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.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Deranged hate rears its head again

When Gabby Giffords was shot two years ago, I think we all learned a valuable -- if hard -- lesson. We learned that before you can start pointing fingers at people as if you're certain what their motives are, you can't assess blame for enormous tragedies that just rip the heart right out of the country.

I learned that lesson, anyway. It was easy to say that amped-up political rhetoric caused a mentally unbalanced man to open fire on Ms. Giffords and cause an unspeakable tragedy. It was easy because, well, political rhetoric IS amped up ... and will continue to be amped up long after we're all dead. But 99.99999 percent of the country understands it for what it is, and can manage to function within society's normal parameters and protocol quite nicely.

So why, after another horrible tragedy Thursday night in Colorado, in which a 24-year-old man opened up a canister of gas in a crowded theater showing the premiere of the latest Batman movie, and then started shooting (killing 12 people) do I hear lefties blaming it on the Tea Party and righties blaming it on relaxed standards, Hollywood, our growing ambivalence (if not antipathy) toward  organized religion. Why has this -- already -- turned into an opportunity for zealots on either side of the gun control issue to start spewing rhetoric?

Didn't we learn anything two years ago? Weren't we all a little too quick to jump to conclusions about any possible political motives for the Giffords tragedy? Couldn't it simply be that the man in question was unbalanced to the point that he received different messages coming out of the day-to-day hurly burly of life than the rest of us did?

And couldn't it be that this guy is similarly unhinged? Disconnected from reality? Disassociated with anything approaching an emotional filter that would curb his most virulently anti-social impulses?

A tragedy such as this screams mental illness. The whys and wherefores surrounding the shooter's condition are another story for another day. There is no singular definition for mental illness. There is only the fact that it exists, that it exists in many forms, and that it often ebbs and flows within the physical chemistry of its victims. And if there was an in-harmonic convergence of  circumstances that led to this, then I respectfully submit that nobody knows, less than a day after it happened, why.

So this is not a time to intensify the gun control debate. Who cares what anybody thinks? Does it matter to the 12 people who died, their families, their friends? Does it matter to the victims who may have been wounded by shrapnel or bullets? Or who may have inhaled too much of that gas? Does it matter to their families or friends?

This is not a time to start bitching about the Tea Party. We all know what we think. And we're all, by now, fairly entrenched in our views. Using a tragedy such as this to try and score points against the other side is rank opportunism that should be summarily condemned.

It's also not a time to start bitching about any other pet causes, be they the lack of religion, the disintegration of social mores, Hollywood, etc. If all this means to anyone is that it opens up an opportunity to bring down the hammer on some group or cause .... then all I can say is put the damn hammer away and show a little compassion and respect for the enormity of the tragedy.

Because if you really want to know, our willingness to get our backs up and immediately identify heroes and villains almost immediately, and paint them in such uncompromising black and white, does nothing but get in the way. I can't think of one Republican, one  Tea Party member, anyone named Obama, or anyone named Rush Limbaugh who WANTS to wake up in the morning and find out some deranged gunman has blown away 12 innocent people in a movie theater. We are all uniformly horrified as such an act regardless of we stand politically, just as we were uniformly horrified when Gabby Giffords was shot, when the terrorists brought down the towers, when the two kids blew their classmates away in Colombine, and when the killings occurred at Virginia Tech.

I really wish we could hang onto that feeling for a least a few days before all the political and sociological posturing starts. Because such posturing shows a startling lack of respect for the memory of those victimized by these random acts of violence. It's bad enough that they died for no apparent reason other than to fulfill the (perhaps) momentary vision of a deranged, unbalanced person. Do their deaths have to become political footballs so soon?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Death Penalty (and maybe even more) to Penn State

This is hardly a novel, or original, sentiment, but let me be about the one-millionth person to suggest (strongly) that the NCAA blow up the Penn State University football program and let the rubble sit for a good long time before picking up the pieces and rebuilding.

This may not be fair to the players who are still there, or the new coach, or to anyone else not directly connected with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but as John F. Kennedy one said, so eloquently and so prophetically, life is unfair.

This is one time that if the university itself doesn't take a stand, then the sport's governing body must. The NCAA hands out penalties for the most foolish of reasons, so if it can't see fit to bring the hammer down on this fiasco, then whatever shred of credibility it has is gone forever.

I should say up front that my high school has two alumni coaching major college sports: Brian Kelley at Notre Dame and Bill O'Brien at Penn State. I should also say I'm a proud alumni of St. John's Prep and was thrilled, both times, when fellow Eagles made it to the top .... even if I don't know either of them personally. Still, O'Brien will land on his feet. He had the audacity to go face-to-face with Tom Brady, after all, so we know he's got the chops. He'll do fine. Penn State would have no choice but to pay him. He won't starve.

This isn't about Bill O'Brien. It's about institutional malfeasance of the most wretched kind. It's about a coverup that makes Watergate look like a white lie by comparison.

Think about this. An assistant coach at one of the most prestigious football universities in the country was found guilty of being a serial child molester. He corrupted the innocence of countless childhoods. None of the children he molested will ever be the same. And when you consider how many victims of that type of abuse ultimately end up doing the same thing, you can safely say he created, by his actions, more criminals.

Sandusky has been dealt with. He will never get out of jail. Ever. Unless it's in a box. And that's as it should be.

I am philosophically opposed to capitol or corporal punishment on the grounds that as a society we should be above that kind of eye-for-an-eye retribution (and all I can say is hope to GOD I never have reason to test that high-minded view). But if I were to ever make an exception, it would be for something like this. My gut tells me that one a week, the guards should let Sandusky loose among the general population and go for coffee.

 Sadly, the problem goes deeper than Sandusky. The FBI report clearly states that the Penn State hierarchy -- from the tippity top on down --  covered all this up. Apparently, its brand ... and its legacy .. meant more than protecting children. Awful. Unconscionable. Evil. All of these people should be thrown in the same cellblock with Sandusky, and should similarly be let loose among the general population for coffee break.

Any reminders of Joe Paterno at Penn State should be destroyed. And this is coming from someone who thought, for years, that Paterno was the anti-sleazy college football coach. Joe Pa does it the right way. Jo Pa has dignity. Jo Pa is a guy we can admire and root for without feeling like we have to take a shower afterward.

Now? There aren't enough showers, and there isn't enough soap or hot water, to wash away the stench. What an awful realization.

That statue of him on campus? Dismantle it. Throw it in the trash. Anything named for him? Change the name. It won't be nearly enough, of course, to wipe out the indelible stain of his neglect in this matter, but at least it'll be a sign by the university that it means business if it seeks to atone for its (in)actions.

Needless to say, anyone connected with this coverup should be fired on the spot and prosecuted to whatever extent the law allows (there's the inconvenience of the statue of limitations in some cases, I suppose).

And then, finally, maybe just as a symbolic ritual, the entire campus should be fumigated.

This is personal with me. I've worked with kids in youth sports. I know how delicate some of them can be. And generally, it's the delicate and timid kids that end up being the targets of predators such as Jerry Sandusky.

My son and wife work with kids in Boy Scouts. I know how seriously they takes their obligations and responsibilities when it comes to their stewardship.

I've had several acquaintances prosecuted for this crime, with two of them convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms. I cannot tell you how low my heart sank when I heard about their arrests, or how angry I was when I found out the details of what they'd done. It is the ultimate betrayal ... and not just on a personal level either. Every time someone molests a child, whether it's a priest, youth sports coach, scout leader, camp director, whatever, it calls into question everyone else who seeks to volunteer for such endeavors.

All I can say to those who feel the football program shouldn't suffer because of this is get real. Maybe if college football wasn't such a humongous big business to begin with, Jerry Sandusky would have been thrown out of Penn State years ago. If there wasn't such a legacy ... or such a "brand," think of how many kids would have been spared this horrific experience.

Shut it down. Open up the windows. Let the fresh air -- not to mention a good professional fumigation -- blow away the stench that will otherwise pollute this campus as long as there's an active program.

And maybe, someday, in the far future, they can try again.

Meanwhile, it really behooves the NCAA to reassess, on every level, the emphasis it puts on college sports. If there's a better example of the tail wagging the dog, I don't know what it is.