Sunday, June 6, 2021

D-Day

Today marks the 77th anniversary of D-Day, that seminal moment in American military history that amazes and inspires us at the same time. It shares our grateful awe of commitment with the likes of Valley Forge, or Gettysburg, or even the Alamo, among many other pivotal battles in our hallowed memory.

D-Day marked the primary invasion of western Europe (the Allied landings of Sicily and Italy in 1943 notwithstanding) and signaled the beginning of the end of the Nazi Third Reich.

In terms of timeline, I was born only seven years after D-Day. So the only way I can experience that remarkable day – the horror, the heroism, the history – is through books, or grainy newsreel footage, or cinema. 

There were 4,414 Allied deaths that day, about 2,501 of them American. And most of them on Omaha Beach.

So when I watch the footage, or read the history, I wonder if those soldiers had any idea of the history they were making. Did they see their service as one of preserving democracy in the face of fascism? They saw the effects of fascism – the death camps, the genocide, the destruction – firsthand. Would it ever cross their minds that autocracy could happen in the very country where they were fighting to preserve their democracy?

Could they envision the systematic suppression of voting rights in an era of Jim Crow? But even in this war, attitudes were changing. Two months after the D-Day landings, the Allies made their breakout, eventually outrunning their supply lines. Thus was born the Red Ball Express, a truck-dominated convoy system where 75 percent of the drivers were African-Americans who were racing much-needed supplies through Europe to the front lines. 

The Red Tails, another Black outfit, flew P-40s and then P-51s providing escort for the bombing missions over Germany. The 761st antitank battalion, yet another all-Black unit, wrote history in Belgium. One of its soldiers, an athlete named Lt. Jackie Robinson, went on to create baseball history a few years later.

The 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Infantry Regiment was composed of soldiers of Japanese descent, many of whom saw their very families sent to internment camps for the duration of the war. Despite this, the 100th became one of the most decorated units in our history.

What was that about immigration?

So anyway, when I see the footage of American soldiers falling on the sand at Omaha Beach, does it occur to those men that one day the U.S. Capitol could be stormed by white supremacy groups? That an entire political party deals in conspiracies and lies in order to maintain its power? Isn't that what those soldiers were fighting against? Is that the American future for which those soldiers gave their lives?

I once thought D-Day meant the end of Nazi dominance in Europe. But neo-Nazi groups are springing up like mushrooms in the darkness. Social and political division is everywhere.

D-Day has to mean more than that. We have to be better than this. Those men who fell on the beaches were our Greatest Generation. Surely we can be better than this. 

For them.

 

 



 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Treed

Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall

And down will come baby, cradle and all

I always thought that was an unusual nursery rhyme to be singing to a kid, especially a young child.  Boughs breaking and cradles falling from trees with babies in them. Pretty unsettling stuff, actually.

And unsettled is where my next door neighbor, Billy West, and I were at the moment.

Work begins on cutting the tree.
Our property line splits a towering red oak tree neatly down the middle. A GPS device couldn't have divided the tree between us more equally.

But the tree was a serious problem. It was located at the end of our properties along an old trash alley, and it had an obvious lean to it, maybe 10 or 15 degrees off perpendicular. Furthermore, it was leaning toward our 100-year-old houses. And as if that wasn't enough, the troublesome tree was tearing up the asphalt in the alley. I could no longer drive over the annoying root bumps without scraping the bottom of my car. That didn't used to happen, thus giving me a clear indication the tree was slowly tilting toward our houses, degree by degree.

So we made the difficult decision to bring the tree down. I got estimates from two companies. One was for five figures. The other guy said he didn't want to touch it. He measured the tree: it was 170 inches in circumference, and probably 100 feet tall. It was a monster. If it fell, it would take out (or at least severely damage) three houses. Call someone else, please.

Billy found a company he'd used before when he lived in a different location. J & K Land Management out of Clemmons gave us a reasonable estimate, telling us they could take down the tree in two-and-a-half days as well as remove the stump and level out the ensuing crater with fill dirt.

The crane removes a bough.
They started work this past Monday, using an old (circa 1988) Navy surplus mobile crane rated for 40 tons. It took them all week to bring down the tree. They'll work on the stump next week.

Kim and I love trees, and so do the Wests. This wasn't an easy decision for any of us to cut this one down. But then a planning official from the city dropped by a day into the project, took one look at the lean of the tree and the odd nodules growing halfway up the trunk, and told us "this is a dying tree. Those are tumors."

Because we are in the historic district, we needed a Certificate of Appropriateness to remove the so-called Treasure Tree. The COA gave the reason for the project: "...tree is diseased and leaning, causing a public danger to life and property."

Suddenly, there was a sense of urgency in the take-down.

It was a fascinating project to watch. They brought down the tree bough by bough, tying off each bough to the crane, making chainsaw cuts, and then using the crane to lower the bough onto the grassy field at Mountcastle Insurance (Many thanks here to business owner Andy Calvert. The use of his field as a temporary sawmill was critical in making this a much less complicated process than it could have been).

Ryan Kemp, the "K" in J & K, was operating the crane and he had a computer that could weigh each pick he made from the tree. "That last bough weighed 10,000 pounds," he told me before they stopped for the day on Wednesday. Yikes.

The trunk is ready to come down.
I also held the J & K work crew in high regard. Imagine going to work 50-80 feet in the air every day, tied down with a harness and safety ropes, a chainsaw in your hands and a prayer on your lips. Oh, my.

The trunk of the tree came down on Friday, and with it came another revelation. The tree was rotting from the inside. There's a big hole in the center of the stump. When you look down into it, you can see the ground. There is no wood there, no there there. Only air. And a colony of carpenter bees. That figures.

That means the base of the tree was hollow, the upper weight of the tree being held up by the perimeter strength of the trunk. I have no doubt the tree could have fallen in the next windy day, or with the weight of the next ice storm.

Our alley gets a fair amount of foot traffic. Joggers. Strollers. Dog walkers. I figure by taking the tree down, we added another 100 years to our houses as well as to the general public safety.

You're welcome.

• Just a note on nursery rhymes. As scary as Rock-a-bye Baby can be if you take it literally, there is a theory that the lullaby could be a satire of the Glorious Revolution, with the baby being the son of James II as a Catholic heir, with the wind representing the Protestant force of William of Orange from the Netherlands, and with the cradle being the Royal House of Stuart.

Or not.


 


Sunday, May 23, 2021

That's a no-no

Well, here it is, May 23 – less than two months into the major league baseball season – and we've already seen six – count 'em, folks, six – no-hitters.

In fact, two of those no-hitters were hurled within 24 hours of each other when Detroit's Spencer Turnbull blanked Seattle on Tuesday and then New York Yankees Corey Kluber no-hit Cleveland on Wednesday.

The four other no-no's saw San Diego's Joe Musgrove defeat Texas on April 9; Chicago White Sox' Carlos Rodon blanked Cleveland on April 14; Baltimore's John Means did the same to Seattle on May 5, and Cincinnati's Wade Miley whitewashed Cleveland on May 8.

Look closer: Seattle, Cleveland and Texas have each been no-hit twice this season. That's weird. That's awful. Those three teams by themselves are going a long way to contributing to the MLB composite batting average of .236, the lowest in decades.

And don't forget the curious case of Arizona's Madison Bumgarner, who blanked Atlanta on April 25 in a no-hitter that didn't count because it only went seven innings instead of nine. This happened because Major League Baseball decided it could speed up the game by making both ends of doubleheaders seven innings instead of nine this season, and therefore it follows the guidelines it set in 1991 to eliminate rain-shortened no-hitters. So there. It's a rule. Write your Congressman (You know, the guy who won't vote to investigate sedition and insurrection in attacks on the Capitol. But that's a different blog).

At any rate, Bumgarner included or not, MLB is on a pace to see 20 no-hitters this year. That's nuts, and I don't think it will happen. Not unless Seattle, Texas and Cleveland somehow get worse. (Oh, yeah. Seattle just put four relievers on the Covid-19 list after positive tests on Friday. Yikes. The Mariners really are getting worse.)

The record for no-hitters in a season is seven, and believe it or not, it's happened four times: 1990, 1991, 2012 and 2015.

What's going on? All I can do is guess based on what I've read.

The most obvious answer is that the pitching has improved dramatically over the years. Not only are pitchers regularly serving up 100-mile-an-hour-plus fastballs, but 80-mph sliders, 95-mph sinkers, 85-mph changeups and 78-mph curves. I've always believed hitting a pitched ball is the hardest thing to do in sports. Now imagine even professional hitters going up against a pitcher's repertoire like this every night, especially when the pitcher is painting the corners of the plate with unbelievable control.

Coupled with this superior pitching is baseball's current offensive fad of trying to knock the ball out of the park with each swing. Home runs are where the big money contracts are. Ask Bryce Harper. Batters are lunging at pitches out of the strike zone. Nobody, it seems, is hitting for base hits. No sacrifice bunts. No hit-and-runs. The strategy is to knock the cover off the ball, ala Roy Hobbs (and he was fictional).

In 2019, MLB saw a record 6,776 home runs, which seemingly counters the superior pitching argument. Until you consider batting averages are dropping like anchors. As of today, there are only 22 players in all of major league baseball – both leagues combined – hitting .300 or above. Pathetic.

Now, the ball was altered slightly coming into the season with the aim of decreasing the number of homers being hit. The Rawlings company, which hand-stitches its baseballs in Costa Rica, has loosened the first three wool windings inside each ball, taking out some of its "bounciness." This, of course, has nothing to do with pitching, unless you figure the baseballs now weigh 2.8 grams less than they used to and is that really a factor?

We might be in a new manufactured dead ball era, but not a dead pitcher era.

I remember back in the late 1960s when pitchers like Bob Gibson and Luis Tiant were dominating the game. Seven starters had an earned run average of under 2.00 in 1968. That's nuts. Baseball decided to lower the mound that year from 15 inches to 10 inches high and the strike zone shrank from shoulders to knees to the current armpits to the top of the knees. Or thereabouts.

It worked. Pitchers lost their dominance.

But now, 53 years later, you have to wonder, what have we gained?



Sunday, May 16, 2021

To mask or not to mask

The other day I woke up knowing that if I went into a store, a gym or most any other business, I had to wear a mask.

By the end of the day, the Center for Disease Control told me that if I'm vaccinated for Covid-19 (I am), I (conditionally) didn't have to wear one any more.

Huh? After more than a year of wearing a mask whenever I left the house, now suddenly I didn't have to?

On the one hand, that's pretty good news. It's the news we've been waiting for. It's the kind of news that can really open up the economy. It's the kind of news that can get kids back in school.

But on the other hand, it's the kind of news that also feels funny. That dropping the mask mandate might be a little too much a little too soon.

What makes me feel this way is that we still haven't reached herd immunity. Just a third of us are vaccinated and we need to reach at least 70 percent to have a chance of quelling the pandemic. And that's just in this country. Covid is still out there. Just because I'm vaccinated doesn't mean I can't be asymtomatic and spread the disease to someone who hasn't gotten their shot.

Still, it was encouraging to see many people still wearing their masks the past few days, like it's an old habit they just can't undo.

But I don't know. It puts this country in the odd position where some of us might be anti-vaxxers who don't believe in vaccinations, while others aren't sure ending the mask mandate right now isn't a bit too soon.

It seems like nobody believes in anything they're told anymore. Ain't America great?

The curious case of eight New York Yankees is unsettling. Eight members of the organization have tested positive for Covid-19, even though we're told they are vaccinated.

What does that mean? It could be the testing is giving false positives, but eight people at once seems unlikely. Or the virus has mutated to a vaccine-resistant strain. Or those damn Yankees are lying about getting vaccinated.

 Nobody would lie about getting vaccinated, right? Right?

Anyway, here's my plan:

I'll probably still wear a mask while in most indoor situations. I'll do that until I see other people going maskless and I feel comfortable about it. I'll do that as we get closer to 70 percent.

And when Fall comes around, I'll get my flu shot, like I always do. And I may wear a mask again in indoor situations, since masking virtually stopped influenza outbreaks this year. That in itself should tell us something. It's empirical evidence that masking works.

I hope I can believe it.




Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mom


 Well, here it is, Mother's Day, and I haven't written to you in a while.

Sounds like me, doesn't it?

Anyway, I thought I'd take a moment to bring you up to date, to let you know things are OK.

I guess you never thought you'd have a child that made it to 70 years old, although I know you would wish for long, healthy lives for all three of your sons.

Mom on her wedding day.
So there. I made it to my biblical three score and 10. But not without a hiccup or two. A couple years ago, I had colon surgery, and then five months after that, I had my gall bladder removed. That was interesting. I never saw either of those surgeries coming because, you know, I was bullet-proof for such a long time.

I'm running out of non-essential body parts, it seems, although I still have my appendix. And my tonsils.

But then, you struggled with cancer, so I guess you had your share of hospitals and doctors and chemo. You endured it all until the fight finally wore you out. To this day, I think both you and Dad were on the cusp of medical advances that could have given you your own three score and 10. But the timing was a little off.

You'll be glad to know that Kim and I live in a fantastic neighborhood and with people whom I consider to be our very close friends. That was lucky. But you were a good neighbor yourself and that left an impression on me.

Remember how you liked to live in old houses? Well, our house is in a historic neighborhood. It just turned 100 years old. I think I inherited that money pit appreciation from you. Thanks.

I still read voraciously, I think because you read voraciously. In an era of online books, I still have a library card, just like I did when I was a kid. And there's just so much to read and so little time. I'm hoping to extend my warranty to maybe three score and 20 (which I guess is really four score, but that's starting to sound a little too Lincolnesque), so we'll just have to wait and see.

You enjoyed puttering around in your yard and now I find myself doing a lot of that. Weeding, mostly. Kim does the actual garden art, planting flowers that provide both function and eye appeal. She has a talent for that. It is possible she inherited that from you transactionally? Probably not, but that's what I'm going to think anyway.

I do wish you had passed on to me your ability to sing. You did pass on your love of music, but you forgot to give me a singing voice. You gave me Alfalfa instead. Or, now that I think about it, maybe you gave me your ironic sense of humor instead. Love music, can't sing, can't keep a beat. Bwa ha ha.

You loved to watch birds. So do I. You had bird feeders everywhere. We live in Birdland.

Well, I think that pretty much catches us up for now. I'm sure there's more I could say, but I'll save it for some future time. This is your day, so enjoy your children and the lives they are living.

With grateful love,

Bruce


Sunday, May 2, 2021

Sigh

Just when I was feeling pretty good about the seemingly improving Covid-19 situation in this country, I saw a story on my phone yesterday that said the United States is about to run out of adults willing to get vaccinated against the virus.

It seems at least 57 percent of the population has received at least one shot (two may be required for most vaccinations, like Pfizer and Moderna), but 7 percent of respondents of a recent poll say they are waiting to see what happens to those who do get shots, and 20 percent say they will never get a vaccination.

All of which means herd immunity – where at least 70 percent and perhaps closer to 85 percent of the population has antibodies needed to prevent the spread of infection – may be harder to achieve. Which means the disease will continue to spread, probably mutate and thus become even more difficult to eradicate.

So my question is, why would you not get a vaccine? It's free. What is the fear? What is the rationale?

Apparently, getting vaccinated in this country has become highly politicized, as if you are making a political statement by not getting a shot. Well, in a global pandemic, that's just a brilliant assumption to make. Just ask those grieving for their dead relatives in Brazil and India this morning.

All of this had me wondering what our parents and grandparents might think about the vaccination wars. When I was a toddler, I was vaccinated for smallpox. Nearly all of us in the baby boomer generation were. Worldwide. Consequently, smallpox has been eradicated from the planet as a viable disease.

So has polio. I remember taking a pink sugar cube (or was it two?) in elementary school, filled with Jonas Salk's serum. Now, polio no longer exists in the United States.

And while I was just a kid, I don't remember any rebellions against vaccinations. I think they were even required for kids to attend public schools. Still might be, for all I know. I don't know what is mandatory, and what is simply recommended. Google tells me 16 vaccinations are recommended for school-age children, but it doesn't tell me if they are required.

In the military, inductees get six vaccinations: measles, mumps, diphtheria, flubicillin, rubella and, apparently still, smallpox. I think these are required. It would seem odd, to me, that an inductee would be willing to take a bullet for his country, but not a vaccine. A virus can be as lethal as a bullet.

Up until Covid-19 arrived, the big issue, it seemed, was whether or not to get a flu shot every year. Kim and I always get the flu shot, and – knock on wood – we've never gotten the flu.

At any rate, the empirical evidence seems to suggest (for all of you 7 percenters) that the Covid-19 vaccines work with little or no reactions to the shot. And history tells us vaccines of any stripe are critical to controlling dangerous viruses. My doctor once told me the two greatest life-saving advances in medicine over the course of human history have been sanitation and vaccination.

We have the answer to Covid-19 in the vaccine. It's our path out of this pandemic. Why are we still asking the question?

 


Sunday, April 25, 2021

I protest

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So there it is. The First Amendment. 

Then why have 34 states proposed 81 laws to curb protests? Why have at least three of them – Florida, Oklahoma and Iowa – passed anti-protest bills into law?

Holy crap. Those bills appear to be in direct contrast to the First Amendment. They will no doubt draw lawsuits from all over the place declaring their unconstitutionality, if they haven't already. Yay, civil rights lawyers.

The proposed bills apparently are emanating from mostly Republican controlled states or Republican controlled state legislatures. You don't have to scratch deep into the dirt to ascertain why this is happening: after last year's summer of discontent, with demonstrations ranging from coast-to-coast (as well as internationally) following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American murdered by policeman Derek Chauvin, there is intent to hinder and discredit the Black Lives Matter movement supporting police reform.

So apparently, the best way to dismantle BLM is to take away their fully American right to protest, as defined in the Constitution.

I suppose the state legislatures proposing these bills could argue from a states rights standpoint because it's Congress that "shall make no law...," but that argument would probably butt heads with the supremacy clause found in Article VI that shows federal laws supersede state laws. Yay, Constitution. Yay, lawsuits.

I'm assuming these anti-protest bills are designed to cut down, if not eliminate, perceived violence and property damage that generally comes with passionate protest. Interestingly enough, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) have found 93 percent of last year's BLM protests to have been peaceful (see here). So there's that. Unless, of course, you want to accuse BLM of being antifa in disguise, thereby renewing your QAnon membership.

In some of these anti-protest bills, there exist clauses absolving motorists from running over protesters who might be blocking streets. That's horrendous. It's a bill sanctioning attempted murder. Violence to stop protests about violence? Sheesh.

As suggested above, the right to protest is as an American institution as baseball. You need reminders? The Boston Tea Party (destruction of property), women's suffrage, the Viet Nam-era anti-war demonstrations (Kent State comes to mind), the Abolitionist movements prior to the Civil War, the March on Washington that powered the civil rights movement of 1963, even the Triangle Shirtwaist fire protest of 1911 that brought out 80,000 protesters and ultimately changed labor and safety laws.

The list is endless. And defiantly American.

Yay, protests.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Garbology

As the new week approached, it seemed our whole neighborhood was suddenly put atwitter (not to be confused with Twitter, which is something completely different and perhaps generational):

It was the approach of the City of Lexington's recently revamped recycle and collection schedule.

Nobody, it seemed, was exactly sure when their trash would be picked up.

In the Park Place Historic Neighborhood, where I live, trash was picked up on Fridays, with the recyclables collected every other Friday. Seemingly simple enough, espcially after years abiding by this schedule.

But a month or so ago, we got a mailing notifying us that the collection schedule was changing on April 13. Included was a color-coded calendar with dates featuring green spaces, blue spaces or red spaces, with no explanation of what the colors meant for those specific dates.

The notification also included a Web site that directed a resident to an interactive map to find our particular trash collection day. That's great for people with access to a computer. Part of the trouble is that not everybody has computers.

Anyway, as the new collection week approached, our neighborhood Web site lit up like a Christmas tree. I may have been responsible as the original author of a post asking if anybody in our collection district understood what was happening. About 15 people responded, and none of them had a real clue.

Some of us thought collection day was Thursday, others thought it was Friday. The Find-My-Trash-Collection-Date Web site told each of us to enter our address to find our personal collection day.

It turns out that, for our neighborhood at least, nothing had changed. Trash collection was still on Friday, with recyclables every other Friday.

But in order for the schedule to get off to the correct start, our recyclables were going to be collected for a second straight week to set the correct stagger in motion from the previous schedule. So there. Easy peasy.

I figured there had to be at least 32 college degrees (I might be exaggerating), including a sprinkle of graduate diplomas, among us trying to figure out the neighborhood schedule in our Web site conversation.

Some of the confusion, I think, was the color coded calendar. Some people were equating the blue dates with their blue recyclable containers and the green dates with their green trash containers. The color coding actually correlated with the collection district you live in on a city map. We live in a green district.

The dates colored in red are holidays, when only garbage and recycling rollouts are collected.

The city was doing all this to make its collection more efficient, and I guess maybe it is. Just don't ask our neighborhood to look into it.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Share and share alike

 Cast of characters: Dave, Billy, TJ, Shawn and myself.

Location: West Second Avenue, Park Place Historic District.

Premise: If you need it, and I have it, you can use it.

I really, really, really love my neighborhood. Yes, I've been down this road before, but the more I think about it, the more remarkable this whole scenario becomes. I mean, I've lived in great neighborhoods in my 70 years, including a childhood Nirvana in a place called Fountain Hill, PA, where the borough playground was right across the street from our house. We also lived in Portsmouth, NH, where we were 10 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and 10 minutes from Pease Air Force Base (where Dad worked), and another 10 minutes from the Portsmouth Naval Yard, all major stops along the Cold War highway back in 1959. That was exciting stuff for a budding 8-year-old history buff.

But I was a child back then, lost in my own world, and nowhere do I recall having neighbors as remarkable as I have now.

Here's the current situation. TJ, who lives catty-corner from us, raises egg-laying hens. But recently he lost several of them to nocturnal predators that roam the area, either foxes or raccoons, and could he borrow my Hav-A-Heart humane trap to catch the critters? The trap, by the way, isn't mine. A former neighbor, who has since moved to Charlotte, let me have the trap back when we had groundhog issues. He said he knows where I live if he needs the trap back.

Shortly after I let TJ borrow the trap, I needed to use his pressure washer. Bingo, it was waiting in my yard within the day.

After I pressure washed my picket fence prior to painting it, Billy, my next-door neighbor, wondered if he could borrow the pressure washer. He knew it was TJ's (he'd used it before), so there was no problem. TJ wouldn't mind. That was months ago. The pressure washer is still at Billy's. I guess TJ doesn't mind.

On the other hand, I still have TJ's bottle of Sta-bil, a gas additive for the pressure washer.

All of this was after I had borrowed Shawn's pressure washer months earlier to clear off my porch prior to staining.

Dave, directly across the street from us, recently let me use his stand-up garden claw, an invaluable tool when you have a small area to turn and you don't really need a tiller. It's a great help when you want to prep the lawn for seeding.

I've occasionally paid Dave back by mowing his lawn or watering his vegetable garden when his family has been on vacation. That's how it works.

Meanwhile, Dave borrowed TJ's shop vac some time ago. I think he still has it.

Our block is like a lending library with no due dates and, so far, no late fees.

Billy has been known to take his leaf blower and clean out my lengthy street-to-alley driveway. What Billy may not know is that while he and his family were on a recent extended weekend trip to Illinois, Dave mowed Billy's yard. And on Friday, I brought Billy's trash containers back to his house after the garbage trucks came by.

Just the other day, Billy gladly let me borrow his metric ratchet set to assemble a garden scooter that came from China.

We often exchange bottles of beer around the fire pit, whether they be classic or crafted.

Our wives are also involved. Crockpots have been summoned for socially-distanced neighborhood get-togethers. Recipes are shared. Garden techniques are exchanged. Billy said we can plant tomatoes in his raised flower beds. He'll get some tomatoes out of it if the squirrels don't get them first.

If somebody gets sick, food magically appears from several addresses.

And so it goes. My only question is whether I live in a remarkably unique neighborhood, or are many other neighborhoods like this? It seems pretty special to me.


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Baseball and voting rights

Just a couple of days into the 2021 major league baseball season, baseball suddenly finds itself in the middle of a social and political vortex.

This is because baseball commissioner Rob Manfred correctly decided to pull this year's All-Star Game out of Atlanta in the wake of an egregious state senate bill signed into law putting severe restrictions on voting access within that state.

The Georgia Senate is controlled by Republicans, who saw both of their Federal senate seats turn over to Democratic control in a special runoff election in January. In response to losing, the Georgia GOP decided to change the rules for voting.

Under the new law, Georgia voters face new provisions, such as less time to request absentee ballots. Drop boxes have been pared down to where some counties have just one box. Offering water to voters waiting in lengthy lines is now a misdemeanor. It is now illegal for election officials to mail out absentee ballot applications to all voters. There are many other restrictions in the 98-page bill that is now law. (see here).

While the law is meant to apply to all Georgia voters, there is a target audience that will be more severely affected. Lower income voters and minorities – and specifically Black voters who electrified the Democratic victories – will suffer because they might not have access to transportation to distant polling stations, or even a required driver's license for voter ID.

This law will be challenged in court. Already, at least three lawsuits have been filed.

The Georgia Republican Party, apparently, are poor losers. They have become the party of The Retribution of Old White Guys who either cannot see, or are afraid of the browning of America. Ooops, there goes their power...

So, thank you baseball, for taking a stand.

The argument for rewriting voter law is The Big Lie that the past election was rigged. This claim, espoused by conspiracy advocate and former president Donald Trump, has been empowered by the Republican Party desperate to maintain power. Never mind that then Attorney General Bill Barr said there was no voter fraud. Chris Krebs, then the Director of United States Cybersecurity, said there was no fraud and indeed, stated it was the most secure election in U.S. history. The Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said there was no fraud. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said there was no fraud. They are all Republicans. Why are they being ignored by their own party?

It's why we had the outrage of January 6, where an insurrectionist mob, claiming cancel culture, tried to cancel the government by storming the Capitol while it was in session to certify the electoral votes.

Voter suppression is an abomination directly opposed to the foundation of this country. The right to vote is who we are. Apparently, so is suppression.

The Constitution of the United States was ratified in 1789, or 232 years ago. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868, provides equal protection to all citizens under the law. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, states that the right of citizens to vote shall not be denied. The Voting Rights Act, signed in 1965, was needed to enforce the 15tth Amendment of 100 years previous.

Good God. Instead of suppressing voters, we should be empowering them.

Interestingly enough, baseball can find itself in the forefront of many civil rights issues. According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Moses Fleetwood Walker became the first African American to play professionally, when he signed to play for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association as a catcher in 1884.

Six decades later, Jackie Robinson brought righteous integration to baseball in 1947. But even then, it took 12 years before the Boston Red Sox signed Pumpsie Green to become the last major league team to integrate.

And now, baseball is taking a stand again. There are a lot of reasons to like baseball and what it means for this country. Supporting voter rights is one of them.



Sunday, March 28, 2021

Fire pit fireworks

As we gathered around the fire pit during a break in the rolling thunderstorms last night, the youngest member of our posse suddenly posed the question, "Do you all think we've rounded the corner on the pandemic yet?"

The question has a measure of strength. Nationally, the spread of the Covid-19 virus seems to have plateaued, and remarkably, North Carolina seems to have responded well statewide (compared to many other states) in getting its residents vaccinated. There also is a strong sentiment behind that question about getting us back to something like a maskless normal.

But the rest of us responded with a resounding "No."

Our compadre expanded his question, noting that while he himself has taken the vaccine, he's playing devil's advocate by siding with the non-vaxxers, especially the ones who claim we are rushing into this vaccine without a proper testing period, that indeed, we are all being used as guinea pigs in a global experiment.

One of our members pointed out that the vaccine has been tested, and is actually a version of the vaccine created years ago for SARS using the new mRNA technology.

Another firepitter noted that every vaccine has an element of risk (risk being the operative word here), that your next gulp of beer can send you careening into recovery.

Yet another suggested that we now question the efficacy of vaccines because of the atmosphere of science denial in which we suddenly find ourselves immersed.

The use of the words "science denial" came very close to opening other doors, including the one about climate change. As evidence, this person pointed to the unusual number of severe thunderstorms that have thundered across the southeast in the past week or so. Another member wondered when did tornadoes became regular storm events east of the Appalachians. We just had a winter without anything much more than a snow flurry (I think only one day of school was missed because of snow this year. Weigh that against Covid. Then factor in what vaccines might mean.)

The conversation veered into politics (when does a conversation not veer into politics these days?) while brushing against the science denier faction when it was suggested that several Federal agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and even the FCC (not to mention the Center for Disease Control) needed to be depoliticized.

Our young friend remained rooted in his stance, saying he could see the other side of the argument. The discussion never did resolve anything (most never do), and, remarkably, even though the television was giving us the NCAA Tournament, did not devolve into sports. Well, except for a brief mention of how crappy the ACC is this year.

It occurred to me that the fire pit is now a Covid substitute for the coffee shop. The fire pit has its own bubble of friends. Most of us are now vaccinated but we're constantly aware that the pandemic is still hanging over us.

It gives us something to talk about.




Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Joe Sink

 Joe Sink mended my heart twice.

That wasn't his job.

The first time came in 1987. Joe was the publisher of The Dispatch, and I was a young sportswriter on his staff.

But I had to tell him that my dad had just passed away, and that I would be going to Wisconsin for a few days for the funeral. I'd managed to be strong in my grief that morning – until I sat down with Joe. Then the dam broke and I was carried away in a teary flood of emotion. I don't know why the release came with Joe, but then, maybe I do.

Joe came over to me, put his arm around me and comforted me. This had to be an awkward moment for him, but he never showed it. He spoke softly, firmly, helped me to regain my emotional equilibrium, and I was better. For that moment, at least, he wasn't my publisher. He was my pastor.

Joe Sink and his wife, Libby.

The second time came in 1991, and it was almost a carbon copy of 1987. Mom had just died. I walked into Joe's office to let him know I had to go to Wisconsin again, this time to bury my mother. My lips quivered, my eyes watered, I could hardly stand. Again, Joe came to me, wrapped his arms around me and soothed my aching heart.

I mention this because I think this is a side of Joe that was rarely seen outside of his family. I suspect most of his employees and friends probably saw him as the gregarious man with the wide-brimmed smile and the sometimes booming voice who could be larger than life almost at will. Which seemed to be often.

Joe died during the night after a rapid decline in his health. He just turned 84.

And so, with his passing, an era ends in Lexington.

It would be easy to get carried away here, flowing with accolades all over the place, and I may have already crossed that line.

But from where I stood, most people seemed to sense Joe's own love of life through his quick wit, his intelligence, his business acumen, his generosity. I don't know if he could ever say "no." But if he did, I bet it hurt him to say it, and then only when he needed to.

To this day, I don't know of a single Dispatch employee who ever had an unkind word to say about Joe. Almost unanimously, you hear former employees – whether it be newsroom, business office, press room, or circulation – declare that Joe was the best boss anybody could hope to work for. Word for word. All of us. Period.

He loved Lexington. He was a moving force in the creation of the Barbecue Festival, an event that actually put Lexington on the national map as one of the largest single-day food festivals in the country. Joe once told me that he originally expected the Festival to last just a dozen years or so, and he was shocked – and pleased – that it continued way beyond his expectations. Covid notwithstanding, the next one will be the 37th.

But he would also throw his support to local civic organizations and local school systems.

After his retirement, he spent hours each morning in The Black Chicken coffee shop, holding court and regaling us with stories from the past. His knowledge of Lexington was almost encyclopedic. He'd welcome total strangers to his table to share a cup of coffee with the rest of us, thus growing our circle of friends.

A few years ago, Joe was diagnosed with early onset dementia. Kim and I paid him a visit just before Covid halted all of that, and we were pleased that he remembered us still. He asked about The Dispatch.

And then an era came to an end.

My lips quivered. My eyes watered. My knees wavered. And I thought of Joe.

 

 


Sunday, March 21, 2021

You're not surprised, are you?

I was going to write my blog about getting my second Pfizer vaccine a couple weeks ago and then eagerly going back to the YMCA feeling fully liberated for the first time in a year. I returned to the Y on Monday.

I was taking a step toward normalcy.

Then the NCAA Tournament happened.

More specifically, 10th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth University made big news Saturday when it had to drop out of the West bracket due to Covid-19 protocols. The Rams were out of the tournament before even setting an Air Nike on the court, officially dropping a 1-0 "no contest" decision to No. 7 Oregon while advancing the Ducks to the second round without pulling down a single rebound or drawing a single foul.

As of yesterday, officials were still trying to figure out how to get VCU back to Richmond without spreading the virus.

In the meantime, there's a kind of mantra rolling in the back of my head chanting "I told you so. I told you so."

To me, the fact that a team had to drop out in mid-tournament automatically compromised the integrity of the entire event. Hope you didn't pick VCU as an upset team in your NCAA pool. I'm sure No. 2 Iowa, Oregon's next opponent, is delighted that the Ducks have an extra day of rest before taking to the court on Monday. How is that fair to Iowa?

But the problem here is deeper than a pool, or even the betting lines. Why are we even having a tournament? Why are we bringing hundreds of young athletes to Indianapolis and, despite all the precautions, subjecting them to a potentially deadly virus? Why are we making this a super spreader event?

Actually, we know why. Money. You can take it from there.

What doesn't seem to be getting into people's heads is just how insidious this virus is. The fact that VCU showed no symptoms until just hours before tip-off  and despite days of testing is because the virus apparently can remain in an asymptomatic incubation period before shouting "Gotcha!" By then it's too late. You have to withdraw from the tournament.

Who knows how many other teams are likewise infected? One? Two? All? None? What happens if  undefeated tourney favorite Gonzaga has to withdraw? Who gets the asterisk when a champion is finally named?

If the NCAA is so hellbent on having its silly basketball games (as announcer Charles Barkley remarkably and correctly described them last night), at least take the precaution to have everybody involved vaccinated and then start the tourney a week later. What's the rush?

But even now, as I think about this, the problem isn't so much with the NCAA (although it has a lot to answer for, especially if more teams get sick) as it is with us. We crave normalcy, so we watch this tournament on TV thinking everything is back to normal. And it's not.

Which is probably what is happening in Miami Beach as Spring Break brings us another super spreader event with maskless – and apparently invincible – college students clogging the streets. As if we didn't learn from last year. Which I guess we didn't.

•   •   •

OK, OK. I know what you're thinking. You hypocrite. If Covid is so dangerous, why are you back at the gym?

I'm making a conscious and considered decision after weighing the data. I'm fully vaccinated. I go to the gym early, at 5 a.m., when there are less than 10 people in the fitness center. We all wear masks. Each client is given a bottle of sanitizer to clean whatever workout machine he or she is using, before and after each workout. We social distance. The Y closes for two hours in the afternoon for a mass cleaning. I feel relatively safe. In a life where there are no guarantees, you weigh the odds.

The NCAA Tournament, meanwhile, remains a mass social gathering despite all the precautions and 20 percent fan base. The only real decision an individual makes is the decision whether or not to participate. But college athletes are on scholarships. Some may have lucrative futures in the NBA following their NCAA careers. And money talks. Money makes the decisions for them.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

The ACC Default Tournament

Did you enjoy watching Georgia Tech defeat Florida State 90-75 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship Saturday night?

That's what I thought.

No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get into the tournament this year. Sure, it was good to have games on television, but my passion for what I was watching just wasn't there.

Thank you, pandemic.

But why can't I just enjoy the game?

First off, the tournament was robbed of its integrity when both Duke and top-seeded Virginia had to withdraw in mid-tournament because of positive Covid results. That means there probably should be an asterisk behind the champion's name.

Not that Duke was going to be a spoiler. The 10th-seeded Blue Devils were an uncharacteristic 13-11 when Covid struck, ending their season (sort of). Consequently, No. 2 Florida State jumped right into the semifinal game against North Carolina. The Seminoles defeated the Tar Heels 69-66 to advance to the finals, presumably against the winner of Georgia Tech and Virginia.

Then Virginia came up with a positive test, knocking them out of the tourney and advancing Georgia Tech to the finals by default.

Who wanted to see that?

It marked only the second time a team from the state of North Carolina was not in the championship game. The last time that happened was 1990, when Georgia Tech defeated Virginia 70-61. That's the only other time that has ever happened since the tourney began in 1954.

Secondly, the tournament was played in Greensboro with just a handful of fans, which made for bad television for viewers and probably a less-than-inspiring environment for the players, who no doubt draw energy from a cheering fan base. I think playing in mostly empty arenas this year has significantly altered incentive and excitement for nearly every team this year.

Here's where it gets even goofier.

As of this morning, unless something has changed, Duke could be eligible for the NCAA Tournament with either an at-large bid or as a Covid replacement team, in case somebody else has to drop out – say Appalachian State or UNC Greensboro – because of a positive test.

So let me get this straight. A team with Covid is eligible to replace a team with Covid. Hmm.

I suppose that's possible if Duke goes seven consecutive days without a positive test. The same is true for Virginia. But if Duke does not get a bid, it snaps a 24-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances. If Duke does get in, then you have to wonder about integrity again.

Covid is still with us. Kansas had to drop out of its tournament. So why are we so intent in creating a super spreader event? (I know why. Money. Television. Covid fatigue).

It appears the NCAA Tournament will go on. But I suggest that you don't play in any tournament pools this year. The field could change in a moment's notice. The sure bet is that there are no sure bets this year.


Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Happy Ones

 Man, did we ever need this.

It had been a year since Kim and I had seen live music in a venue. Thank you, Covid. You were driving us nuts.

But on Saturday, The Happy Ones showed up at Junius Lindsay Vineyards in Welcome. We knew they were scheduled to be there, so we patiently marked time for a week or so until Saturday arrived.

We'd heard The Happy Ones before and really liked them. They are the acoustic duo of Brad Ratledge and Amanda Barnette, based in Mocksville, and they pretty much do the vineyard-pub-street festival circuit. In fact, you could almost consider them a Davidson County band what with fairly regular appearances on the Square in Lexington, or Sophie's, or Childress Vineyard, or Old Homeplace Vineyards, or JLV. You get the point. 

Amanda and Brad brighten our day.
So when Saturday showed up, so did we, along with our friends Mark and Karla Loper.

It was exactly what we needed.

"We've been doing this for what, five or six years now," Brad told me after their nonstop two-hour set. "When we first started, we did mostly rock. Now we've branched off into other genres. It just kind of evolved that way for us."

Their catalogue runs the gamut, from Eagles to CCR to Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton (or BeeGees, if you want to consider "Islands in the Stream" a Brothers Gibb tune).

They're very accommodating with requests. I wanted to hear "Drops of Jupiter" by Train, and Kim wanted to hear "Strawberry Wine" by Deana Carter. Karla requested "Perfect" by Ed Sheeran. Somebody else in the audience even asked for "You Are My Sunshine," which dates back to 1939. Guess what? The Happy Ones were happy to oblige. We about gave them a secondary set list with our requests. I can't believe the depth of their catalogue.

According to Amanda, Brad has been playing the guitar since he was 8 years old – or nearly 40 years. It shows. His fingers fly effortlessly across the strings and frets of his guitar and by the smile on his face, he clearly loves what he does.

And when he's not playing guitar, he's a mechanic for the Davie County School System. You kind of wonder if he whistles while he works.

"I met Brad at church," said Amanda, who is a dental hygienist in Mocksville. "He's a worship leader where we go to church. He was thinking of getting a band together. He knew I sang and one day he asked me if I wanted to join. So I did."

Amanda provides percussion with the cajón, or percussion box. I've never seen this instrument in any other band and it kind of makes the duo unique in this regard. It gives The Happy Ones a distinctive beat of their own.

But how do they sound?

This is the best part. To me, their voices blend naturally like honey and milk in a fruit smoothie. If an arrangement calls for an echoing harmony from Amanda, it's there. If a tune needs a supporting lift, Brad provides it. Together, they caress your ears. And both are strong lead vocalists.

Saturday turned out to be one of the best days we've had in a while, what with the weather, wine and camaraderie. We were starved for live music and mellow entertainment. Afterwards, as he was loading up his vehicle, I told Brad, "You know, today you've made us the happy ones."






Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tiger

I had a plan for the sunset of Tiger Woods' professional golf career.

I had it all mapped out in my head and I was going to submit it to him like it was a movie script, because, really, that's how he's played the game: Like an unbelievable movie. Like an aging and broken Babe Ruth hitting three home runs in one of his last games. Like Roy Hobbs in "The Natural," knocking the cover off the ball. The icon and his moment.

My script went something like this:

He's currently 45 years old with 15 majors, just three shy of reigning king Jack Nicklaus. Woods also has 82 career PGA victories, tying him with Sam Snead for the career lead.

But numerous back and knee surgeries, an ensuing opioid addiction and some billowing private demons slowed Tiger's quest to catch Jack. It's amazing how many surgeries Woods has endured for somebody who excelled at a championship level in a non-contact sport.

Then came a Hollywood moment when he won his fifth Masters tournament (and 15th major) two years ago, ending an 11-year major title victory drought. I'm not sure many people saw that coming, but the victory resurrected hope in many of his fans that Tiger was still on track to reach 18. A difficult chore, for sure. But that's how high Jack had set the bar.

In my script, Tiger would somehow win two more majors in the next five years. Who would bet against him? It was certainly plausible. Tiger had become inconsistent as he got older, but no less competitive. I'm sure there were two more majors somewhere in his golf bag. Then, at age 50, he would join the PGA Champions Tour. Gloriously, he would win his 18th major – fittingly the Masters – as a senior player in the way that Tom Watson nearly won the British Open in 2009 when he was 59 years old.

It would be the exclamation point of a somehow star-crossed career. The icon and his moment.

But my script didn't include a rollover single-vehicle accident that probably came closer than we know to the amputation of his right leg. When I saw the pictures of the wrecked vehicle Tiger was driving Tuesday morning when he lost control, I was astonished. The wreck didn't look survivable.

We learned the next day that a rod had been inserted in his right tibia to stabilize the breaks in his leg. Pins and screws held his foot together. The fear of bone infection in the first 24 hours of his recovery would determine whether or not he kept his leg. Fear of infection still might be an issue.

The legs are everything to an athlete, maybe even more so than his core. The legs are the engine that provides the power, the stability, the balance needed to perform. The right leg to a right-handed golfer is all of that.

So now Tiger's future in golf is a question mark and not an exclamation point. Everything depends on his recovery and the physical therapy he'll receive. And golf? Will the leg be strong enough to handle the torque generated by his swing? Will there be pain in every step he takes? Will there be enough endurance to play four rounds in a tournament?

Tiger has already left his mark on the game. He brought athleticism to the golf course, bringing power to go along with precision. Golf courses had to be redesigned and 'Tiger proofed" to make tournaments competitive for the other players. The technology behind golf clubs and golf balls were altered. 

Club houses were also altered as Woods, a person of color, broke many of golf's elitist social barriers. I'm not sure Tiger ever wanted to be a messenger of social change, but he quietly carried that burden with dignity, too.

And attendance swelled at golf tournaments that Tiger was in. So did TV viewership. Golf was no longer a peripheral sport when Tiger was playing.

I guess I'll have to rewrite my script. It might resemble the Ben Hogan story. Hogan recovered from a devastating auto accident in the prime of his golf career in 1949 when a Greyhound bus materialized out of the fog and plowed into his vehicle. It took nearly a year before Hogan stepped on a golf course again, but he went on to win six more majors on a limited schedule and while playing in pain.

We don't know where Tiger will be in a year, much less next week. And while we're not there yet, golf without Tiger Woods is a rude and sad possibility.

But mostly sad.





My favorite Tiger commercials. He was just goofing off when the first one was filmed.





Sunday, February 21, 2021

Bits and pieces

I have several thoughts running through my head this morning, so instead of a single blog dedicated to one subject, I'm going to run down a stream-of-consciousness assembly line and we'll see what happens:

• As I've gotten older, I find it more and more difficult to stand on one foot. Don't laugh. This is an essential skill if you're trying to put on one sock at at time, or to put on a pair of pants.

I once heard from a rehab specialist that as we age, the capillaries in our extremities deteriorate, thus inhibiting the flow of blood to nerve endings - especially in our feet. We literally lose touch with the earth, and it goes far to explain why older people tend to fall more often.

It's probably a good idea not to put on socks or pants on while in the bathroom. Nothing good can happen falling in a room surrounded by porcelain fixtures like sinks, tubs and commodes. Might be best to put on socks or pants in the bedroom, where there's a soft mattress to land on.

• Sheldon Cooper fun fact: In 1961, the American League expanded to 10 teams with the addition of the Washington Senators and the Los Angeles Angels. That necessitated expanding the season by eight games, from 154 to the current 162 (unless there's a pandemic, when there's only 60 games).

But expansion didn't hit the National League until the following year with the addition of the Houston Colt 45s and the New York Mets. 

Consequently, the American League played a 162-game schedule in 1961, while the National League played a 154-game season. Asterisks all over the place, huh?

I had forgotten that.

• I'm not sure what to make of the Boeing 777 that literally lost an engine over Denver Saturday. It caught fire in flight and dropped engine parts over a residential suburb.

The plane didn't crash. No lives were lost. And it landed safely back in Denver with a trail of smoke behind it. Does this mean Boeing makes incredible aircraft that just keep flying under all sorts of duress, or was the whole episode just plain luck?

Early speculation centers around metal fatigue, especially in the jet engine fan blades. The Triple 7 came into service in 1994, and this particular plane is said to be one of the oldest in the fleet. It could be 27 years old.

I once flew in a Ford Tri-Motor that was 70 years old at the time, and later in a Consolidated B-24 that was also about 70 years old when I flew in it. Metal fatigue never entered my mind.

How does metal fatigue happen anyway? Does metal just say, "OK, I'm tired now," and give up its properties? Yikes.

This particular flight was scheduled to fly from Denver to Hawaii. It could have been a lot worse.

• Sheldon Cooper fun fact: When George Washington commanded the American Army in 1775, he was 43 years old. I always had it in my mind that he was older. Other Founding Fathers that year were John Hancock, 39; John Adams, 40; and Thomas Jefferson, 32.

Revolutions are not for the elderly. Unless you're Ben Franklin. He was 69.

• And what's up with Texas Senator Ted Cruz?

While his state is suffering incredible hardship during the recent winter vortex, he slips away to Cancun? And then blames his error of judgment on his daughters when he realizes this isn't a good look if he ever wants to become president?

Our elected officials are put there by the people in order to work for us to make our lives better, not to make their lives better or skip responsibility. Meanwhile, a New York congresswoman raises $2 million and donates it to Texas relief. Where were you, Ted?

This type of irresponsibility goes to character. He may be representing Texas, but the arrogant and self-serving decisions he makes in the Senate affect all of us.

• While the Texas power grid came close to catastrophic failure, and airplanes in our infrastructure are losing body parts, America was still able to put an RV on Mars, equipped with its own helicopter-like drone.

I hope when we finally put a human on Mars, the Martians have a thoughtful and welcoming immigration policy.

Food for thought. That's all for today, folks.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Where are we?

I was going to write a Facebook post letting my friends know that I wasn't going to write a blog today simply because there's just so much to process after Saturday's acquittal of President Trump from impeachment proceedings.

Then I realized explaining my decision would require a blog.

For those of us who hoped for a guilty verdict, the 57-43 outcome was never in doubt, and we knew that. Certainly not with a jury that included co-conspirators (therefore Hawlings, Cruz, et al, couldn't vote to convict themselves), hypocrites (apparently a politician's birthright) and those beholden to donors (another baked-in birthright).

The only real surprise were the seven Republican crossovers, who became the first Senators to cross party lines to vote against a member of their own party in a presidential impeachment. Petty Republican repercussions are pending.

Even Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell said Trump was guilty, moments after he voted for Trump's acquittal (hypocrite category).

A guilty verdict was never going to result in jail time anyway.

So what happens now? This is where I need to process.

Because we knew this jury would never convict, the purpose of the impeachment proceedings turned out to be putting Republicans on record with their votes, as well as a desire to keep Trump from running for office in the future.

The next step might be pursuing Section III of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits any person from holding office who "shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion..." Trump's incitement of his white nationalist storm troopers of Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters to assault the Capitol on Jan. 6 during a Constitutionally-mandated certification of electoral votes is the insurrection. A simple majority vote of Congress, and not an impossible two-thirds vote, is all that is needed.

Outside of that potential Federal remedy, there are civil and criminal investigations underway in both Georgia (where Trump attempted to change the vote count with a threatening phone call to the state's Secretary of State) and New York, where Trump is facing, among other things, charges of racketeering and bank fraud. Convictions there could result in jail time, and even if he gave himself a secret "pocket" pardon before leaving office, that pardon would have no application at the state level.

Our democracy is still in the balance. In a sense, it always has been. Democracy lives on a precarious ledge, and it seems even more so now because of instantaneous social media outlets that essentially allow you to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater while forwarding conspiracy theories – some of them patently absurd – one after the other at the speed of a mouse click.

It all comes down to accountability.

And processing.


Friday, February 12, 2021

This particular milestone

I've been reflecting on all the milestone birthdays in my life.

The first big one, I think, was 16. That's when I got my driver's license and I thought I had become an adult. It was sweet.

Then there was 18, when I had to register for the draft during the Vietnam War era.

And 21, when I could both legally drink alcohol and vote. Sometimes I would have a drink before I voted. And then follow that with a chaser after I voted. Brrrrr.

Then came 30, when I could no longer be trusted.

After that came 50, just because it marked half a century on the planet. Retirement came at 55. And there was 65, when Medicare kicked in.

I never minded any of the milestones. They were basically all just numbers. Sometimes people would take me out to eat, and I would let them. The best part about having birthdays was that I usually got cake. So, yes, I am that shallow.

But today might be different. Today I turn 70.

Seventy is a big number, as aging goes. On the one hand, it lets people know that I'm entering my eighth decade and, in theory, I should have tons of experience and wisdom to impart on those who might care. On the other hand, I really, really feel like taking a nap.

It even sounds old. 70. An Aquarian septuagenarian. Holy smokes.

There's an actuarial aspect to this, too. The life expectancy table after reaching age 70 feature numbers that tend to drop precipitously. Depending on whose table you are looking, the life expectancy for a white male in the United States is 76.8 years, which means I have 6.8 years left to check off my bucket list items.

Fortunately, my bucket isn't very demanding. I think all I really want to see anymore are certain countries in Europe. I want to stand in a pot bunker at St. Andrews in Scotland. I would like to see the beaches of Normandy in France. I would love to visit the Black Forest in Germany, from where the Wehrles germinated (you can only germinate in Germany, you know). We'll see.

I know we should be living our lives to the fullest, but it's not all that easy in the middle of a pandemic.

And, of course, there are random events you don't see coming. I could be bopped on the head by a stray asteroid at any moment, rendering actuarial tables moot. Or the family gene pool might kick in, giving me 20 more years. My Aunt Bea (for real) made it to 102. So you roll the dice and play the odds, I guess.

And maybe stop looking at the actuarial tables.

Unless there's cake on them.



Thursday, February 11, 2021

Halfway there

 Kim asked me if I was worried about getting my Covid-19 vaccination.

Not one bit, I said.

So this morning, I went to the Davidson County Health Department at the appointed hour, got the shot – Pfizer – and was back home within 20 minutes.

Originally, I was supposed to get my initial shot on March 5 through a different vendor. But an opportunity came up to get the shot this week, so I jumped on it and made an on-line appointment. I didn't want to have to wait another day, much less another month.

OK, OK. I'm still due for a follow-up shot on March 4, which should give me pretty close to full immunity when I get it. I know everybody is built differently, but the way I see it, I just knocked out needing a ventilator from the equation, should I ever get Covid.

My understanding is that the first Pfizer shot gives you about 50-60 percent protection. The second injection supposedly gives you about 90-percent plus.

As of today, I think I am one of about 46 million adults who have gotten the vaccine, which means I'm doing my part to help the country reach herd immunity. Right now, the vaccine is primarily targeted to first responders, essential workers and those in the population who are age 65 and older. I'm in the "and older" category.

When you get your shot, they keep you for about 15 minutes just to make sure there is no reaction to the shot. So far, my eyes haven't turned yellow, my ears aren't pointed, I haven't grown a tail, and there's no buzzing or ringing sounds in my head. 

They also give you a nice participation gift, a bag that includes a pen, a small container of hand sanitizer, and an information brochure.

Ahh. Information. Apparently, there's a ton of misinformation about the vaccine out there in Qanon world. My favorite misinformation bit is the one that claims bazillionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates helped fund a vaccine that injects microchips into the human blood system for easier government tracking – as if the government doesn't have enough to do. The government has more than enough ways to track you anyway. Pay income taxes? Got a driver's license? Collect social security? Do Facebook algorithms much?

Gates is supposed to be in cahoots with presidential medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci because they're supposedly making millions off this pandemic.

Another fear out there in crazy online community world is that the vaccines have not gotten FDA approval (true) because it was rushed into the community without the usual many years of testing and study. Consequently, those getting the vaccine are nothing more than Guinea pigs and we'll all be sorry this time next year, just you wait and see.

But this is a new type of vaccine, focusing on mNRA lipids (I don't know what that is but it sounds impressive) and not actual virus elements to attack the viral intruder. Given that we're in a global health emergency, the FDA has given emergency approval for use. I'm in.

So, no. I'm not worried. I'm hoping this is ultimately a step toward normalcy. You know, eating in restaurants. Road trips. Vacations. No more masks.

Wait. There's now an annoying ringing in my head. Off. On. Off. On.

Oh, no wonder. Excuse me. I have to get this.

Bill Gates is calling me.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Watch out for Brady

There was a time when I actually rooted for Tom Brady.

That was back in the day when he was the quarterback for the upstart New England Patriots. We're talking 20 years ago, friends. That was back in 2001, when Brady took the Patriots to a narrow 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

Yay. The new kid on the block did a pretty good job in that game, with a quarterback rating of 86.2. Plus, I'd lived three years in New England in my youth, so that was a nice touch, too. A connection.

I never thought then that Brady would never leave. Since then, he's appeared in eight more Super Bowls, winning an astonishing five of them.

Consequently, as he kept winning Super Bowls, I started pulling against him. I wanted to see somebody different take home the trophy. Furthermore, there was the added weight of the Spygate (2007) and Deflategate (2014) "scandals" that gave me even more reasons to dislike him. Cheater.

And yet, here he was, appearing in Super Bowls year after year as if they were part of the Patriots regular-season schedule. I kept thinking about some of the quality quarterbacks of the past, like Minnesota's Fran Tarkenton or Buffalo's Jim Kelly, who appeared in multiple Super Bowls and never won. Kelly, in fact, appeared in four consecutive Super Bowls and lost all four. Consecutively. I don't think I ever rooted as hard for a player to win a Super Bowl as I did for Kelly. Maybe I jinxed him. I have that power sometimes.

A ray of hope happened in the offseason when the Patriots traded Brady to Tampa Bay, a so-so franchise that last appeared in the Super Bowl in 2002. Maybe, just maybe, Brady would finally vanish.

Which brings us to today and Super Bowl LV. 

(What's with the Roman numerals anyway? I need my Roman numeral translator and I can't find it. It's like converting kilometers into miles or Celsius into Fahrenheit). I think in normal language, this is Super Bowl 55. Wait. That Arabic numeral actually doesn't look too regal, does it? Maybe Roman numerals work after all. Deal with it.

(Wait. I've seen 55 Super Bowls?).

Brady is 43 years old and would already be in the Football Hall of Fame if he had retired five years ago like a normal person. Somehow, he has the Bucs in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs and their stellar quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who is 25.

Mahomes could be Brady's son, age-wise, if you think about it.

Usually, it takes a quarterback a season or two to get to know his teammates – their strengths, their weaknesses, their idiosyncrasies. Not only that, how about simply learning the playbook?

None of that mattered to Brady. He's in his 10th Super Bowl. If he wins tonight, he will have won 70 percent of the Super Bowls he's appeared in. That's outrageously phenomenal. It's enough to make me, ummm, respect him. Maybe even pull for him, like I once did. There, I said it.

Mahomes is coming off last year's Super Bowl victory over San Francisco. He's a scrambler, with incredible vision of the field. He has a strong, accurate throwing arm and youthful quickness in his legs. He's in his athletic prime, he's the future of the game, and I like him a lot. Plus, he plays for coach Andy Reid, who once coached the Philadelphia Eagles, the team I've pulled for since 1964.

But back to Brady. He owns all kinds of NFL quarterback records, and almost all the Super Bowl quarterback records. Like him or not, we've been blessed in our lifetimes to see the greatest quarterback who has ever played the game. Period. No argument. It's like having been alive to see Babe Ruth play. Or Hank Aaron.

So who's going to win?

My brain says Kansas City. The Chiefs are clearly the best team, position by position – maybe even at quarterback.

But how can you bet against Brady? The history. The legacy. The experience. The karma.

I don't know. I'm going to say Chiefs 24-17. But my heart says watch out for Brady.



Sunday, January 31, 2021

Doubling down

I tried wearing two face masks at the same time the other day. It wasn't that bad.

I did this in response to Dr. Anthony Fauci's suggestion that wearing two face masks is only logical since the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be taking a concerning, more aggressive and perhaps a more ominous turn. New variants of the virus from England, South Africa and Brazil appear to be transmitting faster than the original, and could be deadlier.

So when I went to the grocery store the other day, I put on two cloth masks. It seems that one mask gives you 50 percent protection, two masks give you 75 percent protection, and three masks (three?) give you 90 percent protection.

Keep in mind the average annual flu shot is good for about 50 percent protection in a given year, depending on the shotee. I guess you measure this against no protection at all, the only other option there is.

So I put on the second mask. I'll take 75 percent any day, especially since my vaccine appointment isn't until March 5. Kim is too young to get an appointment, but that's a different story.

But I do wear the extra mask with qualification, however.

If I'm going to a restaurant to pick up my to-go order, or if I'm dropping by the bank for a transaction that nullifies the drive-thru for some reason, I'll wear a single mask.

I'll wear a single mask sitting around the fire pit, socially-distanced and outdoors, of course, with my bubbled friends.

But if I'm in a store for more than 10 minutes, I think I'll do the double-masking. It can't hurt. Plus, I try to remember to wash and sanitize my hands before and after each visit.

When I first put on the two masks, I wondered how my ears would handle the extra burden. But it was nothing at all. 

The first mask I put on had rather loose ear loops, but the second one has tighter elastic loops, and together, working in tandem, I feel like I'm getting pretty decent protection.

I find it somewhat odd that I'm discussing wearing two masks at once. Less than a year ago, when the pandemic came to our shores, masks were hard to come by. Remember that? At the time, even medical experts like Fauci said the preferred but difficult-to-find N95 masks should be reserved for first responders.

But all that changed quickly when it became apparent the virus was deadlier than anticipated. Empirical evidence has supported wearing masks as a way to mitigate the transmission of the virus. Empirical evidence is another way of saying common sense.

Now Kim and I own about 10 or so masks – each. We wash them regularly and have them located in strategic places, like in the kitchen, in the pockets of our coats and in our cars.

There's a humorous meme out there in Facebook world showing a photo-shopped Fauci wearing eight or nine masks at once. I think this came out almost immediately after his pronouncement that it might be wise to wear at least two masks, and I think the meme was meant to be a sarcastic SMH statement from the right, who don't want to be tread upon.

With more than 430,000 dead Americans in less than a year (it took almost four years to reach that number of dead Americans in World War II), I prefer to take the meme to heart.

So wear a mask.

And wear a mask.

 



Saturday, January 23, 2021

Hank Aaron

 As a long suffering Philadelphia Phillies fan, starting back in the mid-1960s when we moved down from East Hartford, CT, to Bethlehem, PA, the one opposing player I feared the most was Milwaukee's Hank Aaron.

That's saying something in a league that featured hitters like Willie Mays, or Ernie Banks, or Stan Musial or Roberto Clemente.

But it seemed to me like Aaron virtually feasted on Phillies pitchers. To this day, I think at least 700 of his 755 career home runs came against the Phillies. It sure felt that way.

The thing is, even as a teenage Phillies fanatic (even though I was neither green, pop-eyed nor had a ribbon for a tongue), I remember having the utmost respect for Aaron. I don't know where that came from, but I can take a measured guess.

Richie Ashburn, a former Phillie great himself and later the calm, dulcet-voiced radio broadcaster for the team, had nothing but good to say about Aaron, whom he played against. Ashburn somehow was able to transfer his respect for Aaron through the airwaves and to his listeners. And I was listening.

As Aaron's remarkable career progressed, it was evident that Hammerin' Hank was closing in on Babe Ruth's long-standing career home run record of 714 dingers.

So, on that April night in 1974, I sat in front of the TV, waiting for the moment when Aaron – who just turned 40 – would eclipse Ruth. It came in the fourth inning when Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Al Downing tried to sneak a fastball past Aaron, only to have Aaron deposit it over the fence in left center field.

I leaped out of my chair. I'd seen baseball history. I also saw it as something like blessed vindication for a Black man who had to endure the slurs, threats and hate mail of racial bigots who thought Ruth's record would stand forever, much less be surpassed by an African American.

I think No. 715 was a transformative moment for the game. Only 27 years earlier, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. And now this. I think Babe would have nodded in approval.

Aaron passed away Friday at the age of 86.

There is a somewhat curious – and perhaps humorous – sidebar to Aaron's career.

Baseball cards, especially for those of us who grew up in the 1950s and '60s, were a way for us to connect with the game and with the players.

You couldn't see the players on the radio, of course, and most televisions were still in black and white with lousy rabbit-ear reception. So baseball cards were a critical way for players to communicate with their fans.

Hank Aaron's 1956 Topps baseball card – two years after his rookie season and before he became The Hammer – is in an unusual horizontal format. It features a great profile of Aaron looking off to the side with a face full of promise and expectation. There is a purported autograph of his in the lower right-hand corner that is actually legible.

And then there's a really neat smaller action shot of a player sliding into home plate. It's supposed to be Aaron, because it is his baseball card, after all. But look closer. Why is there no team name on the uniform? And look at the player's face. Look at the bow legs. It's not Aaron. It's Willie Mays.

Beckett's, the baseball card price guide magazine, confirms this.

It makes me kinda wonder what was going on at the Topps' company. What were they thinking?  Did they not have a suitable action shot of Aaron they could use? Could any Black man stand in for him and nobody would notice?

Well, at least it was Willie Mays. The day Willie Mays was Hank Aaron.

And I found this, too. Aaron hit 76 home runs in 357 games against the Phillies. That's one homer in almost every fifth game. That's 10 percent of his career total against one team.

It takes your breath away. 

Well done, Hank. May you rest in peace.




Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Big Lie

While comfortably soaking in the tub early this morning, a parade of thoughts and images kept marching through my head about the events of the past two weeks.

I can't help it. Apparently, it's what happens when you're a writer with an abiding interest in American history.

So while the warm, soothing water wrapped around me, I was thinking about the Big Lie. The Big Lie, of course, is that the results of last November's general elections were fraudulent and because they were, Republican Donald Trump is the true president of the United States and not Democrat Joe Biden. 

That's what Trump says, anyway. But he says so without citing proof. He can't, because there is no proof. Just accusations, which are not proof.

Chris Krebs, the former United States Director of Cybersecurity (and a Republican) which oversaw the electoral process, said the elections were the most secure in American history. He said that just before Trump fired him.

Bill Barr, the embattled Attorney General of the United States (and a Republican), said there was no fraud just before he resigned.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader (and a Republican), said there was no fraud, even after he became minority leader after the elections.

So why was the Capitol ignominiously stormed 11 days ago by thousands of Trump supporters intent on challenging (and changing) the Congressional count of the electoral vote, as mandated by the Constitution? "Stop the steal" became a Trump-approved mantra that fueled the new-born insurrectionists and self-styled patriots as they made their own attempt to steal the election results.

It was in actuality an assault on democracy by many armed insurgents.

Then I got to thinking what is democracy? It's not something that you can touch. You can't hold it. You can only believe in it. It's an ideology that requires faith that the system is just, truthful and that it works. It's manifested by free and fair elections and a law-and-order judicial system. Otherwise, in the absence of democracy, other ideologies wait to fill the vacuum. Most likely anarchy. Or perhaps fascism. History shows us this.

As days passed, the horror of the mob revealed itself: urine and feces decorated the Capitol walls; according to the FBI, at least seven white nationalist groups were identified in breaching the halls of Congress; and, ironically, numerous Capitol police officers were assaulted – and one was killed – by the mob that celebrates Blue Lives Matter.

There's also a scary side note to this. While it's safe to say not all the Trump supporters gathered on the Ellipse that day were insurrectionists, subsequent arrests have uncovered numerous military veterans and law enforcement officers who did participate in storming the Capitol building. That's disturbing. What happened to the oath they took to defend and protect the Constitution? Was that just a formality to collect a government paycheck and pension? Or was their oath a big lie, too?

These are the people that Trump said he loves in an insincere video attempt later that day to squelch the insurrection that nearly consumed Trump's own Vice President, Mike Pence, who was presiding over the electoral count in the Senate chambers.

Something else was revealed that day: American racism.

Nearly all the domestic terrorists were white. Consequently, there were almost no real-time arrests. Even by the end of the day, there were only 69 arrests made, mostly for violating a 6 p.m. curfew. Even now, 11 days later, there are perhaps 300 charges in the books. But this contrasts to the 350 or so arrests made by mostly peaceful marchers in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations on the capital streets in a single day back on June 1.

There's your definition of white privilege. Imagine the carnage if the Capitol had been stormed by unarmed BLM?

And consider this: the racial demographics of America is about to change. The nation will be majority minority within the next 20 years, meaning Whites in this country better learn to share the power instead of controlling it. Voter suppression tactics, such as gerrymandering and reduced polling sites, has a half-life. If you have a grievance, get over it.

There's a now iconic image of a sole Capitol Police officer, Eugene Goodman, fending off rioters with a truncheon (and not a gun) in the halls of Congress, luring them away from the Senate floor. Goodman is Black. The rioters are white. And Pence, just seconds before, was in the Senate chamber.

A friend of mine noted that America was built on the backs of slave labor. Indeed, the White House, the Capitol, Monticello, Mount Vernon, even Wall Street, not to mention infrastructure in general, were built by Black people. But in a larger sense, so was the essence of what's right with this country: the 14th and 15th amendments and the civil rights movements and legislation dating from the 1960s come to mind.

My friend also suggested that it might be Black people who ultimately save our democracy.

He might be right. No lie.


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Hard times

 "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure." – Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 13, 1787, in a letter to William Stephens Smith

"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing." – Thomas Jefferson, Jan. 30, 1787, in a letter to James Madison

I bring forward these quotes from Thomas Jefferson in light of the horrifying rape and vandalism of the nation's Capitol by a fevered pro-Trump mobacracy on Wednesday, fomented to insurrection by none other than President Trump himself just moments before the assault on Congress.

The Trump supporters, apparently prepared for rebellion (and well armed, as it turned out), intentionally tried to interrupt a Constitutionally ordained procedure to certify the electoral college vote count.

In other words, a move toward anarchy.

The above quotes by Jefferson, which seem to be pointed and precise if you care to take sides with the aggressors, were written in response to Shays' Rebellion that occurred near Springfield, Mass., in 1786-87. The uprising was a result of area farmers dealing with a local debt crisis and state taxation. Many of those rebels fought in the Revolution and felt under-compensated for their efforts (including Capt. Daniel Shays, for whom the rebellion was named).

The rebellion also occurred during the drafting of the Constitution to replace the ineffective Articles of Confederation, which Madison – regarded as the Father of the Constitution – used to draw up the Second Amendment. You know, the part about a well-regulated Militia.

To this day, both of Jefferson's quotes are open to interpretation. The second quote often shows up on T-shirts among small-government believers who also like to brandish "Don't Tread on Me" flags.

The first quote is curious. The blood of "patriots & tyrants" is pitting two opposing forces – countrymen – against each other, apparently to the death. This actually foretells the Civil War. The part about manure might speak for itself. Maybe Jefferson's quote isn't what it might seem. Was he really promoting bloody rebellions every generation or so? A bit more on that in a moment.

The thing about these quotes is that Jefferson was on a diplomatic mission in France at the time, buying books and furniture and discovering recipes for ice cream. He had nothing to do with writing the Constitution, so why are his opinions even regarded here?

The French, however, loved Jefferson and saw him as an expert in revolutions, especially given that he was the author of the American Declaration of Independence, the ultimate in revolutionary documents.

The argument can be made that Jefferson was a seriously conflicted personality. While writing that all men are created equal, his slaves were building Monticello. While calling for rebellion against the monarchy, he's fleeing Charlottesville from approaching British troops. Where's the blood of the patriot?

If truth be told (a rare commodity these days, it seems), Jefferson can be regarded as an extreme liberal for his views on rebellion. He also thought the local Massachusetts government had a right to put down Shay's Rebellion.

Considering that he is so self-conflicted, did we really elect him as our third president of the United States? Sounds like he had some real split-personality issues.

Well, he did give us the Louisiana Purchase. Wait. Wasn't that socialism redefined as government expansionism?

In light of these troubled times, there's another quote to consider. It comes from Massachusetts Chief Justice William Cushing in a letter he wrote in The Hampshire Gazette in June 1787 about Shays' Rebellion:

"I fear evil minded persons, leaders of the insurgents ... (waging war) against the Commonwealth, to bring the whole government and all good people of this state, if not continent, under absolute command and subjugation to one or two ignorant, unprincipled, bankrupt, desperate individuals."

Wow. That could have been yesterday's editorial.

We live in perilous times right now. The days leading up to Joe Biden's inauguration appear to be particularly fraught, especially after last week's events. Trump supporters, emboldened after breaching the Capitol while Congress is in session, are promising more to come. Maybe even bloodshed.

When, after the Constitution was adopted in 1789, founding father Ben Franklin was supposedly asked if the nation had a republic or a monarchy.  "A republic," was his reply, "if you can keep it."

The storming of the Capitol is as close as we have come to Franklin's crossroads since the Civil War. 

Tomorrow's editorial awaits.

Friday, January 8, 2021

The desecration of American democracy

In a week filled with unbelievable images, two stood out in my mind.

I was initially appalled by seeing thousands of pro-President Trump protesters, many carrying American flags, storming the steps of the Capitol after rallying on the Ellipse Wednesday morning and subsequently vandalizing the hallowed halls of Congress.

Their purpose, I assume, was to interrupt the ceremonial certification of Joe Biden as the newly-elected President of the United States, a procedure which happens to be ordained by the Constitution. It was mob rule. Some protesters apparently were armed, as events later turned out, which can only imply more nefarious reasons behind this assault on democracy.

But the first image that struck me was one of the protesters in Statuary Hall carrying a Confederate battle flag.

A desecration of democracy...*

The Civil War occurred in 1861 to 1865, much of it just across the Potomac River in Virginia. The battle flag was originally designed for unit identification, a necessity for keeping the lines intact through the smoke and haze of battle. It was never adopted as a national flag.

The flag was virtually forgotten immediately after the war, but resurfaced with a vengeance in the mid-20th century as a way for the South to rebel against desegration.

And now the flag, which should only exist in museums if for no other reason than the Confederacy lost the war, has been co-opted as a symbol of anti-government rebellion and white nationalism, ironically protected by the government-created First Amendment right to free speech.

The protester in the picture (who eventually will be identified and prosecuted for trespass, incitement, assault and any number of other charges) is walking between portraits of former South Carolina segregationist and senator John C. Calhoun (left) and Massachusetts abolitionist Charles Sumner. There's got to be a story in there somewhere.

I thought it was an incredibly incongruous picture. The Confederate battle flag never made it to the halls of Congress during the Civil War. But it was there on Wednesday. And for what purpose?

...for what purpose?**

The second image was even more upsetting. It was a picture of a noose and gallows on Capitol Hill.

If you are familiar with the darker side of American history, you must know that the noose is primarily a Jim Crow-era abomination – and now a symbol – that should remind you that nearly 5,000 African Americans were hanged over a span of more than 50 years in the last century, afforded no due process and apparently for no other reason than the color of their skin.

Which is why this picture should give us pause. Why is there a noose on Capitol Hill? Just who is the target of this threat? How does this define our democracy?

The pro-Trump rally Wednesday was attended by almost exclusively white people (between 20,000 and 40,000 of them by FBI estimate). Why did they bring race-driven icons?

Thoughtful people watching this travesty unfold are righteously indignant, saying this is not America, this is not who we are.

I want to say that, too. But I will argue that this is exactly who we are, and what we will continue to be until we affect deeper changes in our laws and in our culture.

* Photo by Saul Loeb (Getty Images)

** Photo by Andrew Caballero (Getty Images)