowed in this lifetime? How long are we going to put intelligent, adult discussion off? When are we going to rise up and understand that the only people "politicizing" this issue are the ones who might stand to lose a small portion of their "right to bear arms"? 

I wasn't around when the Bill of Rights was constructed and neither was anyone else in this lifetime. A huge portion of the American public doesn't understand what the First Amendment means, and the Second Amendment is worded so clumsily (apparently lawyers and obfuscation have gone hand-in-hand since forever) that anyone who claims to really know what it means has one on me.

The First Amendment doesn't mean your boss can't fire you, or suspend you, for saying things that make him, and his company, look foolish or worse. And it doesn't mean that religion -- however odious it might be to some people -- cannot exist in a free society. But it does mean that the U.S. government can't put you in jail, or otherwise persecute or prosecute you, for expressing unpopular opinions and it cannot coerce you into worshiping anything if you don't want to.

The Second Amendment says -- quote -- "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Like I said earlier,  that is some seriously ponderous wording. And if you read any of its history, you'll see that there was some fierce debating over how to word it .... right down to a comma that, in one of its earlier forms, stood between the words "arms" and "shall."

But however vague the wording is, one thing is, or should be, pretty clear: it does NOT mean that someone's 6-year-old child should cower in fear in his or her own school because a deranged, heavily armed person has stormed his way into a classroom and started shooting at random.

How can anyone justify this? How can anyone see this an not acknowledge that, at the very least, there should be some mature, adult dialogue on this feeling that the right to arm yourself to the teeth is sacrosanct?

To me, there's a special place in hell for anyone who seriously believes that our gun culture isn't linked to these heinous mass murders; and right next to it is a special place for all those pusillanimous politicians who grovel at the feet of those to perpetuate this warped culture.

I'm no pie in the sky idealist. I understand that you can't just unilaterally ban guns ... no more than you can realistically round up every illegal alien in the United States and deport them back to their native lands. Anyone who thinks you can do either is -- at this point -- doing nothing more than acting as a huge impediment against coming up with an answer to the thousand million questions we have about hate and death and war (apologies to Justin Hayward).

But you can move forward. You can at least acknowledge that what we're doing isn't working. If we have 100 gun laws on the books and we're still seeing rampant gun violence, then we need to change the laws. We need to attack the problem from a different perspective. We need to do SOMETHING. 

We cannot just sit there and admit defeat without trying. Because if we do, there will be another day, another massacre, and it'll keep getting worse.

We also have to grow up and realize that it's not just guns because guns are simply a means to an end. They are not THE end. They may be the quickest way -- short of a bomb -- to inflict mass casualties in the most spectacular fashion. For that reason alone we should all be horrified -- and ashamed -- at their rampant proliferation  ... especially assault weapons that serve no logical purpose EXCEPT to inflict mass casualties as quickly as possible.

But the problem is much bigger. We've all heard the term "culture of violence" and I'm afraid it's true. We do have a problem with it. We are desensitized to it. Violence permeates our entertainment media, and the incessant glorification of it is insidious.

I'll give you an example in my own life. I've sat in front of the TV for hours at a time marveling at how clever, and darkly funny, the movie "Pulp Fiction" is. And on one level it is brilliant.

But does it not glorify violence? Does it not leave you, at the end of the day, with the feeling that resorting to violence to settle scores is just a little too easy? And do we accept it a little too easily? 

Are we a little too accepting of misogyny in our culture? Of hostile language? Of bullying (though thankfully we seem to be aware now of how destructive bullying can be)? 

And here's where things just start falling together like a jigsaw puzzle. Violence begets violence. And I think back to the mass shooting in Arizona -- the one that left Gabby Giffords irreparably harmed and that little girl dead -- and remember the debate over whether the hate-speech spewed on all sides of the political spectrum may have spurred the perpetrator on.

And I remember how many people took umbrage over the suggestion that their lack of civility may have played any part at all in this. And I wondered at the time what it would take for people to understand.

It's a given that anyone who would take a gun and start shooting indiscriminately is deranged. Whether they're clinically deranged, or just so full of hatred and resentment that they become that way, is of small comfort to the victims or their families. In fact, it's almost irrelevant (even though we also should probably start another dialogue about how hard it is for mentally ill people to get treatment versus how easy it seems to be to get guns). 

Deranged people aren't stupid. They can read. They can hear things. In fact, paranoid, deranged and  unbalanced people often have more finely tuned antennae than you and I. And you don't need to be a psychologist or a psychiatrist to understand they feed off hate and negativity. 

This isn't to say that we're singularly responsible for any of these atrocities or that we should all retire from watching adult-level entertainment and stick to "The Waltons." But collectively, we can, and should, demand better. 

We should be able to distinguish the truly grotesque and misanthropic and -- of our own volition -- reject it. We should be able to tell the difference between legitimate debate and inflammatory pandering on hot-button issues and reject the demagogues. We should send a message to politicians all over America, whether it's by demonstrations, mass-mailings, whatever ... that we are angry over something besides whether our taxes are going to go up a few dollars. There's got to more to existance than that.

We need to get a grip on the fact that evil exists, and that evil people will forever look outward, rather than inward, for the reasons they're unhappy. And we need to be protected from them BEFORE THE FACT; NOT AFTER IT. AFTER IT IS TOO LATE.

The time for this introspection is not next week, or next month, or the next time Congress convenes. It's now. Today. Sit down and write your congressman. Flood his office with voice mails. Vote the sonofabitch out of office the next chance you get. Hold your leaders responsible for the fact that we're almost into 2013 and we're no closer to finding the right path that might lead us out of this wilderness than we ever were.

DEMAND uniform national standards for the right to own a gun and stand up to the people who throw states' rights at us as an impediment ... and remember that the cloak we used to justify slavery for 80 years after the Constitution was ratified was "states' rights." And remember the country is called the "United States" of America. Not "50 Individual States of America."

But most of all, and apart from the anger, please, please keep the victims of this and all these massacres in your thoughts. Because the minute they -- and these events -- recede from the national consciousness, the debate and discussion we always way we're going to have on this issues somehow recedes with it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The election ... my take

I know I'm a little out of my realm here, but I'd like to take a crack at what I feel this election has told us.

And I also know that postmortem thumb-sucking after such a volatile election is probably the last thing anyone wants to read. But there's just so much going on with me about this that I have to release it somewhere.

I understand I'm a sports editor. Nobody's got their ear to the ground, waiting for this report to come out. I can barely get people to listen to me when I talk about things I might actually know something about. So why should anyone listen to me about this?

Here's why. Because elections don't happen as the result of bloviating "experts." They happen because people like me spend over a year listening to commercials, reading stories, reading literature, watching debates and speeches, and we form our own conclusion ... not just on what the candidates say, but how they say it, and, perhaps, why they say it.

And we vote mainly our our own likes and dislikes when measured with, and against, what the candidates say.

And regardless of what anyone else says, our voice is the only one that matters. We decide. And this year, we decided we were fed up with negativity, fed up with meanness, fed up with the threat of undoing social progress, and fed up with an opportunistic candidate who changed positions on important issues about as often as you and I change our socks.

The Republicans wanted to make this election 100 percent about the economy. They put up a candidate with a lifetime of business experience and tried to sell us on the idea that regardless of anything else they espoused, no matter how vitriolic it seemed to be, Mitt Romney's knowledge about how to run a business trumped all.

Problem is, it didn't. And it shouldn't have.

Two weeks ago, we had a super storm that devastated the east coast at a time when -- otherwise -- the bloviation machine would have been spewing smoke thanks to the speed at which it was churning. It was latest so-called storm of the century -- a century that is only 12 years old.

Hurricane Sandy did more than slow the campaign down. It shifted the focus onto climate change ... an issue that had been missing from this campaign. But more than that, it underscored the reality that within the parameters of the debate, it was largely Republicans who scoffed at the notion of climate change and its effects on weather.

If Sandy was the second coming of the "perfect storm," that ripped up the East Coast in 1991, then the Republican campaign of 2012 was a "perfect storm" of miscalculations, missteps and missed opportunity on the part of the Republicans.

I am an Obama supporter and make no apologies. But outside of Jimmy Carter, there has been no incumbent in my lifetime who was more vulnerable to being defeated than Barack Obama. With the right approach, this could have been the type of historic cakewalk that catapulted Ronald Reagan to sainthood in the eyes of HIS supporters.

 But the Republicans didn't think it through. They didn't listen to themselves speak. And to many people -- especially those who live in fear that they're going to be called into the office and told they're an economic liability to the company -- they sounded exactly like corporate hatchet men (and men is the operative word in an election season where women ever-more-strongly asserted themselves). Even if they may have been right about some of the sacrifices that needed to be made, the gave off a bad vibe to too many voting blocs. And in the end, and for a change, those voting blocs united and found a compelling reason to keep Barack Obama in office.

Mitt Romney seems to be a pretty good guy. I'm sure, in his private moments, when he's not trying to impress a particular group, he's can sound warm and compassionate, and can connect with people as well as anyone else.

The problem with Romney was that no matter what he said, you had to do an algebra problem to determine what was behind it. Who was he playing to? Who was supposed to hear it? It just never appeared that he said anything ... not even "how's the weather?" ... that didn't have a hidden purpose or ulterior motive. He made Eddie Haskell look sincere.

Obviously, politics is a business rife with duplicitous creatures who would use their right hands to sell their left hands to the devil if they thought it would get them anywhere. But in that world, Romney stood out.

That's the first lesson the Republicans -- if they're seriously interested in learning any lessons -- should take from this. George W. Bush connected with the American people because, right or wrong, he had the courage of his convictions. He pretty much got up there and said, "this is me. Vote for me if you like me ... vote for the other guy if you don't." With Bush, to quote Bob Dylan, you didn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blew.

With Romney you needed an army of them.

Today, I see the Republican party -- at least on a national level -- about where it was in 1964 after an ideologically pure, but very conservative, Barry Goldwater lost spectacularly to Lyndon Johnson (ironically, when Goldwater uttered that famous remark about extremism in the pursuit of liberty not being a vice, he was responding to accusations by Mitt's dad, George Romney, that he was too much of a right-winger and that Republicans should repudiate what he stood for).

What did the Republicans do? They got a whole lot more pragmatic about their ideological purity four years later and won the White House with Richard Nixon (of ALL people!).

Wednesday, I could sense there were a whole lot of Republicans walking around, scratching their heads, and wondering how it all went so wrong. A lot of Republicans I know -- even here in Massachusetts, where the GOP has been the skunk at the lawn party for decades -- were so confident about this.

Perhaps that first debate gave them sufficient reason for feeling that way. It was a poor performance by Obama. He clearly underestimated Romney's chutzpah ... his willingness to show many faces, depending on where he was and to whom he was speaking. Romney took him by surprise, and he had Obama back on his heels.

First impressions last, right? Isn't that what they say? It's obviously what the Republicans believed. If you checked into the social media sites the next day, you'd have thought the election was over. And from that point on, Romney and GOP supporters became more and more emboldened ... and more and more certain they'd win.

That first debate also signaled a change in Romney's strategy. Apparently he figured he'd done enough to solidify the far right vote, and began working on the great unwashed mass of undecideds (something I always thought was rather a myth ... I don't think there were undecideds as much as there may have been luke-warm Dems/Republicans who just couldn't warm up to either candidate, and who may have been perfectly happy to sit this one out if not energized to vote).

He moderated. He tried to move away from the stands he'd taken for over a year in attempt to woo the middle ... and the people who only started paying attention a month before the election (I don't know who that could have been ... but obviously they thought there were such people out there).

That obviously didn't have the desired effect. Romney's people banked on an electorate that would remember the last thing it heard. It got an electorate whose memory was a lot longer, and that remembered all the other stances too. And if there were moderates out there who took umbrage at the unmitigated gall of Romney's pandering, you can also bet there were hard-core conservatives who had always been doubtful of Mitt's "credentials," and who perhaps felt betrayed by his shifting policy positions. And who, perhaps, stayed home on Nov. 6.

There were some other circumstances that, in the end, worked against Romney rather than for him ... as he (and the GOP) might have thought.

I'm sure the Republicans considered the Supreme Court's vacation of the clause in the McCain-Feingold act of 2002 that prohibited corporations and unions from financing independent political ads a victory. And as much as the Democrats may have squawked about that decision (and squawk they did) both parties took advantage of their new freedom to accept ads financed by corporations and PACs.

I refer, of course, to Citizens United and its lawsuit that resulted in overturning the McCain-Feingold provision.

This may have been a bonanza for the Republicans for the reason that most corporations tend to favor the policies that the party supports. You don't see very many liberal CEOs.

But buckets full of money generally mean more negative, more vitriolic ads and that's what we got. In spades. It was an exceptionally long, nasty and expensive campaign. And I don't know ... maybe enough people got exasperated by all the vitriol that they reacted by blaming the party they felt was more responsible. And since it was largely Republicans who seemed to support Citizens United, the onus -- especially in the swing states where the electorate isn't all knee-jerk GOP or Democrat -- fell on them.

It's just a theory. But in all of this, I'm beginning to see that the prevailing word that would perhaps describe this election is "backlash." I see this election as a jigsaw puzzle, because that's often what elections are. Certain pieces of it end up being the keys to the whole puzzle. If you find a home for one piece, it's amazing how many other pieces of the puzzle come together.

It's almost like "connect the dots." For example, the GOP's Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, very publicly vowed to make Obama a "one-term president." From a minority position, he and the Republicans abused the filibuster system so badly that if the president nominated someone for Dog Catcher in Jerkwater County, Florida, it never got to the floor.

When Scott Brown ran against Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy's seat (after the senator died), there was a great deal of Republican action flooding into Massachusetts. Why? Not because Scott Brown was uniquely qualified to be a U.S. Senator, but because Brown would have given the Republicans better leverage with which to use the filibuster. Conversely, Obama -- at a moment where the Republicans and the Tea Party had been relentlessly beating the drums of discontent over Obamacare -- had to come in and try to bail Coakley out. The results were disastrous for the Democrats.

But the Republicans apparently forgot that the vanquished often live to see another day. Nixon rose from the dead. And when they loudly ran Elizabeth Warren out of a relatively minor position in the Obama cabinet, that gave her the impetus to run for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts and defeat Brown.

In other words, and once again, the Republicans were done in by their own hubris and bravado. 

Now, if you measure McConnell's state objective -- which was to make sure Obama was defeated in 2012 -- and measure it against all the foot-dragging on the part of the Republicans over the last four years, what do you get? You get a trend. You get an electorate that may be slow on the uptake sometimes, but that is smart enough to understand the difference between an honest and loyal opposition and a group of obstructionists who don't necessarily have its best interests in their hearts.

They remember these things ... and when it comes time to respond, they do.

There was backlash over the Tea Party. In Michigan, Northern Ohio (which carried Obama to victory in that state) and other industrial regions that proved the difference between blue and red, auto workers who undoubtedly remembered Romney's exhortation to "let Detroit go bankrupt" spoke at the ballot box.

Latino voters who heard Romney stake out a position on immigration that seemed to embody the worst kind of Xenophobia spoke at the ballot box. It's been said that the Latino voters represent the fastest-growing constituency. Obama carried it with almost 70 percent of the vote.

Abortion ... veiled threats to do away with Roe v. Wade (from which Romney later backed off) ... threats to repeal the president's health plan ... Senators Aiken's remark about "legitimate rape" and candidate Mourdock's view that if a woman conceives out of rape, it's God's will ... threats to cut off funding of PBS (and stupidly invoking "Big Bird" into the discussion) ... a binder full of women ... these all resonated with different groups of people the Republican didn't think they needed to win the White House.

But they were wrong. The Republicans DID need them. 

It's not a given that Romney was necessarily on the wrong side of some of these issues. It's more the dismissive way he stated his case that perhaps turned people off. That crack about the "47 percent" killed him. It gave Obama a wide-open palette to paint the less attractive side of being a venture capitalist against the backdrop of the remark. And until the president pulled his no-show in debate No. 1, that was working marvelously.

Time and time again, Romney gave the president the mallet with which Obama gladly clobbered him. And, really, isn't that a cardinal truism in politics? That there are times when you're going to get hit over the head, but that doesn't mean you have to provide people with the mallet to do it? There were times in this campaign that Romney was practically passing the mallets out.

We see the jigsaw puzzle start to come together. The insensitivity (or seeming insensitivity, perhaps) to some of the needs of that 47 percent hurt him with every demographic except white males (whose numbers in support of him were higher than even Reagan's). Twenty years ago, Romney might have won this election going away.

But it's not 20 years ago. It's now. African-Americans, women, Latinos, young people who don't necessarily have strong ties to organized religion (and who are graduating from college in droves with poor job prospects), didn't necessarily appreciate being seen as moochers by someone who was successfully branded as a bloodless plutocrat who threw people out of work for the sole purpose of turning a profit in a business he'd just taken over.

They feared that the social safety net that at least promised to catch them if they fell would, instead, be pulled out from under them. Honest, hard-working people need social safety nets too. And those hard-working people spoke with their ballots.

They feared that the stampede of socially conservative and unduly judgmental right-wingers would crush any legitimate social progress we've made.

They heard one too many coded racist remarks ... saw one too many belligerent ads ... heard one too many hysterical exhortation that Obama "hates this country" ... had their intelligence insulted too often by the notion floated by Republicans that we should be somehow farther along in recovering from an economic recession (one that the president inherited from a Republican predecessor who fought two wars via credit card) more serious than anything since the Great Depression. And that the fact we aren't was Obama's fault.

They saw a party, and a candidate, that seemed to encourage the people in this country who could afford to help the most when it came to contributing toward bringing us back from the financial cliff to, instead, pull back and refuse to put forth any more monetary effort to rescue a system that had served them so well ... and for so long. And they spoke.

I mean, seriously, all anyone one was asking was, "hey, help out a little!" The spectacular refusal to do so was, in a word, astounding. And, as we've now seen, the backlash was severe.

They all got up and spoke on election day ... all the growing demographic constituencies who are, just now, picking up enough steam to influence the national agenda.  And obviously, their take was different. They saw a president who spent much of his four years in office trying to tame a beast that wasn't very easy to tame. And to them, he succeeded. The wolf may not be vanquished, but he's not howling at the door as loudly as he was in 2008.

The reality of politics is this: Every president, governor, mayor, congressman, senator, selectman ... all of them ... have something in common with the Wizard of Oz. If you pull back the curtain, you see a fallible human being who is far from capable of pulling off half of what they promise ... and, for that matter, half of what their opponents accuse them of doing. There's just no way. I think one of the ways incumbents have the advantage when it's time for re-election is that they ARE sadder and wiser. I didn't sense the unbridled joy of 2008 with Obama. He didn't radiate hope and change. But what he did radiate was the wisdom of having learned, through four bitter years, what kind of a game this really is at this level ... what he could do and, more importantly, what he couldn't do.

I hate to say it, but running for governor of Massachusetts, and winning, is like hitting .350 in Double-A ball. The varsity is a whole new experience, and nobody -- regardless of what they may claim -- is truly ready for it.

Obama's advantage, for better or worse, is that he was. He may have gone drawn the collar and whiffed four times in the first debate, but he was wise enough to know he'd have another day. He didn't panic. If the same thing had happened to Romney, he may have been toast, because he didn't have any reservoir of experience from which to draw.

Obama may have had a hard time handling the slings and arrows of a sluggish economy. But he handled the slings and arrows of a rough campaign better than Romney did.

The saddest thing -- at least from a Republican viewpoint -- is that this was a very winnable election ... and for all the reasons they repeatedly pounded home. The economy IS sluggish. Unemployment IS stubbornly high. Obama wasted so much political capitol getting his health care plan passed that he didn't have any left to lead on other thorny issues. There were many times when it appeared that he was being led, as opposed to being the one leading.

He was/is far from perfect. He has his own problems with being (or seeming) remote and out of touch. And he has his own problems trying to connect with people who aren't on board with much of what he stands for.

In another election, and with a political organization a bit quicker on the uptake on the country's ever-shifting demographics, Romney may have won.

But the GOP played to its base. And unlike in past years (even as recently as Bush II), that base is shrinking.

 Conversely, Obama's campaign understood those shifting demographics. Not only that, the Obama campaign won this election with arithmetic. It carved out the proverbial "path to 270" by understanding just what it needed to do. And it understood that for the first time in quite a while, the melting-pot diversity that defines the Democrat party had finally reached the point where it counteracted the traditional GOP base.

What does this all mean? It means a divided government for the foreseeable future. The nationwide demographic that thrust Obama into power doesn't exist state-by-state, and since much of the middle of the country is Republican, we won't be seeing a one-party legislature anytime soon. We may see more of this: the Democrats winning on the national level (at least until the Republicans can catch up with the shifting constituencies) and the GOP winning house and senate seats.

This election was not strictly about the economy. It was about a collection of divergent voting blocs that rose up and created a profound backlash against a party that not only didn't seem to care about them, but seemed seemed absolutely oblivious to their existence.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I have issues with issues ...

If you're looking for political wonk talk, don't look here. It's not that I don't care ... or that I don't recognize the importance of staying current on the important issues of the day, but let's be serious. Issues don't win elections.

They may have at one time ... but not now. These days it's all about perception. And as any who understands this sort of thing can tell you, perception is reality.

Without giving myself away entirely, if issues won elections, we'd be faced with judging our current president on the fact that he did in his third year what George W. Bush couldn't do in eight: capture/kill Osama bin Laden.

Think about that. Whatever led up to it, and however much President Obama may have built off the efforts of our previous president, the facts are that bin Laden's demise came on Obama's watch.

That's an issue. That's a fact, But like issues, facts don't win elections either.

 It's a fact that in 2008, just as the election was upon us, the economy took a giant downturn that we hadn't seen since the Great Depression. Things are far from good today, but they're not nearly as bad as they were on the morning Barack Obama took office.

Again. It's really hard to dispute this. It's also hard to convince any intelligent person that the ebbs and flows of the economy rely on vagaries that most of us can only speculate ... and that in the end, whatever happens with it is only partially the result of whatever the president has done with it. After all, Obama is only the president of this country. He doesn't run Greece, and he hasn't had a thing to do with messing up the European and Asian markets that everybody always points to when the stock market has a bad day.

These are general facts ... and they don't rely on the type of minutia wonk-ese that the talking heads try to use on Sunday mornings ... or on FOX, MSNBC or CNN. Mitt Romney tried to take a page out of Ronald Reagan's book when he asked if we really thought we were better off today than we were four years ago.

Yes, actually. We're not swimming in prosperity.  But we're not going down for the third time either ... at least we're not in as much danger of doing that as we were four years ago.

All of the above doesn't make Obama the greatest president ever. But he's certainly not the abject failure Romney and the Republicans would like you to believe he is.

But the point of all this is that none of it matters to a large part of the electorate anymore. Our perceptions of Obama, and Romney, come from much more visceral sources: television advertising.

I know ... news flash, right? One of the first things I learned as I got to be old enough to talk about these things is that if you listened to the Kennedy-Nixon debate (as opposed to watching it), Nixon probably did better ... had more command of the issues. But of course JFK looked so cool, so smooth on TV beside Nixon's scowling five-o'clock shadow that in the minds of most people, JFK won the debate hands down.

That was in 1960. We've had 50 years to refine scripted and rehearsed political discourse. Now, if a candidate isn't out there raising money all the time, he/she runs the risk of being out-spent on TV advertising, which -- in turn -- gives him/her no shot at all. This can often put incumbents at a disadvantage because if there is a serious issue to deal with, the opposition can score cheap points by bellowing that "the president's too busy to raise money to give all his attention to (whatever it is)."

Of course he is. If he wasn't, he'd get swamped.

There are so many built-in problems with this that I don't even know where to begin. The biggest one, though, is that there's not a single honest thing in those ads. They're full of glittering generalities ... both in efforts to make the ad's sponsor look like a saint; and the opponent look like Beelzebub himself.

Example: Don't you love ads in which the narrator says the opponent's name with the same virtiol he'd use if he were talking about cleaning up cow dung in the barn. Or how about the horribly acted spots where two "ordinary" people are discussing the issues over the dishes. "O-BA-ma wants to shove gay marriage down our throats."

It's just as bad the other way. Mitt Romney hasn't paid income taxes since Christ was a kid. He's so privileged he doesn't know what it's like to be sick, to be in debt, or to stand in line in the supermarket.

Actually, to lose the moment for the moment and actually get political, Romney's gaffe in which he seems to write off 47 percent of the American public (his words) as not worth his time and effort did more to harm him than any nasty ad by any Democrat PAC could. Because what it did was give the Democrats the hammer to hit him over the head with for the next two months.

There's an old rule or survival that says that there's nothing you can do about people who inherently wish you ill, and who will use every resource they have to clobber you with negative propaganda. but there's nothing that says you have to give people the hammer. Well, he gave them the hammer.

The only comparison I could use to illustrate how utterly, insanely stupid that was would be if Obama ended one of his speeches with "workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains."

(For the unfamiliar, the above quote is the popular -- but not quite authentic -- translation of the last line of Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto." And no, Karl Marx is not part of the comedy team of brothers of the same name.)

All that would to do is emphasize, much more effectively than any ad, that Obama is the socialist -- or at least has socialist sympathies -- his opponents have relentlessly complained he is.

But back to the screed at hand.

I submit that we've come to rely so little on actually substance ... actual issues ... that this is the dawning not of the Age of Aquarius, but the Goebbelization of America.

Putting aside the abominable immorality of what the Nazis stood for, anyone with an interest in propaganda and how it can twist even the most rock-solid facts into something you wouldn't even recognize should study Josef Goebbels, the absolute king of propaganda. People ignorant of history should also note that Adolf Hitler did not come to power at the hands of a gun, but as the result of a long, careful and patient propaganda campaign that sought to paint him, and his part, as the only viable alternative.

Hitler rose to power that way ... and stayed in power that way. You don't wake up one morning and decide to exterminate 6 million Jews ... and you don't build up enough allies to pull off such a horrendous attempt at genocide without filling the hearts and minds of otherwise normal, decent people with such fear and hate that such a heinous crime against humanity would be in any way acceptable.

Of course, there are parallels in this day and age. Nobody gets on an airplane with plans to hijack it and crash it into a building without that same hate and rage ... and that just isn't innate. There's a wonderfully prescient song from "South Pacific" that says "You Have to Carefully Taught" to hate.

So true,

We can only hope that whatever propaganda machines churn out here, they're not as horrendous as what happened in World War II. But at the same time, there's no point denying Mark Twain's adage that "a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes" either. And these days, you can include -- or even substitute "spin" for "lie." We'd all like to think we've come much too far to resort to out-and-out smear tactics, but all you need do is go back to 2004 when a group of "Swift Boat veterans" obviously partial to George W. Bush attacked John Kerry by grossly misrepresenting his military record.

Whether it hurt Kerry to the point where it cost him the election is certainly subject for debate, but what it did do was force him to spend money to defend himself against the attack ... and it was timed during a stretch of the campaign that came at the conclusion of the Democratic convention (after which Kerry was bound by law to spend only a certain amount of money) but before the GOP convention (which meant the GOP was still free to spend as much money as it could). As a result, the ad cost Kerry capital, both political and financial,

As a result, the term "Swift-Boated" as gone down as a term that describes "smeared."

Not that the Democrats are any less guilty of such attacks. Nobody's proven Mitt Romney hasn't paid his income tax since Christ was a kid (except that his stubbornness in releasing such information doesn't make him look innocent, either). And the glee in which the Democrats have made sure the Romney "47 percent" video has gone viral is fairly evident too.

These are the things that decide elections, sadly. During the 2000 campaign, Al Gore looked like a walking zombie half the time. He was stiff, unnatural, and unable to connect with people in an ordinary sort of way. He was a wonk's wonk. But wonks don't run the country. All wonks do is work silently behind the scenes.

Bush came across as a guy you'd want to sit next to at the baseball game and swap stories with it. Just an ordinary guy. He connected. This, in itself, is scary because if that's all it took to be president then Don Rickles would have been elected years ago. But this isn't the argument today.

Issues don't win elections. What succeeds is the incessant twisting of them in ways that reflect either badly on your opponent and superlatively on you. It comes down to the success (or failure) when it comes to defining your opponents before they can define themselves. First impressions generally last. The earlier you can get it out there that Obama's a socialist, or that Romney's silver spoon is so grotesquely big that it's blinded him to the human condition, the easier it gets to put each other on the defensive. And all that results is a campaign full of grade-school name calling. And if there is an issue to be discussed, it's usually the one that's easiest to split in two so as to divide people and incur outrage. Abortion. Gay marriage. Illegal immigration. Welfare. Taxes. We call them wedge issues.

With all this going on, there's very little intelligent discussion about the nuances of issues anymore. And more important, no discussion by anyone about what course of action to take to solve some of them.

Is it any wonder why so many people are disillusioned by the political process?

Friday, August 24, 2012

A little of this ... and a little of that

More potpourri as we await for one of the last weekends of the summer (sniff!)

I'd feel a lot more comfortable about Lance Armstrong's demise if any of the people who  have hounded him and accused him of doping had produced on shred of tangible evidence.

Armstrong may or may not be guilty of doping, or taking PEDs, but as long as the proof is still out there in the wind, this whole thing becomes a witch hunt. As it stands now, I can go out and accuse you of almost anything ... keep at it for years ... harass you until you break ... and then claim I was right all along.

I'm not sure I like that. And neither should anyone who has any respect for the laws governing slander, libel and due process.


Mitt Romney decided it would be a cool thing to tell a birther joke at his rally in Michigan. I think it would be a cool thing if Mitt Romney would just shut up. President Obama has been subjected to coded racism, both during his presidency and this campaign, that borders on unconscionable.

There's no greater proof of this than the birther movement. Is it any coincidence that the one non-white president has had this issue dogging him, in one form or another, since the 2008 campaign?

Argue all you want about the merits of Obamacare, Obama's handling of the economy, and whether the president has the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the people who want to defeat him. All worthy subjects to tackle. But the minute anyone starts this stuff, the masks come off and the real reasons why people who oppose some of the things he does and says are fairly apparent. He's one of THEM ... he's not one of US.

I guess anyone (and that would include me) who thought we'd risen about this was sadly and hopelessly naive.


Someday, I'd like to propose my own Fantasy Biology the way Todd Aiken has. I'm sure lots of people are with me on this. For example, I'd imagine anyone who's had the experience of losing his or her self control in the throes of Saturday night passion only to find out, a month or so later, that the baby's due next spring is with me on this too.

Seriously. If the female body is so finely tuned that it can direct sperm from an unwanted depositor to bypass the egg and skip the whole process, then why can't it do the same thing with sperm produced via teenage lust? Unplanned pregnancies, teen parenthood, and single-parent households would all be rendered obsolete.

So how about it, Rep. Aiken? Can you work on that in your next chapter of "Fantasy Biology."


Of course, this also begs the question, "what is illegitimate rape?"


Am I the only one who wants to scream when anyone's first reaction to incidents such as today's shooting in New York City turns political? While the event is still unfolding?

We all know where we stand, by now, on guns. But while tragedies are unfolding, wouldn't it be better, just out of respect for those going through them, to wait before we start hopping on the soap box?

This doesn't mean guns and our attitude toward them aren't legitimate issues. But there is such a thing as respect too. And one of the worst aspects of this country -- and one of the reasons why the whole political process is going to hell -- is that thorny issues that ought to stop us in our tracks and make us think are instead immediately turned into fodder for demagogues to use to incite and rile people up.


I don't think the issue is whether all 25 members of the Boston Red Sox didn't go to Johnny Pesky's' funeral. I think the issue is that there were guys on that team, by nature of their stature within the organization and their association with Pesky, who should have been there ... even if it wasn't required.

Perhaps that's not the entire team. But it's sure more than four.

If you spent any time around Johnny Pesky you knew what a decent man he was. You knew how much he cared about the team, and how much he cared about the players on it. If you wore "Red Sox" across your chest, you were his guys.

There are some people in that clubhouse who should truly be ashamed of how short they came up in all this. I hesitate to indict everyone. But if Nomar Garciaparra can jet in from out of town to be there, then any of the players who perhaps should have made going to his funeral a priority could have easily grabbed a few hours of sleep and made it to St. John's Church in Swampscott by 1 p.m.


Here's a question: Which will stir up more wind gusts next week in Tampa? Hurricane Isaac or the Republicans?


Today, we saw film footage of a shark devouring a seal. Why? What's the news value? Sharks eat seals. In fact, sharks eat seals the way we eat chicken and beef. If you want to know why there are so many sharks swimming up and down the east coast, it's because there are twice as many seals.

That's what predators do ... they go where the food supply is. Otherwise, they don't eat and starve to death. But when some news broadcast breathlessly announces "dramatic new footage, shark eats seal," it's like saying "dramatic new footage ... dog barks."

It's the same reasons we've seen such growth in the coyote population ... even in cities. It's because deer are everywhere.

We need to make choices in this country. On one hand, we bemoan the fact that deer are hunted, or that baby seals are clubbed. Which is fine. It's far more humane to be concerned for them than it is to kill them. But you can't have it both ways. You can't be mindful of the barbaric aspects of hunting and be totally oblivious of nature's balance. To wit: if you put wolves in Yellowstone, they're going to find, and kill, livestock for food; fix it so deer roam around in your backyard (and even encroach on the habitats of wildlife) you're going to find coyotes. You populate the ocean with seals, be prepared for sharks.


Finally, there is nothing quite so humiliating as a colonoscopy. And nothing quite as necessary either. It's worth remembering that while you're going through all the parts of the procedure that strip you of just about every shred of dignity you ever had.

Just an unsolicited observation ... not a personal experience! At least not for another year.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

In memory of a tragic day ...

It's easy to cavalierly call something a tragedy ... too easy, sometimes. You can take something that happened, say, in 1986, when the Red Sox lost the World Series to the New York Mets due to a ghastly set of circumstances in the 10th inning of Game 6, and say a "tragic chain of events occurred." Or something equally hyperbolic.

It's easy. But it's wrong. And not only is it wrong, it does grave injustice to the word "tragedy," and all it entails.

Forty-five years ago today, a true tragedy occurred. Tony Conigliaro, a promising, and spectacularly talented outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, was hit, and almost killed, by a fastball that hit him in the face, broke his cheekbone, and cost him much of the sight in his left eye.

What was tragic about it is that the story didn't end there. It was the first in a series of horribly tragic events in this man's life ... unspeakably sad events that resulted in his death at the age of 45.

Before he was 40, Conigliaro would suffer a debilitating heart attack, ironically after he'd just landed a job as a Red Sox color commentator. He lost consciousness, and oxygen, for so long he lived the rest of life in a severely compromised condition. And he lived that way for almost eight years before his life mercifully ended.

There's something particularly poignant about combining athletes and tragedy. The poet A.E. Housman even a wrote a poem about it, "To An Athlete Dying Young" ...although in Housman's case, the sentiment had  more to do with the fact that it is sometimes a blessing for an athlete, who has achieved all his glory in his younger days, to die before the leaves from the laurel wreath have turned.

Still, cynicism aside, there's the dichotomy of someone so strong and dominating being all of a sudden incapacitated due to injury, sickness or death. Millions of people have died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. But the disease is named after Lou Gehrig, one of sports' true ironmen (he of the 2,130 consecutive games played with the New York Yankees).

How many people get cancer? But when Lance Armstrong gets it, and beats it, he is the poster boy for the experience. The examples are endless.

In Boston -- my hometown -- we've had our share of genuine athletic tragedies ... moments, or occurrences, that have left an indelible impression on our minds, regardless of when they happened. Today, let's talk about 10 of them. And while it's impossible to rate tragedies in terms of their overall horror, some obviously have more significance than others. We have taken all this into consideration when ranking them, 10 through 1.


10 -- The Cocoanut Grove Fire, November 28, 1942. The only real sports connection the fire -- which claimed the lives of 492 people (the deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history) -- has is that the entire Boston College football team, which had lost earlier that day to Holy Cross (ruining its undefeated season), canceled a planned victory party there, thus certainly sparing at least some of the players' lives,

The fire itself started in a dimly lit lounge because a busboy, who couldn't find a lightblub socket, lit a match to get a better view. Something sparked, and the fake palm leaves and other highly flammable objects fueled it almost immediately.

Between the fire, the smoke, and the panic that ensued, it was a true holocaust. The owner was convicted on 19 counts of manslaughter (the plaintiffs picked randomly to represent the dead) and sent to prison. Thanks to the fire, much of Boston's fire code was rewritten and strengthened. 


9 -- The shooting of Darryl Williams, September 28, 1979. Five years into court-ordered busing, Williams, a sophomore at all-black Jamaica Plain High School (Jamaica Plain is an inner-city Boston neighborhood), was in Charlestown with his team for a football game. He'd scored his first varsity touchdown in the first half. 

At halftime, he and his teammates were gathered in the end zone for the usual pep talk when a shot rang out. The bullet got Williams in the back and turned him into a quadriplegic in an an instant. Three days later, Pope John Paul II prayed for him at the mass he celebrated on the Boston Common.

Williams had plenty to be bitter about ... but he resisted the temptation to wallow in what happened to him. He became a much sought-after motivational speaker and an inspiration to kids and adults everywhere. 

Unfortunately, Williams was taken from us far too soon ... in March of 2010. The kids who shot him to death claim they were shooting at pigeons. In 1979, five years after court-ordered busing tore the city apart ... and three years after Ted Landsmark was attacked by the American Flag during a demonstration in Government Center, that claim seemed a bit preposterous. It still seems that way today.


8 -- Travis Roy paralyzed in hockey accident. On Oct. 20, 1995, 11 seconds into his first shift for Boston University, Roy -- a graduate of nearby Tabor Academy -- crashed awkwardly into the boards after trying to check a North Dakota player. The collision cracked his fourth and fifth vertebra, making him a quadriplegic and confining him to a wheelchair.

There are so many layers of sadness here (though, thankfully, one of them isn't that we're mourning him. Travis is very much alive, and keeps his audiences spellbound as a motivational speaker). The kid lived for hockey. He went to three different high schools along the way, with the objective of landing a scholarship at a major hockey college. And BU is as major as they get.

But to me, the saddest thing I read, or heard, about the Roy was that after the accident, he had a pretty good idea about what had happened, and what it meant. When he saw his father, who had come down onto the ice to be with him, he looked at him and said, "dad, at least I can say I made it onto the ice."


7 -- Normand Leveille's brain aneurysm. Leveille was a highly promising prospect for the Boston Bruins at a time when the team seemed ready to make another serious run at the Stanley Cup. A scorer with a smooth touch around the net, Leveille was off to a good start in 1982. But between periods of a game in Vancouver, on October 23, 1982, Leveille began feeling dizzy. He'd suffered a brain aneurysm. 

Thus began a tense struggle for his life. After seven hours of surgery, he was stabilized. Thankfully, he's still with us, and has been able to leave a productive life. But large parts of him are severely compromised, including his ability to communicate.

It was later determined that Leveille's condition was congenital. It was termed a time bomb that could have gone off anywhere, at any point. It just happened to go off in Vancouver, on that particular night. Although he'd been checked pretty hard during that game, doctors ruled that contact had nothing to do with the injury.


6 -- The suicide of Junior Seau. Certainly the most recent of Boston-area sports tragedies, Seau -- certain to be a Hall of Fame NFL linebacker someday -- took his own life on May 2 of this year after shooting himself in the chest.

Seau finished his career with the New England Patriots and from all outward appearances, he was a popular, gregarious, and well-adjusted man. His guitar was his constant companion, he was a surfer, and just seemed as if he had it all together.

But he played a long time in the NFL ... especially by NFL standards. His career lasted almost 20 years. That represents a lot of hits to the head ... and it's pretty likely many that were considered glancing blows caused far more damage that anyone knew at the time.

As anyone who has been paying attention knows by now, there are more and more instances of untreated concussions coming back to haunt players all the time. Ted Johnson of the Patriots also has experienced the long-term ramifications of too many hits to the head.

Sadly, apparently, so did Junior. It's' tough to know for sure, at this point, but we'll find out someday. And we may be stunned when we find out (which we will, as his brain has been donated for research).

It is known that he had insomnia, and was being treated with Ambien. Whatever else was on his mind that day, it's safe to say it was a hornet's nest of issues that came together and caused this tragedy.


5 -- The death of Reggie Lewis. Reggie's death was as needless a tragedy as there can be. Incompetence and stubbornness seem to be as much of a cause of it as illness.

Lewis was the pride of basketball hotbed Dunbar Memorial High School in Baltimore, Md., as well as Northeastern University of Boston. He helped lead the Huskies to four straight NCAA Division 1 basketball tournaments while at NU, and his coach was Jim Calhoun, who has led UConn to three NCAA championships.

In the spring of 1993, Lewis, an emerging star with the Celtics, collapsed while running down the floor during the first game of the playoffs against the Charlotte Hornets. After a period of rest, he tried to go back into the game, but felt weak again.

Tests showed that he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is the cause of death in a lot of young athletes. The first team of doctors recommended (strongly) that he retired from basketball, get treated, and -- with any luck -- he would live a long and happy life

But his wife persuaded him to go to a second set of doctors (this one called the "dream team" of cardiologists .. so named for the U.S. Olympic team the previous summer). They came up with a different diagnosis, and felt that, with proper monitoring, he could resume his career.

On July 27 of that year, while shooting around at a gym at Brandeis University in Waltham, Lewis collapsed again. This time, he never regained consciousness and died later that evening.

The second set of doctors who treated him were later sued, but they were acquitted of malpractice.


4 -- The death of Len Bias. The University of Maryland star never set foot on the parquet floor of the Boston Garden as a member of a Boston sports franchise. But he certainly was slated to.

Bias was Boston Celtics president Red Auerbach's last -- and among his best -- heists (Kevin McHale/Robert Parish for what turned out to be Joe Barry Carroll is still No. 1). Auerbach, who bamboozled more NBA execs than Bernie Madoff fleeced money-hungry clients, had traded Gerald Henderson two years prior to 1986 to the Seattle SuperSonics for their top draft pick.

As Auerbach undoubtedly suspected, the Sonics were terrible ... and would be just as terrible two years after the trade. As a result, the Celtics, who'd just run through the NBA like a rampaging flood en route to the NBA championship, went into the draft with the No. 2 pick.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, picking ahead of the Celtics, took Brad Daugherty ... certainly not a bad pick. Daugherty, from North Carolina, had a decent career. But Auerbach wasn't really subtle about who he wanted. He schemed for two years to get Len Bias.

Only Len Bias had other idea. The night after the draft, Bias and some of his friends went out and did some cocaine. Perhaps Bias wasn't used to the drug. Or perhaps in his glee, Bias just ingested too much of it

Either way, he snorted enough of it is so that it killed him. And in some perverse way, it killed the Celtics too for the next 22 years ... which is how long it took them to win their next title.

More than that, though, it took all the spunk out of Auerbach. He never quite had the same swagger again. Granted some of it was that he was getting older. But that experience just seemed to age him right before our eyes.

Most of all, however, Bias' death served as a blunt-force-trauma-to-the-head reminder of how fragile life is, and how its fragility just increases ten-fold when you do things that tilt the odds against you.


3 -- The sad, sad story of Darryl Stingley. This man, a Purdue graduate, was on his way to having a superb career with the Patriots. Drafted out of Purdue in 1974, Stingley was one of three first-round draft choices for the Patriots in coach Chuck Fairbanks' first season. 

And like fellow draft-mates John Hannah and Sam "Bam" Cunningham, Fairbanks was right on Stingley too. He was a supremely talented, and gifted, wide receiver/return specialist who may have, had injury not reared its ugly head, combined with Stanley Morgan, become one of the NFL's all-time devastating wide receiver tandems.

His only problem was staying on the field. He was star-cross when it came to staying healthy. But anything that happened to him prior to 1978 was a mere antecedent to the horrific injury he suffered on August 12 of that year. 

During a pre-season game in Oakland against the Raiders, Stingley was coming across the middle to catch a Steve Grogan pass. It was wide, but in the process, Stingley met Oakland's Jack Tatum, who leveled him with a helmet hit to the shoulder-area. The impact of the collision compressed Stingley's spinal cord, breaking his fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. He would remain a quadriplegic until his death, at the age of 45, in 2007 due to pneumonia, among other things.

In some ways (though certainly not all), Tatum has taken a bad rap. The hit itself was not illegal (at the time, though it would be if it happened now). The biggest beef people seem to have with Tatum is that he didn't exactly act remorseful afterward ... almost as if he were proud of it.

Somehow, that doesn't seem possible ... but that's how it came across. 

At the time of the hit, the Patriots and Raiders were less than two years removed from one of the most controversial and agonizing post-season losses in Boston-area sports history ... when an all-but-certain victory turned into a defeat when referee Ben Drieth called Ray Hamilton for roughing the passer. Between that, and the overall almost tribal rivalries that sprung when the old AFL merged with the NFL (face it, don't you get just a little more jacked up when those old AFL foes meet?), there resulted an abundance of bad blood between the Patriots and Raiders organizations (this wasn't helped either by a sideline shoving match between Pat Sullivan and Matt Millen in 1986 or the phantom "tuck rule" call in 2002!).

What people forget, though, is that Oakland coach John Madden visited Stingley every day, and the two became close friends. Also, former NFL Players Association president Gene Upshaw always took care of Stingley too. As did the Patriots, quite honorably, paying all his medical expenses for the rest of his life ... as well as for the education of his children.

Stingley did his best to keep his head above water, but his was a tough life. He lost his marriage as well as his mobility, and died far too young.


2 -- The death of Harry Agganis. For some people, this supersedes Tony C. And they'd have a legitimate reason. Harry embodied the entirety of A.E. Housman's poem. As a schoolboy athlete, Aristotle "Harry" Agganis was, hands down, my area's (the North Shore of Boston) best ever. As a pro, he was coming into his own. We'll never know, as a pro, how good he could have become. He was hitting .316 when took sick and died, but that was only in June of 1955, and it was really his first, full, successful season with the Red Sox.

The difference, I guess, is that Tony C had arrived. At the age of 22. He was already a superstar. His potential was limitless. If he kept up the way he'd started, his plaque would be in Cooperstown, N.Y. today. 

Agganis, a Lynn Classical graduate, was good at every sport he played. Those who grew up with him say he was like a man playing with boys on the baseball and football fields.

After he graduated from Classical, Agganis put BU on the map ... football-wise, at least. 

But Harry Agganis had a strong emotional pull with his widowed mother, and even though he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns to play football, he chose to sign with the Red Sox to be closer to her. He also knew baseball wasn't his best sport, and considered it a challenge to master it the way he'd made football his own.

It seemed to be working. As I said, he was hitting over .300 in June of 1955 when he came down with a viral ailment on June 2 that landed him in Sancta Maria Hospital. There are all sorts of explanations out there as to what the virus actually was (tuberculosis and pneumonia were among the suspected ailments).

He rejoined the club later that month, but relapsed and, again, landed in the hospital. He never left. On June 27, 1955, he suffered a pulmonary embolism and died.

His funeral is still the biggest in Lynn history, with throngs of people lined up along the route from St. George's Greek Church on the Lynn Common all the way to Pine Grove Cemetery. The randomness of his death seemed so cruel. 

After he died, a scholarship foundation in his memory was set up to award scholar/athletes who are entering college. It remains one of the most active, and well-known endeavors in the North Shore area and has yielded more than $1.5 million in grants to deserving students ... and the week of athletic events that celebrates his legacy attracts the second-largest collection of athletes next to the Bay State Games.


1 -- The Sad Saga of Tony C. These were both Greek tragedies in a very real sense ... but in very different ways.

Where Agganis was still making his way, Conigliaro was a true celebrity. He was a power hitter on an up-and-coming team (those 1967 Red Sox overcame 100-1 odds to win the American League pennant), he made records (some of them actually pretty good), he had matinee idol looks ... this kid had it ALL.

Where Agganis was humble, Conigliaro -- another Lynn-area kid -- was as cocky as they came. He seemed to live by the Muhammad Ali-Joe Namath credo that "it ain't bragging if you do it." It's possible this might have been off-putting to some, but you have to remember he was a 22-year-old kid living his dream, and having a great time doing it.

For all his swagger, there was an earnest joi de vivre in him as well. He put a ton of energy and effort into his game, and by the age of 22, he reaped considerable awards (the youngest -- at the time -- player to reach 100 home runs).

We rant and rave today over the sullen countenance of Jon Lester and the sneering arrogance of Josh Beckett. There may have been a little braggadocio in Tony C (such as when he once had himself paged in a Chicago hotel lobby because he didn't think anyone knew who he was), but he was not sullen, and he was not arrogant.

Tony C was also fearless (which proved, in the end, to be his undoing). Whether he came up in the ninth inning of a close game, whether he was facing the most crazed headhunter of a pitcher ... regardless of what the obstacle was, Tony C was ready to meet the challenge on his own terms.

In baseball parlance, that meant crowding the plate. 

In the 1950s and 60s, pitchers were far more likely to throw the ball under your chin when you got too close to the plate than they are now. Such tactics were much more accepted as part of the game than they are now. For one thing, it was easier to get even with the pitcher, because he had to bat. It was also customary, after you'd been hit in an obvious attempt at intimidation, to steal second and come in spikes high at the second baseman or shortstop as he tried to make the tag.

Again, that was accepted, and middle infielders pretty much knew what they were in for.

On August 18, 1967, that's where Tony C was ... on top of the plate. Jack Hamilton of the California Angels  was trying to move him back. You crowded the plate so you'd have a better chance of hitting the outside pitch (obviously) and to make contact with a sweeping curve that broke out of the strike zone. Pitchers, just as naturally, saw Tony C's tactics as an encroachment on their turf. And when you got combative battlers like Tony C and Hamilton in the same realm, bad things could happen.

Someone, right before Tony C got up to bat, had thrown a smoke bomb onto the field and it took 10 minutes (or thereabouts) to clear the air. Finally, play resumed. Soon enough, Hamilton came in hard, inside, with the ball heading right for Tony's head. He reacted too late. He threw his hands up, but it was a feeble attempt. The ball caught him flush on the side of the face. You could hear it even over the radio (baseball is still, after all these years, a radio game).

As an aside, it's almost astonishing that, after Agganis died so suddenly and mysteriously at Sancta Maria Hospital, the Red Sox still used it in 1967, but they did. Tony C was taken there and stabilized. The diagnosis was a fracture cheekbone and a detached retina.

He didn't play again until 1969, but he never regained his form. His was a case of promised snatched from him ... all while he could do nothing but sit and watch. He tried two comebacks (the second in 1975) but for all intents and purposes, his career ended on August 18, 1967.

Tony C. carried on. He went into broadcasting after the 1975 comeback fell short, and had established himself in San Francisco before coming back, at the beginning of 1982, to audition for the Red Sox color commentator's job Ken Harrelson had just left..

It appeared as if he'd gotten it too. And what perfect symmetry. "The Hawk" came to the Red Sox to fill Tony C's roster spot when he was beaned. Now, Tony C was going to take Harrelson's place in the booth.

But like so many other things in his life, it was not meant to be. En route to Logan Airport after his audition, riding in a car with his brother, Billy, Tony had a heart attack. By the time he got to Mass. General Hospital, he'd lost consciousness, but more important, oxygen. As a result, his brain was severely compromised.

He was only 37.

And that's how he lived out his days ... for eight more years until on January 24, a little over two weeks after his 45th birthday, he died.




Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Smorgasbord

This is kind of an "anything goes" column today ... and they can be dangerous. Usually, if you start ripping off opinions without backing them up with some sort of cogent thought, that's when you get into trouble.

But, sometimes, you just have so much on your mind that you just have to let it rip. So ... here it goes.

We start today with this. Farah Stockman of the Boston Globe provides the best argument I've read yet on our national obsession with guns ... and how it's OK, despite how we interpret the Second Amendment, to reassess it.

I can't get into the whole interpretation of the Second Amendment. It's open-ended, and I'd imagine it was written that way on purpose. You can interpret it any way you want (especially since the word "militia" does not denote "professional soldier."

But even though it's etched in stone, that doesn't mean we can't have a debate to at least set some limits as to what, exactly, "the right to bear arms" means. And that's goes double in an era where there are deadly weapons seemingly at our disposal that the framers of the amendment could never have imagined.

The only thing I could add is this: There are plenty of laws on the books in the United States that don't necessarily stop people from breaking them. Murder is against the law, yet people kill. Stealing? People steal. Assault and battery? Happens every day. You could conceivably be put in jail for having a joint in your car (though, thankfully, this doesn't happen as often as it used to).

Nobody advocates wiping any of those laws off the books. So what's the difference with that and guns? If we deem assault weapons against the law, and someone goes out and gets one, why do we throw up our hands and say "well people are going to get them anyway?"

The intractability demonstrated by NRA lobbyists on this issue (sadly, a national trend; intractability is kind of a cottage industry these days) prevents such a dialogue. First, as we've learned from science, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. You dig in ... I dig in. And the next thing you know, we're two gigantic beasts having a duel to the death. Any victory is Pyrrhic, because of the amount of nastiness that went into it.

This, I think, accurately reflects our political climate today ... and issues such as guns crystallize this climate perfectly.

For anything to change, all parties have to be willing to at least entertain the idea that it needs to be changed. Absent that, we have what we have today.


It was important for Penn State to remove Joe Paterno as its coach ... however that came about. It was important to alter murals that depicted him as a saint, and to remove the statue of him.

And it was important for the NCAA to penalize, heavily, the school's football program for its complicity in the Jerry Sandusky matter.

But I hope that Paterno doesn't end up being the poster boy/complete fall guy here. Because that would be the ultimate act of cowardice on the part of the university.

I fear that's happening. I don't care how much power Paterno had (or thought he had). The university still had an athletic director and a president, and a board of trustees, all of whom, by right, could have overruled any objections he might have had about dealing with this situation and destroying the school's "brand." If they did not, and if they didn't because they didn't want to tangle with Joe Pa, and his hold on Penn State donors who might otherwise be ignorant of what was at stake, then they are cowards, and such cowardice is criminal.

So when I hear people say that the PSU administration didn't have the "power" that Paterno had, that nauseates me. At some point, if you are an administrator, you have to stand up to these coaches who have spent their lifetimes building impenetrable fiefdoms within their elements, and you have to reassert control.

If you don't have the guts to do that, then get out and let someone with a little more courage and integrity do the job. 


I never really liked Rowan Atkinson all that much. That kind of stumble-bum comedy never really appealed to me. I never liked Red Skelton when he did it either. So at least I'm consistent.

That said, however, I thought the "Chariots of Fire" bit in last night's Olympic opening ceremony was brilliant.

See for yourself.


I have mixed feelings about the Olympics ... while we're on the subject.

On one hand, by virtue of what I do for a living (sports reporting), it's always thrilling to see elite athletes competing against each other, especially in sports where judging (and the probability of corruptibility among them) is not a factor.

For example, I can watch swimming all day. Ditto events like the Olympic Decathlon, where you're directly putting your ability up against your opponents', with no subjective judging to possibly taint an otherwise fair competition.

I get a little less enthralled with it, however, when judges come into play, because very often, you wonder whether you're watching the same event. I'd rather see a knockout in boxing than three rounds and a round of judges. A lot of that, I concede, is because I'm not 100 percent knowledgeable on some of the sport's more arcane rules (and that goes for other sports whose judges are bound by the rules as well).

But my biggest misgiving about the Olympics is the nationalism that comes with it. I agree it's a double-edged sword. There are rare times when an athletic event transcends that simple definition. The U.S. hockey team winning the gold in 1980, and beating the Soviets after the USSR had just invaded Afghanistan and caused an international furor, comes to mind. So does last year's Japanese women's soccer team upsetting the U.S. and winning the World Cup. Who but the most hardened  nationalist couldn't be happy for a country that had suffered unimaginable horror and tragedy in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami earlier that year?

By and large, though, if you win a medal, it's because you did better than your opponent. It shouldn't be an endorsement of your particular political system ... or an indictment against your opponent's.

Such unabashed nationalism robs us of appreciating the abilities of athletes from other countries. However, if you view the Olympics simply as a sports fan, we're (hopefully) in for two and a half weeks of pure viewing pleasure.


Someone wake me up when this political campaign ends. It's only July and it's already nauseating. The ads are despicable ... the conventions ought to be a real joy ... and the amount of invective hurled at the object of political propaganda/advertising is almost unprecedented.

Depending on who you support, either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama represent the devil himself. Either Elizabeth Warren is some humorless granola muncher/evil elitist who looks down her nose at anything or anyone less intelligent and/or worldly than herself; or Scott Brown is some barn-coated rube who posed naked to get through BC, and who is thoroughly incapable of making an informed decision without marching orders from Mitch McConnell.

Please. Enough. All this intractability and demonizing is what's bringing this country to its knees. It isn't that we're too liberal, or too conservative. There's nothing wrong with either. You need both extremes to form a consensus.

What you don't need is what we're getting now: the tail wagging the dog. That's the result of politics that don't allow light to penetrate the opacity .... whether that's liberal or conservative light.

And to me, that was the astounding aspect of John Roberts' decision on Obama's health plan. It went against the political grain. These days, I find I have more respect for politicians whose views don't represent some knee-jerk, lockstep, lemming-like march to nowhere.

It's difficult to take any politician seriously who continually echos the party line. Those are the ones who can't seem to think for themselves.

Brown has shown some measure of independence ... not all the time, mind you, but enough so that his votes aren't 100 percent predictable. That's fine with me.


Nobody knows (except the person in England who wrote the original article) who from the Romney campaign said that the White House "doesn't appreciate our shared history" with regards to our "Anglo-Saxon heritage."

But why don't people think? I'm sure this person doesn't really think this country's Anglo-Saxon heritage has been violated by our justifiably proud history of being a "melting pot" of all ethnic origins. No more than Obama really think that someone who built a business doesn't deserve credit for doing that.

In both cases, words were uttered without stopping to think of how they sounded ... a common mistake we all make every so often. Obama meant -- of course -- that even in matters where our ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit result in success, systems already in place, many of them sponsored by the government, made that dream a little more possible. As John Donne so eloquently put it, "no man is an island. Entire of itself."

It's just that when people start railing against "big government" they often forget the benefits they derive from said "big government." And they're certainly not afraid to avail themselves of said "big government" when it suits them to do so.

As for Romney's aide, I'm sure we can just chalk that up to his/her desire to cozy up to the British on the eve of Romney's trip over there. We do have a unique history. There haven't been a whole lot of instances in the history of the world where countries that have broken off from each other violently have ended up being such allies. So in that sense, our Anglo-Saxon heritage is unique.

The disturbing aspect of this quote, however, is the total absence of African-Americans or other non-Anglo-Saxon ethnic groups ... as if their presence in the U.S. somehow  makes them less important because they are not Anglo-Saxon.

In other worse, it could be seen as racist code for "Obama is black." Since you cannot always understand what is in people's hearts when they make these statements, it's impossible to know whether the author of this quote was using code. The point, though, is that there's enough suspicion about the use of "code" in our political lexicon today that it doesn't take much to have things interpreted that way.

Moral of the story: Don't say things like that if you don't want the scrutiny that comes with it. Let's assume that Barack Obama, an intelligent man, understands the unique connection between the U.S. and Britain just fine, and that he doesn't 'need Mitt Romney's people to amplify it for him.

And while we're at it, let's all appreciate our entrepreneurs and businessmen who have worked arduously to build enterprises that result in employment of the citizenry while at the same time understanding that our system of government and economics had a healthy hand in it.


Finally, since the Red Sox won the pennant in 1967, and I finally understood how exciting a pennant race can be, I've measured my summers by how relevant the team was in terms of its standings in the American League East.

And while I can bitch and moan about the Red Sox with the best of them, I also, sometimes secretly, hold out hope that they can go on that magic run that propels them from mediocrity to the playoffs ... something that certainly happened in 2004.

For the first time in a long time (probably since the early 1990s), I don't see that happening. This team is going nowhere. It's hard to figure out how an organization with so many resources (read: money) can be floundering so aimlessly.

Certainly, it's a group effort. The team has been mismanaged from the top down. The ownership has tried to diversify by investing in both NASCAR and soccer and, as a result, taken its eye off the ball. And in Boston, where the Red Sox are as much of a civic institution as the Freedom Trail, that's unpardonable.

(Then again, when it comes to civic institutions, don't get me started; the Boston Pops, today, aren't even the stars of their own show anymore on July 4 ... something that always sticks to my craw.)

This was compounded, last September, by a collapse that -- in light of what's been happening this year -- was certainly indicative of deeper issues than bad luck or a simple slump. Certain key people on that roster -- some obviously still here -- simply stopped caring.

When you consider how ridiculously these guys are getting paid in an era where the recession has wreaked havoc on the economy, that is an insult. But apparently, that's the case. How else can you explain this year's wretched performance?

The team absolutely should have identified Josh Beckett as the ringleader of this crowd and shipped him out of town, however they could, and regardless of how much it cost them. His presence on the team is nothing more than a reminder that grossly unprofessional conduct is acceptable.

Some of this is also the fault of the previous general manager, Theo Epstein, who saddled his successor with some woefully destructive contracts (John Lackey, Carl Crawford to name two). And some of it is the fault of the current front office, which demonstrated no unanimity at all when it came to naming Bobby Valentine the manager. As a result, Valentine, who obviously doesn't go out of his way to be liked, hasn't gained anyone's respect either because, by virtue of the incompetent way the front office handled his hiring, he's toothless.

Valentine also neutered himself in April by backing off critical comments he made about Kevin Youkilis ... comments that, I suspect, many people secretly agreed with. Youkilis was perceived by many as a hindrance last year during the collapse due to his cantankerous personality ... something that grated on people once he was injured and out of action.

So this was the Bobby V we were promised ... someone who was going to call these guys out when they started becoming prima donnas.

Only it's not the Bobby V we've gotten. When Dustin Pedroia (otherwise, one of the few people on this team who defies the commonly-held view that this is a me-first group of players) went public with his objections to Valentine's comments about Youkilis, Bobby V backed right down. And that was the end of him as far as being anyone to be reckoned with.

And without that cudgel, I'm afraid Bobby V has nothing else.

Terry Francona was here eight years. Many of the players who came up and established themselves on this team came up under his guidance. And Beckett, obviously, grew too comfortable with Tito as well.

It's easy to say that going from one extreme to the other should be effective. That's not always the case. It certainly hasn't helped Jon Lester any. Lester, it would appear, is not a leader. He is a follower. He's a good pitcher who, unfortunately, has fallen under the influence of some bad peer leadership. And he's paying the price, both in terms of performance and overall popularity.

One more in a bushel basket of reasons why Beckett should have been removed from this team's equation.

It wouldn't appear, on the surface, that Bobby V recognizes these nuances in human behavior. And in this day and age, you need leadership that does. That was always Francona's saving grace. He did. And he quietly dealt with it.

At any rate, it was 10-3 Yankees last night and I've never shut it down with regards to interest in this team before at least the middle of August. So we might be approaching a first here.

When do the Patriots start playing?


Have a safe trip back home, Stephanie and Pat.