Sunday, September 20, 2020

200,000 - and counting

It's difficult to wrap my head around this one: as of Saturday, more than 200,000 American citizens have died from the Covid-19 virus.

It's a godawful milestone. That number exceeds any other nation's death total on the planet. It's the only number that should matter to us.

To give you some perspective, that's nearly the entire population of Rochester, NY (pop: 206,284 in 2018). Gone. No more. Just take a pencil and erase Rochester from all the maps of upstate New York.

There are other numbers to think about: there were 407,300 American military deaths (from all causes) in World War II. It took nearly four years to reach that total. The 200,000 Covid-dead Americans is almost half the total of our World War II dead, but it's taken us only seven months to get there.

The thing about World War II is that we had strategy and tactics to subdue the enemy. I see no indication of strategy or tactics employed against the virus. It's seemingly spreading mindlessly like a west coast wild fire, because we are letting it do so.

I suspect there will be 250,000 deaths by election day. Because we have no national plan to stop this thing.

I also keep hearing the virus is no worse than the flu (a lingering red herring), but that's hardly true. Last year, there were 34,200 flu-related deaths in the United States. The year before that, there were 61,000, according the to Center for Disease Control.

Our best defense against the virus remains wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing. This is basically all we can do until a vaccine is developed, and depending on who you believe, that vaccine is anywhere from just a few weeks away to a few years.

But there remains resistance, even for something as simple as wearing a mask. The mask has become a politicized symbol and, well, it's killing us. The virus spreads from droplets flying out of our mouths and nose to possibly infect others, and wearing a mask protects others from our droplets landing on them.

The numbers are appalling, and I hate that we seem to be keeping a death count score like we're in some kind of championship game.

But this is no game.

Wear a damn mask.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Mailing it in

For a minute there, I was getting a little worried.

Kim and I had filled out our request forms for our absentee ballots for the upcoming general election about a month ago, and put them in the mail. The actual ballots, if we met all the requirements, were supposed to be mailed to us anytime after Sept. 4.

Our absentee ballots have arrived.
 This was just before the upheaval in the United States Postal System which, nationwide, seems to be experiencing delays in delivery, no thanks to arrogant President Trump sycophant Louis DeJoy, the newly-appointed Postmaster General, under whose leadership removed hundreds of sorting machines across the country, cut back workers' overtime and otherwise instituted other "cost cutting measures" just two months before the election.

The timing of this overhaul is egregious and smells of an attempt at voter suppression, especially coming as it does after Trump's unbased and endless railing about fraud related to mail-in (absentee) voting. Especially in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even if everything was corrected and put back the way it was, the damage has already been done if the original aim was to sow distrust in the voting system. You have to have faith in the system, despite all the QAnons, the foreign interventionists, the social media interruptus and other conspiracy theory advocates. If you don't have faith in the voting system – perhaps the most sacred of our institutions and which seems to be under continuous assault – then the republic is probably lost.

Just ask Ben Franklin.

Anyway, Sept. 4 arrived and left without the ballots in our mail box. So did the next few days. I was getting worried. The reason we're considering voting by mail – a reliable system of voting dating back 156 years ago to the Civil War, when Union soldiers voted by mail overwhelming from combat zones to re-elect Abraham Lincoln – is the pandemic. But also to avoid long lines at the polls in what is shaping up to be one of the most crucial elections in American history.

Despite our reservations to physically vote at the poll, Kim and I also made plans to vote early, long lines and pandemic be damned, just in case our mail-in ballots never arrived.

But on Thursday, Sept. 10, our ballots were waiting for us in the mail box. They were postmarked Sept. 9, which indicates to me, at least, that our local post office is handling the crunch. Or is prepared to.

I'm still getting my bills, after all, so there's that.

The ballot itself looks something like an Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) exam, where you fill in little circles next to the name of the candidate you want to vote for with a black pen. When the ballot is filled out, you put it in the enclosed envelope that came with the package, and sign the envelope in the space provided.

There are bar codes on the ballot and bar codes on the return envelope, which gives me a sense of security.

Then you either mail the envelope, or you can return it directly by hand, in person, to the Board of Elections. Given that the post office is less than a mile from our house, and the BOE is less than two miles, I'll probably just hand deliver it to the BOE once early voting begins.

My first time to vote in a general election was 1972, and I was excited. I've voted in every election since. I had faith in the system then. I have faith in it now.

So keep the faith, my brothers and sisters, and vote.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Hysterical research

The other day I was asked by a friend to find what I could about some early Lexington Senior High School football teams: specifically, the championship teams of 1933, 1934 and 1939. Apparently, this is for a project to honor those teams.

He was asking for a friend, a friend who works at the high school and who is actually a friend of mine in his own right. Yeah, I know. We're entering into the realm of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon here, which ultimately might find me biologically related to Abraham Lincoln (my birthday is February 12, after all) if I look too far.

But I digress.

My first friend in this story, the one who asked me if I could find anything on those teams, said his research was fruitless. Google, for once, turned up nothing and he wondered how he could go about researching this project.

Thinking out loud, I suggested he go to the library and check the microfilm machine, until I remembered we live in Covid World and the library is out of bounds right now. "Hmm. Let me look into it," I told him, more than wary of what I was getting into.

I worked as a sports writer for The Dispatch for 30 years, and I often turned to the paper's microfilm machine to research stories. Never mind that I've been retired almost 14 years and haven't touched a microfilm machine since 2006. But I'd give it a try.

So I went to the paper and I loaded the machine with the roll of film from 1933. Back in those days, The Dispatch was published only on Mondays and Thursdays, and in very small typeface. You can speed the advance of the microfilm in the machine to quickly find issues of the paper deep into the roll, but doing so can cause eye strain and headaches, so you have to be careful.

Anyway, I found the first football story of the season. There was no byline. In fact, there was no sports section. The story was on the front page of the paper, hidden among stories depicting school enrollment, the Volstead Act (I think Davidson County was dry in 1933), a scarlet fever outbreak and two men who were found dead by the railroad tracks.

The first problem I had was that the paper didn't publish first names of the players, even on first reference. A typical sentence might read, "Eanes then advanced the pigskin for 30 yards, evading a host of Spencer Railroaders."

Oh, my. Eanes who?

Stories never included season records. Or individual stats. It was horrible.

After about an hour, after checking each Monday publication for that Friday's game story, Lexington went 9-1 to win the South Piedmont Conference championship. Some of the players for coach Tom Young included quarterback Ralph Eanes (I eventually found his first name), twin brothers Hal and Frank Green, who were running backs, Lexington superstar fullback Bill Bailey, and players with last names like Johnson, Hill, Dry, Clodfelter, Myers, Bowers, Hinkle, Hedrick and Rogers.

I guess my friend, or my friend's friend (who also happens to be my friend) can check old Lexicon yearbooks for first names.

I also learned that Lexington wasn't the Yellow Jackets back then. They were the Indians. It makes sense, given Davidson County is the home of the indigenous Saponi Indian tribe. So there's that. I don't know when they became Yellow Jackets. It could be that Lexington was way ahead of the social curve toward racial sensitivity than ... nah. Never mind.

I went home, a little dizzy from the whizzing microfilm.

I remembered shortly after I arrived at The Dispatch in 1976, we published a special section heralding the big regular season-ending game between rivals Lexington and Thomasville. Both teams were undefeated. I remember doing the research for that issue. I used a microfilm machine, a clear example that my life is on an endless loop.

Anyway, I found the Lexington team records and results of every year from 1934 to 1975 and we put it in the special section. That made my current research a little easier.

The 1934 team finished 8-0-1. Bailey was a star. I wrote a story about him for the special section, and he gave me names of some teammates, including quarterback George Corn, with Ed Cross and John Myers at halfback. Leonard Craver was center, Whimpey Rogers was team captain and an end, with Allen Johnson and Oliver Briggs at the tackle slots.

The 1939 team went 11-0, and the microfilm gave me names like running back Ken Rhodes, halfback Everett "Shoe" Carlton, punter Spud Michael, center Ray Von Link, and a guy named Fat Price at guard. Fat Price was actually the venerable V.G. Price. I can't imagine any newspaper calling anybody Fat these days. It's like naming a team "Indians."

Lexington had a remarkable run, going 55-8-6 from 1933 to 1939.

There was one more thing I found. In 1939, there was something of a sports section then. The sports mast had a block in the right-hand corner stating that E.E. Witherspoon was the sports editor. A block on the left-hand side of the mast announced "The sports news, gathered here and there."

Oh, my.