Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Barry Bonds, Victim

("For Barry Bonds, a Decade of Inflated Blame for the Steroid Era")

Barry Bonds as sympathetic figure, as victim. I think not.

Is this the theory that time heals all wounds? That the arrogance and hubris of Mr. Bonds, his repeated denials of wrongdoing, are to be forgotten and forgiven?

Mr. Bonds did not act alone. He was joined by an indulgent ownership, more than willing to turn a blind eye as long as the bottom line kept improving, and by more players than we may ever know who were seeking glory, riches and  the advantages of a tilted playing field.

But Mr. Bonds, and Roger Clemens, both with outsized careers before the steroid era commenced, and outsized egos to match their skills, were the most visible and egregious of offenders. The Hall of Fame does not await either of them, and perhaps, ultimately that is the most damning condemnation of their actions.

Yet to deal in historical revision, trying to make Mr. Bonds something far less outrageous a character than the reality of that moment demonstrated, is to do a disservice to the fans. We should not carry hate in our heart, but showering Mr. Bonds with love and affection, almost asking his forgiveness for our trespasses, is not that to which he is entitled nor that which is our burden or obligation.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fear Itself

Where do we draw the line between justified concern and all out panic attack? We see disaster at every turn in these tumultuous times. Do we have nothing to fear but fear itself?

The stock market is teetering on the edge of free fall, yesterday morning's tumble of over 450 points serving as vivid testament. If the worry over the spread of Ebola continues to escalate, we may soon lock our collective doors and shut the windows. And maybe the initial catalyst for the heightened level of our unrest, ISIS, seems able to reside with impunity in its own universe, free of any moral constraints, ready to strike whomever it wants, wherever and whenever it can. 

But, if we are unsettled and seemingly surprised by growing woes in foreign economies can we not recall the events of 2011 when doom was omnipresent and collapse of the European Union appeared certain? Can we not comprehend that the Ebola threat, while very scary, has caused illness in our country to two people out of over 300,000,000, and that those two directly handled the types of fluids that transmit the disease? Or that ISIS, no matter how they flaunt their depravity, is not at our doorstep?

Yes, it is a difficult, troubling moment. But remember the stock market in late 2008 when it dipped below 7000 and looked to be heading into oblivion? Or when it seemed that a SARS epidemic was almost inevitable? Or that Osama Bin Laden was beyond our grasp and Al Qaeda posed an ever more powerful and maybe unstoppable threat?

I am not a financial analyst, not an epidemiologist, not a soldier. I possess no special acumen, no special ability to predict the future. But I do know that we tend to respond to each moment as though it was the absolute precursor, good or bad, for the next. And I think that history, if we stop and pay attention, warns us that these conclusions may well be far overblown and far from certain. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Battles Not Waged

("Republican- Majority Senate Is Starting to Look Likelier")

President Obama is toxic, or so goes the conventional wisdom as we come ever closer to R-day, that seemingly inevitable moment when control of both Houses passes to the Republican party.

Given, it is that most awful of times in a presidency, the six year mid-term election. But the perception of a failed administration, which fuels the potential Republican takeover, is met with less resistance than ISIS encountered when attacking Iraq and Syria or Putin faced when crossing into Crimea.

And for that, the Democrats deserve what is coming to them.

It was for one of your own, Paul Krugman, to take up the defense of a beleaguered Mr. Obama in a recent Rolling Stone article. Is he the only one who sees the successes that have occurred despite the tactics of an intransigent opposition?  For the longest time, it was thought that Obamacare would be the Waterloo of the Democrats in this election, but it is not so. And with one hand tied behind his back, as every attempt to infuse the economy with needed capital was met with howling opposition, the President has managed to steer the economy away from the cliff the Republicans would have pushed us over, and to a prolonged course of steady, if not spectacular, successes.

But there is little of this, or anything else concrete, that passes for a staunch defense of ground taken. Rather, the Democrats are running away from their triumphs quicker than the local armed forces in Iraq and Syria from their opposition. The Democrats have laid down their arms and are at the mercy of the Republican message.

Is it too late for those running to reverse course, show the courage and the conviction to support the President and the policies that have worked, to try to stem the tide of Republican electoral successes? The unfortunate sad truth, to borrow a phrase from that great seer, Sarah Palin, is "you betcha."

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Smelling Salts

("What I Saw as an N.F.L. Ball Boy")

The smelling salts serves as perfect metaphor, intended or not. While the author advises that his tale is not justification for wrongdoings perpetrated, his assertion that on-field brutality inevitably led to off-field "aftershocks" draws us directly to that very conclusion.

Violent collisions in athletic endeavor cannot serve as excuse or predicate for violent actions on those not part of this undertaking.

There is certainly room for compassion and understanding in our heart. Football players, gods at play, are human after all. We get it, and we understand that there are tensions and struggles that they too must face and demons they must conquer each and every day.

But this piece reads too much like marketing ploy, a misdirection to take us away from the scene of the crime and into a locker-room full of blood and agonized screams, smelling salts needed to revive our damaged warriors with their damaged brains. It creates the impression, or at least gives implication to the notion, of criminal wrongdoer as victim.

From that moment  in 1979 when a limping and exhausted Mean Joe Greene tossed his  jersey to an awestruck young boy, we have been informed that behind the face of the fearsome lion was the heart of a  gentle lamb. But reality does not reside in slick television commercials. And it is now time we stopped being awestruck ball boys and faced some very ugly truths.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Government We Deserve

("Rules to Vote By" and "Why Do We Re-Elect Them?")

It is the dimwit theory, the "Don't Insult Me With Intelligent Thought". Don't try to persuade with logic, with facts. Don't point to the voting record, the party platform, the statements that are two steps beyond ludicrous. Don't focus on issues like immigration reform, gun control, minimum wage, government shut-down, health care, unemployment, isolationism or intervention, the environment, infrastructure, obstructionism, racial tensions, protecting the downtrodden, reigning in the excesses of the 1% and the too big to fail or even closing Guantanamo. Just doesn't matter.

What matters, for the vast majority of those that decide to take part in the election process, is virtually nothing. Most who bother to pull a lever, punch a hanging chad, fill in a circle, place an "X", or do whatever they do in the polling booth, have not studied, analyzed, questioned or even listened. We are an apathetic and uninformed electorate.

How can anyone in the country be paying attention and still consider a Republican candidate, virtually any Republican candidate, worthy of their trust and their vote? Those running this party rely on voters not connecting the dots from their policy and practices to the effect on these constituent's lives. And the impending Republican control of both the House and Senate is testament to nothing more than our meeting, and possibly exceeding, 
those expectations.

The result of our own shortcomings is that we get the government we deserve, but neither need nor want. And until we stop being dimwits we are destined to more of the same for the increasingly uncomfortable future.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Family of Mann

 In response to People Magazine's article - "Out of the Shadows"

We were once like most families, proud of the accomplishments of some, snickering a little at the foibles of others, but glad to be counted among its members. It was the home we went to when we needed shelter, and it served as a blanket to keep us warm when the cold of winter descended. The cold is now upon us, having  permeated to the core of our being.

The family of Mann is fractured. Much like the ground along the fault line of an earthquake, below a calm exterior was a festering disease. We were transfixed by our academic excellence and fooled into believing that intellectual strength required coupling with moral integrity. Those who would do us wrong, rob us of our good name, worked in the shadows, hidden from our sight. They preyed upon the unsuspecting, the vulnerable. They ate the meat from their bones, and left behind  pain and suffering of unimaginable proportion.

Horace Mann was not the beneficent god we thought it was. It was not even the uncle who was a bit off but harmless. At its very core there has been revealed a heart of darkness

So much good has been laid to waste by the revelations that continue to surface, continue to remind us never to really place our trust in anyone or anything. All the memories we carried with us over the last half century are now tinged with doubt. Question permeates every past certainty, confusion existing where there once unfettered clarity.

A band of thieves have stolen our pride and left our blanket in tatters. When we speak of Horace Mann these days, we do so in far more subdued tone, often with apology. We distance ourselves from its tragedies rather than revel in its triumphs.

It would be easy to treat this as a problem whose time has passed, the perpetrators having long left the scene, many having long left this earth. But our family would still be riddled with an illness left untreated. We owe it to those who have been most battered and beaten not to forget. If we are ever to put our family back together again, to be made whole, or at least as close to whole as we can, we must confront the sins of the past and do what we can to make things right. Until that day comes to pass, we can never again call ourselves the family of Mann.

Friday, September 26, 2014

And In the End

This was how it had all played out in our heads: the game on the line, the inside out swing, the ball darting into the outfield between first and second base, the arms raised high in triumph, the smile admitting to himself that this was indeed the completion of a job very well done.

It mattered not that this was the most meaningless of all games he had ever played at the Stadium. To those assembled and those watching it had two decades of significance and a weight that fully belied the circumstances.

It would be the last game he ever played at shortstop, and it would be but one more memory for all of us to store, to treasure. It was all over now, his time and that of the group that carried the team to repeated greatness.

Derek spoke of many likening it to a funeral, and in some ways he was right. But this was a moment of triumph and celebration even as it was wrapped in a sadness that this light was being extinguished. Our tears carried meaning on so many levels. But what better way for him to bid us goodbye.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Politician's Life

("The Vain and the Desperate")

Who indeed would subject him or herself to this process, to the interminable race, to the accusations and innuendos, to the prying eyes, to the ever more intense hunt for the next dollar, to the pettiness and the petulance, to the pretending and the prevaricating, to all that is entailed?

For what earthly reason, to be ultimately thrust into a quagmire, into a world in which reason and logic seem to have little space, where loyalty runs not to ideals but to donors, where the room is full of Hatfields and McCoys and where positive outcome, along with Elvis, seems to have left the building?

For the Republican party, void of any meaningful ideas, existing in a vacuum of deceit and denial, clinging to hatred as the central platform, whose purpose seems to be to do as much harm to as many as possible, it would be nigh impossible to locate a viable candidate for President whose shortcomings were not omnipresent.

And for Hillary, and others on the Democratic side who will soon embark on this all consuming mission to hell, what is the great allure? Two years of words, endless and repetitive, to convince the few who are listening, who care and who have not already aligned with one camp or the other, of the sanctity of their cause?

And at the end of the road, after the dust settles and the single moment of glory has passed, to be embroiled in a task in which there is seemingly no opportunity at home to do anything promised and on foreign soil to be relegated to the role of fireman, trying to extinguish blazes but handed only a small bucket of water, desperately hunting for other fire departments willing to attempt to prevent a conflagration?

Always on a high-wire without a safety net.

Who indeed but the foolish or the foolhardy would wish this life?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Derek and the Last Goodbye

It has all been a prelude, a buildup to this moment. As each actor has left the stage, the crescendo has increased. Now, with the spotlight cast fully upon the last man standing, the roar is deafening.

And the team has done its part, moving out of the way, long since having given up any chance of carrying on to further glories. There is no suspense or meaning to these games other than to be witness to the end of an era. It is as if no one else exists on the diamond. As we cast our eyes upon the field, we feel we are in a final embrace, one last dance with our partner, the power and beauty of two decades of memories cascading before us.

They were considered the four cornerstones of a generation of greatness. But there were truly five. When the center fielder left in 2006, his passing from the scene was duly noted but hardly felt. The team was at the height of its power, the stars were in abundance and his contributions were never as deeply acknowledged as they might have been, due in large measure to his quiet demeanor and the understated elegance with which he went about his craft.

The next to depart, from that class of four who emerged as if born of one moment in the mid-1990's, was the catcher, tough and gritty emblematic of the space he occupied, scrapping and clawing for every inch of turf. And when he walked off the field after the final out of 2011 his glory was large, but the shadow he cast was still dwarfed by a squad good enough to reach the post-season and by his three brothers who still toiled with such unerring success.

In 2013 the unending circus surrounding the third baseman sucked some of the air out of the building.  And the southpaw twirler, who seemed to live in perpetual agony while on the mound, always dissatisfied with his performance, always reaching for a higher level of perfection, pawed the rubber for the last time at season's end.

Gone with him was the greatest of all time at the position at which he held supreme from first pitch to last, a study in absolute contrast to the noise and tumult at the hot corner. Humble and seemingly devoid of ego, the consummate worker, punching the time clock day after day, year after year, focused only at being the best he could be. And in his rare moments of failure, accepting the consequences with a grace and dignity rarely seen. As the team struggled and ultimately did not advance, there was an ability to stand back and appreciate the masterpiece that stood strong and erect, on that raised platform. The league paid tribute and the noise swelled. But in the background there was still one more, whose time was nearly over and who we glanced at even while we stared as the reliever threw his last pitch.

In 2014 there have been no distractions, nothing to take our focus, our energy, our heart in various directions. All the heroes have disappeared, the next generation of star having departed for the west coast. The cast of characters that was paraded before us were almost interchangeable, virtually unknown, and if they were once or possibly future stars, they were not in this year.

There he stood, forever resolute, dedicated to the task at hand, always ready, always eager, always wanting nothing more than to put on the glove, pick up the bat, play the game.

His struggles in this final go round were irrelevant. We were here to pay tribute to a body of work, to an era that had disappeared, to a player who seemed to rise above the rest, to the captain of the ship. We were here to thank him for all that he had accomplished and for everything in which he believed.

In a time when disturbances seemed to overtake the sport, when accusations of wrongdoing  badly damaged its image, when we longed for nothing other than the purity of pursuit, when many beside him were concerned with self promotion and the joy in watching them perform was muted, out of all this mess and above the fray he stood. Implacable and undeterred, the next moment being the only one that mattered, his greatness nothing if there was no glory for his teammates. He was the embodiment of everything we held dear, with steadfast and unwavering dedication, with wonderful talent and wondrous maturity from the first day he put on the pinstripes. He understood that this was about something much more important than himself.

Numbers don't tell his story. They are but figures upon a page but cannot begin to reveal the mark which this man made on those who, for nearly two decades, had the privilege of seeing the sport played the way it was intended.

And as we rise and give our prolonged applause and wait for the last light on the stage to be extinguished, we must consider ourselves most fortunate. Thank you a thousand times over to Bernie, to Andy, to Jorge, to Mariano and finally to truly one of a kind. Derek you allowed us to love baseball and to remember the reason we are so drawn to it. You will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Taking the Bait

("Take a Deep Breath")

Why did ISIS poke us with a stick? Why would this group provoke us with videos intended to mandate a visceral reply?  Why are they taking the fight to us? Are we being played?

Clearly, the beheadings were a marketing tool, a recruiting poster on steroids. For those disaffected, disillusioned, disenchanted, discouraged and dismayed by the events that have swirled around them creating such havoc, the United States has been cast in the role of malevolence personified. Like a deus ex machina having gone horribly wrong, bringing with it only death and destruction. The videos were the equivalent of spitting in the face of a vengeful, evil god and announcing that,as of that moment, it was no longer in control.

But, are we compelled to take this bait, or do we merely descend to the level of our provocateurs if we throw first our toe, then our foot, and before we realize it,  possibly our entire being back into the morass?

If we have learned lessons over the past 13 years, and it is most difficult in a time of crisis, real or imagined, to step back and do as Mr. Friedman suggests, then it is that embarking on a course in the absence of contemplation and consideration of consequences is not a proper method for governing.

Maybe ISIS is counting on cooler heads prevailing, that the heat of the moment will soon pass, that the humiliation will run its course and all that will remain is the hard reality of the disaster of re-engaging in this region.

There are only tough questions and elusive answers here.