Sports’ Achilles heal

I’m talking about the officials. Professional sports and their athletes are top-of-class. But the refs who blow their whistles are struggling against impossible standards: getting it right all the time. Their failures to perform threaten the integrity of the games they officiate.

It has taken me a while to recover from the Warriors’ stupendous collapse, losing three straight after securing a 3-1 margin in the first four games. Officiating had something to do with their demise: ticky-tack fouls on the league’s MVP amidst glaring omissions for slaps across the heads of Golden State players bound for the hoop or simply trying to move from one spot to another on the floor. And don’t get me going on the lack of foul calls on offensive screens. It is evidently legal to physically redirect a defender from one zip code to another.

Of course, the biggest reasons for Warriors’ retreat to ignominy were the “Drunken Turkey” and the “Drunken Pogo-stick,” Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, respectively. Barnes clearly forgot that making points involves putting the ball into the basket. Ezeli, despite his size and strength, shrinks like a wet noodle when near the goal.

Enough of that.

I turn now to baseball, a sport I played through my youth and into college and beyond. The game has changed dramatically since the 60s and 70s, my decades toiling on the mound. Pitching, for one, with the emphasis now on roles: starter, middle relief, set up, and closer. Gone are complete games, commonplace with Spahn, Marichal, and Ryan. Hitters, no matter how tall or small, swing for the fences, increasing strikeouts and frustrating fans yearning for success with runners in scoring position.

Baseball, to anyone who watches, is the most amenable of the major sports to the use of technology. High-definition cameras record every pitch and batted ball, yielding metrics that statisticians could only dream about in my day.

Take balls and strikes. The contest between the pitcher and the batter is the essence of baseball. Nothing happens until the ball is pitched and the hitter swings. This most crucial element depends on the ability of the home plate umpire to judge the location of a spheroid traveling nearly 140 feet per second. Regrettably, the umps miss far too many, calling balls strikes and vice-versa. Yet, before our television eyes we see a pitch tracker superimposed on the field of view. The technology records the precise location of the pitch to within a small fraction of an inch, far more accurately than the umpire—instantaneously.

The diehards will not hear of substituting already existing and working technology for the flawed judgment of umpires. They talk of an umpire’s personal strike zone. How preposterous. We could have all the accuracy we desire and eliminate the variabilities and defects of ordinary humans. After all, we are treated to replays that rely on ultra-high-def cameras and video equipment that reveal within fractions of an inch whether a fielder tagged some part of the runner sliding into a base and when.

I am not proposing to banish umpires from the field. The home plate umpire, for example, could don the inflated shield worn years ago. No need to get into a squat to gain a better view of the incoming pitch. Also, no need to be assaulted by a foul tip traveling 100 mph.

It will happen. Though, like economic fairness and security, not in my lifetime.

Brexit to Trump

Perish the thought. But consider:

Look at those who voted for Brexit. The strongest single predictor was education. Those who had been university educated opted overwhelmingly to remain; those who had only made it through the British equivalent of high school or less wanted to leave. Similarly, the young voted to remain—75 percent of eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds voting in, according to one survey—while the old were adamant in heading for the exit. This generational divide has an educational dimension. Recall that not that long ago only 7 percent of Britons attended college. Today that figure is closer to 50 percent. Put bluntly, in the UK the old and the less educated are overlapping categories. That fact entrenches a divide that finds an uncanny mirror across the US. The older and less educated account for many among the 14 million voters who backed Trump in the primaries—a fact enshrined in his now-famous declaration that “I love the poorly educated”—while the young, recent college graduates especially, rallied to Bernie Sanders. In this respect at least, Trump and Sanders are Leave and Remain in human form—albeit with New York accents.

— Jonathan Freedland, writing for the New York Review of Books

Let’s see just how many dumbasses there are in America come November.


The New York Times editorial board avers that the National Rifle Association, America’s largest gun lobby, is complicit in this country’s mass murders, of which there are more than one a day. They write:

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” one spokesman for Al Qaeda said in a 2011 recruitment video. “So what are you waiting for?”

Few places on earth make it easier than the United States for a terrorist to buy assault weapons to mow down scores of people in a matter of minutes. The horrific massacre in Orlando last weekend is only the latest example. And all this is made vastly easier by a gun lobby that has blocked sensible safety measures at every turn, and by members of Congress who seem to pledge greater allegiance to the firearms industry than to their own constituencies. There is a word for their role in this form of terrorism: complicity.

Elsewhere in the paper we learn that the more horrific a shooting event and the more people killed, the more guns bought by America’s crazy, a very large, intractable percentage of the population. And no new laws to stop the insanity.

It didn’t happen after a congresswoman was shot in the head at an official event. It didn’t happen after 20 children were gunned down in their elementary school classrooms. It didn’t happen after terrorists fired on a holiday party at an agency that provided services for people with disabilities in Southern California.

Now, after the worst mass shooting in American history, major new gun control legislation is still not likely to pass in Congress.

I have nothing to say.

Awful ruling a killer

The U.S. Supreme Court, against its own precedents and common sense, decided that the Second Amendment provides an individual right to own and use firearms, regardless of outcomes. The case was District of Columbia v. Heller. Writing for The Nation magazine, Dorothy Samuels declares the decision utterly wrong in nearly every respect, and, in particular, by rejecting the qualifying clause at the beginning of the amendment.

To grasp the audacity of what Scalia & Co. pulled off, turn to the Second Amendment’s text: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” To find in that wording an individual right to possess a firearm untethered to any militia purpose, the majority performed an epic feat of jurisprudential magic: It made the pesky initial clause about the necessity of a “well regulated Militia” disappear. Poof! Gone. Scalia treated the clause as merely “prefatory” and having no real operative effect—a view at odds with history, the fundamental rules of constitutional interpretation, and the settled legal consensus for many decades.

“The Second Amendment was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states,” then-Justice John Paul Stevens correctly noted in his minority opinion, joined by Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer. “Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms.”

We should all appreciate that who accedes to the White House makes all the difference this November. Recall that Mr. Marmalade intoned that he would nominate another Scalia. Talk about blood on the hands.

Weep for America

Tragedies abound, here in the good old USA. Judging by the concerted inaction among those parading as our representatives to stop the mayhem and bloodshed, we can look forward to more of the same, if not worse.

Indeed, on nearly every issue that matters, from health care and employment security to skewed priorities favoring military spending over basic services like education and guaranteed pensions, America’s elected officials consign us to an ugly, nasty, and brutish existence. Except, of course, for the billionaires, who have fashioned a legislative-economic-and-political system that redounds to their benefit, while the Rest of Us practice a crude, spiteful form of social Darwinism. The many must fend for themselves against increasingly miserable odds.

Much of this was brought into sharp, albeit somewhat ironic relief in the newest film by Michael Moore, Where to Invade Next. I commend the movie to you, but here is the quick takeaway: most European countries have those basic services as a matter of right and culture. The promise of our Constitution’s Preamble is being fulfilled elsewhere. Meanwhile, we Americans have been beaten down, denied necessities, and been forced to worship at the altar of unbridled capitalist greed.

I mentioned culture. The many people interviewed by Moore across Europe embraced their countries’ general welfare policies as common-sense givens, integral to the widespread notion that decent society demands people care for one another. Let’s take a quick look.

Moore spoke with several Italians who benefit from extended vacations, holidays, and generous family-leave programs. Italians, both business owners and their employees, believe that happy, well-rested workers make for improved productivity and company balance sheets. Despite receiving upwards of two months or more of paid time off, Italian productivity is just a shade lower than America’s, said Moore.

In Portugal, drug possession and use has been decriminalized completely. As a consequence, usage has plummeted, in part because the Portuguese spend resources on curing addictions. America’s wars on drugs, in contrast, targeting mostly African-Americans, has stocked our nation’s burgeoning prison system. Moore suggests that America reintroduced slavery via its draconian drug policies. And it was no accident.

Moore took us to a public school in France. The cafeteria, to be exact. There a full-time chef plans and produces three-star meals for children, who sit at round tables to which food is delivered by servers. No greasy pizzas. No cans of soda pop. Nothing that is found in the typical American child’s lunch. All healthy stuff, with plenty of vegetables and fruit, eaten over a leisurely hour or so.

In Slovenia Moore found American students earning degrees from that countries’ universities. And get this, at no cost to themselves. Education is completely free, and there is no such thing as student debt. The benefit is afforded to anyone from anywhere, and a hundred or more classes are taught in English.

Workers comprise half the corporate boards of German companies. Moore visited the Farber pencil company. He interviewed workers and managers alike. They reported that the employee involvement in decisions at all levels yielded a better-functioning workplace. Moreover, employees earned a living wage, supplemented by free health care, of course.

What about education? Moore flew north to Finland. I’ve written often about Finnish lessons. (Just search for the term on this site.) Finland completely reformed its education system, which bans private charter schools, by the way. That system is now the envy of the world. Shocking to Americans bombarded by Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind, not to mention the excessive impositions of Bill Gates, et al.—Finnish children spend the least amount of time in the classroom of all OECD children. They do no homework, and there are no standardized tests.

Iceland was the first nation to elect a woman to its highest political office. That was in 1980, five years after a nationwide strike by women. Today, political bodies and company boards must have at least 40 percent of their membership female, though no gender can exceed 60 percent. During the 2008 global economic crisis, those Icelandic banks led by men all failed. The one dominated by women survived. Also, and worth noting, the male bankers are now spending time in a remote prison. No prominent U.S. banker was ever prosecuted. One woman CEO interviewed by Moore said that she could never live in America, because America is all about the individual and getting more of everything. There is no sense of caring for others, demanded of a decent society. Amen.

I admit to shedding a tear for what could be here in America. We could have all the services and cultural amenities enjoyed by our European counterparts. Indeed, as Moore emphasized at the end of his film, most of the ideas that have become reality in Europe had their origins in the U.S., including the abolition of the death penalty (Michigan in 1846). The Finnish education transformation is based on the teachings of John Dewey, an American philosopher and educator. The Equal Rights Amendment predated Iceland’s woman’s movement, though its ratification failed by three of the 50 states.

Alas, we’re confronted by a growing fascist spectacle and a citizen-less democracy. You, too, should weep for America.


If this doesn’t depress you…

…then you’re beyond hope.

I’m alluding to this piece in The Guardian, a graphic that illustrates America’s penchant for mass shootings. This is, after all, an “only-in-America” stat. Here is the paper’s accompanying text:

Sunday’s attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida was the deadliest mass shooting in American history – but there were five other mass shootings in the US during that weekend alone.

“We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” Barack Obama said after the San Bernardino attack in December 2015.

Data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive via the crowd-sourced website reveals a shocking human toll: there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter – on five out of every six days, on average.

Not to be outdone

Yes, I excoriate Republicans, for many serious reasons. But I hasten to add that the modern Democratic Party is evil in its own ways, beginning in earnest with the presidency of Mr. Clinton. It really is corrupt, taking quid-pro-quo to an art form, an integral part of the new Democrat. Wall Street won. Everyone else can go suck on a lemon.

Bill Moyers picks up on Thomas Frank’s latest book, Listen, Liberal. Writing for the Huffington Post, Moyers says:

The lust for loot, which now defines the Democratic establishment, became pronounced in the Bill Clinton years, when the Clinton-friendly Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) abandoned its liberal roots and embraced “market-based solutions” that led to deregulation, tax breaks, and subsidies for the 1 percent. Seeking to fill coffers emptied by the loss of support from a declining labor movement, Democrats rushed into the arms of big business and crony capitalists.

No wonder Bernie Sanders is staying alive.