Vin Scully 1927 – 2022

I don’t normally write obituaries or tributes, mostly because other writers do a better job. But a few days ago we all learned the sad, if not expected, news that Vin Scully passed away at the age of 94.

Full disclosure, I didn’t grow up a baseball fan. I grew up outside of Washington D.C. and it was a football town. There wouldn’t be a basketball or hockey team until 1974, and baseball didn’t return until 2005.

But I moved to San Diego in 1995 and in 1998 I married a diehard, lifelong fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, I soon learned that their legendary sportscaster, Vin Scully, had been in the broadcast booth since 1950 and would stay there until 2016. Those who grew up with the words “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” will never forget how he made them feel.

It’s a cliche to say this but Vin made you feel like he was sitting next to you and there was nobody else there. He was a wealth of information but he wasn’t just a trivia buff. While all broadcasters know the names of the superstars, Vin knew about everyone. He made a point of knowing the names and stories of those making their debuts. He spoke about them as if he had known them since high school and had been rooting for them all along.

He was also a classic gentleman. Those who knew him spoke glowingly of a man who was just as kind and generous in person as he was in the broadcast booth. Without saying it you could tell that his integrity informed everything about him.

He will be missed. Rest in peace Vin.

Portland, Oregon In July: It Was Still A Great Time

Yesterday Nancy and I returned from 5 days visiting friends in Portland, Oregon. It was ghastly hot and the heat limited some of our activities but it was a wonderful trip and I pray we can go again soon.

It hasn’t been easy for the past few years to get away and COVID hasn’t helped. But with Nancy’s retirement in June it’s time. I would have liked it to be a few days longer but there’s always next time.

Our friends live in an older part of the city and their house was built in 1906 but has (mercifully) been updated all along. It was within walking distance of nearly everything and I think we walked the entire neighborhood. We saw the Japanese Garden, the Oregon Zoo, and I believe nearly every restaurant within walking distance.

If you have a chance to visit Portland, take it.

July 4, 2022: It’s Been 246 Years. How Are We Doing?

It was a temperate 72 degrees on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, not the image we often get of oppressive heat and stuffy rooms. On that day, in that place, something incredible happened. Fifty six British subjects signed a document that declared that they were no longer part of the British Empire but were instead an independent nation.

From the point of view of King George III (1738-1820) it was nothing short of treason. He saw this as a rebellion that he would put down and punish harshly. This document would be Exhibit A on executing these men.

These 56 were not a diverse group, at least by modern standards. They were all white, Christian (including one Catholic), and men of some wealth. Some were farmers, some were lawyers, some were merchants, but all had the wealth to gather in Philadelphia. They all had a great deal in common, including their belief in revolution.

Previous generations were told that their ultimate loyalty rested with the king (or queen) and they had the power of life or death over everyone. But a 33 year old farmer and scholar from Virginia wrote this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

.

In other words we are primarily subject to God, not the king. We have rights that not even the king can violate.

We’ve made a great deal of progress in the last 246 years, but we’re far from done.

  1. We ended slavery in 1865. This was perhaps the largest task of all. The framers of the Constitution (13 years in the future) recognized that there would be no United States unless slavery were allowed to continue in the South. Slavery constituted our greatest challenge and it led to a conflict that nearly destroyed us. Today, 157 years after the abolition of slavery, we’re still reckoning with full racial equality. But the fact that most of us recognize this gives us hope.
  2. We have never reverted to governance by royalty and we have never come close. Several of our Presidents have been jeered at with the epithet “King.” If you watch the 2012 movie Lincoln he is referred to as “King Abraham Africanis I.”
  3. Freedoms of press, speech, religion, and assembly are entrenched. We think nothing of writing to the local newspaper criticizing our leaders, often not even thinking that citizens of other nations wouldn’t dare. We need to look over our shoulder when we walk into our place of worship.
  4. When we see discrimination we’ve done what we can to stop it. Women now vote. People of color can now live where they choose. Recent conflicts over marriage equality, once thought impossible, are now the law of the land.

And yes, we still have a long way to go. Today we are divided in ways we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. Good people on each side accuse others of wanting to end our democracy. But our history gives us great reason for hope.

Next year I hope I’ll be commentating on our 247th birthday. I’m confident I’ll still be hopeful.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 40: Abortion and the Right To Bear Arms

Each year the Supreme Court ends its session in June and oftentimes our nation eagerly awaits a few major decisions. It’s a little known fact but anyone can contact the Supreme Court and they will mail you a bound copy of the opinions. I’ve ordered copies of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (abortion) and New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (gun control). I had hoped to read both decisions before writing about them but I won’t receive these opinions for a few weeks and I didn’t feel I could wait to at least something. I’ve already written about Dobbs in January

So think of this as a preview (for your consideration).

In 1973 the justices ruled in Roe v. Wade that no state could ban abortion. The majority opinion was written by Justice Harry Blackmun (1908-1999) and ruled that any decision concerning a woman’s health belonged only between the woman and her doctor. Government held no role in this.

Opposition to this ruling came swiftly. The Catholic Church condemned it immediately and evangelical Christians took it on in the early 1980s. They argued that the primary relationship wasn’t between mother and doctor, but between mother and unborn child. They argued that the unborn child was a person from the moment of conception and was due all the rights of any person. Abortion, simply put, was murder.

Since I haven’t read the Dobbs opinion yet I don’t know what reasoning they chose to overrule Roe, but I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

The gun control case appears to make a decision in fairly narrow grounds. All 50 states allow someone to conceal a gun when he is out in public. Some require a permit and a few, including New York, make granting a permit more difficult. Nine states (including New York) require a resident to apply and show cause. That is, he or she must show a need for additional protection above and beyond the need for ordinary citizens. I imagine that would include someone who has a restraining order against someone with a history of violence or an off duty police officer.

Again, I haven’t read this opinion but I will be happy to share mine when I have one.

Watergate at 50

Last year I wrote a long essay on the 49th anniversary of the break in at the Watergate Office Building.

I don’t wish to rewrite the article from last year. That said I can’t simply allow the 50th to pass without comment.

Dozens of books have been written about this. I started by reading All The President’s Men and The Final Days. Nearly all the major players wrote books from their own perspective, and I’m currently reading The President’s Man by Dwight Chapin.

Interest in this event and attempted coverup took on new meaning after the 2020 election when President Trump, also feeling he was above the law, committed criminal acts. Nixon wished to ensure his victory in 1972, Trump wished to overrule the will of the voters and remain in office.

The more we know about Watergate the better we can protect our democracy from Trump and his minions.

And Now Uvalde, Texas. Had Enough? The Republican Party Hasn’t.

Last week we learned the name of another small city with an elementary school: Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In the last 23 years we’ve also learned about Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; Marjorie Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. There are several more, but you get the point. Each of these schools lost students to gun violence.

This type of mass murder also happens outside of schools as we learned of shootings at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York; Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada; Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. And this is only a fraction.

I wrote a longer article in 2018 and I don’t wish to repeat it here. I argued that it was time to outlaw the purchase of assault rifles. They have no place in legal activities such as hunting. Simply put, they are weapons of war and are designed only to kill a large number of people in a short time.

After every massacre the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party attempt to frame them as mental health issues. This allows them to divert attention away from the guns and their responsibility for the deaths.

After Sandy Hook in 2012 it briefly appeared that the deaths of students that young would shame those groups into talking seriously about reasonable gun control. Alas, no.

As I write this there are some Republicans who are feigning interest in reasonable legislation and I’d like to believe them. I hope I’m wrong.

Kent State, Fifty Two Years Later

If you’re under fifty May 4th probably makes you think of the Star Wars franchise (May the Forth Be With You) but for older generations it’s a day of mourning.

On May 4, 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio four people were killed by members of the Ohio National Guard. About 300 students were on campus protesting US participation in the war in Vietnam.

They were ordered to disperse and tear gas was used to end the protest. You read the details but at some point several guardsmen fired into the crowd. The four killed were:

May they rest in peace.

As The Baseball Leagues Merge

I haven’t always been a baseball fan. When I was 11 the Washington Senators left for Texas and I transferred all my loyalty to football. But when I moved to San Diego in 1995 I began to follow the San Diego Padres of the National League’s Western Division. At the time, with the exception of Spring Training, the All Star Game, and the World Series, their teams never played each other. On the plus side when the best teams of each league met in the World Series there was a mystique as they knew very little of each other. On the minus side American league fans virtually never saw Tony Gwynn play. Conversely National Leagues fans were also denied Cal Ripkin.

That changed in 1997 when baseball started inter league play. All of baseball played by the same rules with one exception: the designated hitter. In 1973 the American League ruled that one player didn’t have to bat but would be replaced by a batter who didn’t play in the field. Since pitchers virtually always bring up the rear in batting average it’s assumed they wouldn’t bat.

So what did they do since 1973 when teams from different leagues play? They decided that they would play under the rules of the home team. National League teams in American League parks were allowed a designated hitter and American League pitchers in National League parks had to bat. In fairness since most players play for multiple teams most American League pitchers had some experience in the batter’s box.

But this year the National League has also decided in the designated hitter. And I have to confess I’m saddened by this. I like the idea of all players playing both sides. It also called for creativity on the manager’s part. Most pitchers don’t pitch the entire game and the manager has to decide when he is “done.” But if he is pitching well but will bat the next inning, do you substitute him for a stronger batter? The hall of fame pitcher Greg Maddux famously worked hard in his batting skills knowing it would increase his chances for staying longer in the game.

This also means that the lines between the leagues have further blurred. I’m guessing that the number of times a team plays someone in the other league will grow to the point where we’ll lose track of which teams are in which league.

Oh well, I guess change is inevitable.

But I’ll still watch.

Ukraine and Russia: This Is Going To Be Much Longer And Much Bloodier

As I write this it’s been about 6 weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine. When Vladimir Putin invaded he expected a quick and easy victory; he didn’t expect Ukrainian resistance to be so fierce. This was partly due to bad advice he was given by his advisors. Dictators often run into this: they demand absolute loyalty from those around him and they tell him only what he wants to hear. Nobody is willing to speak truth or power because they will be fired or worse.

But what happens when a “quick victory” doesn’t work out? Well, nothing good. Rarely does an aggressor recognize the obvious and pull back. And we need only look at several examples from the 20th Century.

  • During World War II Germany fought a war on two fronts: The Soviet Union to the East and the Allies to the West. In 1943 Germany lost the Battle for Stalingrad and Soviet troops began their march toward Berlin. In 1944 Allied troops landed in France and began their march toward Berlin. It was clear that Germany couldn’t win the war but Hitler refused to surrender and the war continued until May 8, 1945.
  • Meanwhile, in the Pacific, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 intended to defeat America’s ability to stop Japan’s quest to conquer much of East Asia. But the next year American forces defeated Japan in the Battle of Midway. It wasn’t easy or fast but American forces were able to begin “island hopping.” In other words we were able to occupy islands that gave us closer and closer access to Japan. Many of us recognize Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa from high school history class. Long after it was clear that Japan could prevail they refused to surrender and they only gave up after two atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • In the 1960s the United States began a policy of supporting South Vietnam against the Communist North Vietnam. We sent advisors and then troops. In 1967 Defense Secretary Robert McNamera asked for a comprehensive report on US involvement in Vietnam, going back to 1945. We now know this report as the “Pentagon Papers.” The report was leaked in 1971 and it reported the American people were regularly lied to and that there were grave doubts as to whether the war was winnable at all. And yet we fought until our withdrawal in 1973.

I don’t think any of us want Putin and Russia to successfully conquer Ukraine. Given his fixation on restoring the old Soviet Union he may then set his sight on the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia).

But a war that goes badly for Putin also goes badly for Ukraine. We are already hearing reports of murder of civilians and other atrocities. We can only pray.

Thoughts on Ukraine and Russia

For the past month we’ve been watching horrific scenes from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s been hard to watch.

Russian President Vladimir Putin falsely claims that he is “liberating” Ukraine from the Nazis. The charge is absurd but it calls for some background.

The nations of what we now call Europe and Eastern Asia have often had fluid borders. Suffice it to say that those who live in modern Ukraine claim their own culture and language.

After World War I they were seen as an independent until they were occupied by the newly formed USSR (Union of Socialist Soviet Republics). From 1920 until 1991 the border between Ukraine and the USSR were sufficiently porous that many ethnic Russians moved to Ukraine. This wasn’t much help to Ukraine as Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin essentially attempted to starve the the people of Ukraine in the early 1930s. Ukraine was known as the “breadbasket” of the region because of its rich soil and huge crop yields. But Stalin forced farmers to turn over so much of their yield that between 1931 and 1934 between 4 and 5 million people died of starvation.

But by 1990 – 1991 the Soviet Union could not protect their people and it collapsed, allowing for the freedom of Ukraine and several other countries. In late 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn down and shortly after that East and West Germany reunited, ending Soviet rule in East Germany.

At the time an agent of the KGB, Russia’s spy agency, found himself in East Germany with an uncertain future. His name was Vladimir Putin.

In his climb to power he never forgot the USSR’s collapse and, frankly, he pined for the “good old days” where he could reconquer the nations the Soviet Union lost in 1991.

In 2016 when Donald Trump was elected as the US President, Putin saw an opportunity. In his time in office Trump begged for Putin’s approval.

Trump also often threatened to withdraw from NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which would give Putin the ability to invade countries in Eastern Europe without worrying that the United States would retaliate.

On February 24, 2022 Putin invaded Ukraine, being told by his advisors that he could conquer Ukraine in a matter of days. It hasn’t happened like that.

But it has caused tremendous damage to the land the people. I’ll be writing more about this as events continue to unfold.