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.

“We Baptize You”

In the last few days we’ve read about a priest who used the “wrong formula” in performing baptims using an invalid formula.

The Catholic Church, and most Christian churches, insist that baptism requires the formula “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It appears this priest used “We” instead of “I.”

Does this matter? Well, it does. Clearly the priest’s intent was not to perform invalid baptisms and I have some sympathy for him. In the last 50 years the Catholic Church has attempted to become more inclusive and more welcoming. Part of that has included inviting the congregation to participate in worship. Until 1977 only priests and deacons were allowed to offer Eucharist (ie, give Communion to another person). For many people it was unsettling to receive Eucharist from someone other than a priest. Also, 50 years ago the idea of inviting a family member to speak at a funeral mass was unheard of but today it’s common.

And I’m guessing that this priest wanted to include the entire congregation in the child’s baptism. But when the priest says “I” he isn’t speaking for himself but for Jesus. There’s a Latin term “In Persona Christi” which means “in the person of Christ.”

So here’s the problem: we Catholics believe that all sacraments require some action on our part and it’s often what we say. The sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) begins with the penitent saying: “Bless me father for I have sinned.” When we receive Communion the Eucharistic Minister says: “The Body of Christ” and we respond: “Amen.” There’s more but you get the point.

Here’s the other problem: If a person’s baptism is invalid so are all the other sacraments, including marriage. What do we do going forward? I suspect this story will slowly fade away at least in the news media. But if you knew this priest baptized you and you’re fearful with your standing before God, what do you do?

If the Pope calls me for advice (and I’m not waiting by the phone) I’d tell him to issue a proclamation declaring that all these baptisms are valid. If the Pope calls you, tell him I’m available.

Baseball’s Hall Of Fame, Class of 2021

We recently got the news that David Ortiz was selected to join the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

David is often known as “Big Popi” and I celebrate his election to the Hall of Fame.

But today’s Hall of Fame news isn’t about David Ortiz getting in, but those who didn’t. When a player retires from playing baseball he is eligible for the Hall of Fame as long as he has played for ten seasons and has been retired for five.

In the early 2000s baseball produced several players who produced incredible numbers, particularly in home runs. It didn’t take long for the public to suspect or assume that their numbers may have been enhanced by steroids that artificially built muscles that inflated their statistics. When we discuss this we naturally look at Barry Bonds, Curt Shilling, Roger Clemens, and others.

This raises an interesting question: Does a baseball player earn his place in the Hall of Fame only because of his record or is it more complex? Do morals matter?

Ty Cobb (1886-1961) was inducted in the first class of the Hall of Fame in 1936. He grew up in Georgia and played for the Detroit Tigers and never lost his hatred for African Americans. Civil Rights and Racial Equality never mattered in his life and it never mattered in his election to the Hall of Fame.

Conversely, Shoeless Joe Jackson (1887-1951) was denied. He had an extraordinary career but was accused, along with seven other teammates, of conspiracy to purposely lose the 1919 World Series. It’s often called the Black Sox Scandal. He was banned from baseball for life and denied entry to the hall.

Also, Pete Rose (b.1941) was also banned from baseball and denied entry into the Hall of Fame for betting on baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds.

I think morals matter. We have halls of fame to inspire future generations. Members show the rewards of hard work and discipline, but I also believe they should model leadership. Everyone on this list put up Hall of Fame numbers but were also good people.

  • Christy Mathewson (1880-1925) was often called the “Christian Gentleman.”
  • Babe Ruth (1895-1948) showed us that even though his father gave up on him and placed him in an orphanage, he could work hard and never lose his affection for sick children.
  • Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) proved not only that a Black man could play major league baseball but he could do that while not responding to the racial discrimination he experienced.

I could go on and on. But I support the exclusion of Barry Bonds, Curt Shilling and Roger Clemens because I don’t want future generations of baseball players to believe that you can cheat you way into the Hall.

Yosemite Not In The Rear View Mirror

Normally at this time of year we travel to Yosemite for their Chef’s Holidays. Last year they cancelled the Chef’s Holidays and the Ahwahnee’s dining room. We elected not to go as we would have to eat boxed meals in our room. This year Chef’s Holidays were also cancelled but we had more options for eating and we decided to go.

When we travel we have two of Nancy’s siblings spend the night at our home to care for Nancy’s father. But one of Nancy’s siblings were exposed to COVID and nobody felt safe possibly exposing Al to COVID on the eve of his 103rd birthday. Instead of a 6 day trip to Yosemite we elected instead a 3 day trip to Los Angeles and it went well.

In the last several years we’ve been looking for an opportunity to visit the J. Paul Getty Museum. It was well worth the trip, if a little overwhelming. My only complaint was the promise they made about having an EV charging station. The web page says you can recharge your car in the parking lot and they have about 10 stations. But you have to download an app on your phone and since the spaces in the underground parking lot, my phone had no service and we weren’t able to charge my Honda Clarity. It would help if you could download the app on your phone before you arrive at the museum. That said it was a day well spent.

The next day we visited the Los Angeles Zoo and it was also great. We try to visit zoos in every city we visit and we’ve been to the LA Zoo several times. Nearly every exhibit had a tribute to Betty White, a picture with her and the animals she cared for so deeply. We enjoy speaking with the zookeepers but when we tell them we’re from San Diego many of them will apologize that their zoo isn’t as good as ours. I have to confess that this makes me crazy because each zoo we visit has its own strengths. We’re not looking for the biggest nor can we judge the best. But it’s fun to see a different zoo. By the way, they don’t advertise this but they have free charging stations and we were able to plug in my Clarity.

Finally, on the way home we stopped by Calvary Cemetery and Nancy was able to lay flowers on the graves of her paternal grandparents, Paul Graff (1882-1967) and Theresa Sailer Graff (1893-1978).

Hopefully we’ll see Yosemite soon and Chef’s Holidays will return in 2023.

Observations on Roe v. Wade 49 Years Later

It was on this day in 1973 that the Supreme Court rule 7-2 that states could not outlaw abortion in early pregnancy. You can read the opinion here. There has been a great deal of attention as the Supreme Court has accepted a case (Dobbs v. Jackson) that may overturn Roe.

As a Catholic I’m feeling torn about this. I’m pro-life and I find myself nearly alone in the hope that the Supreme Court does not decide to overturn Roe. I believe that all life is sacred but I believe one Supreme Court decision will not achieve that goal. Overturning Roe will only allow individual states to legislate abortion policy (as they did before 1973). I doubt anything will bring abortions to zero but this certainly will not.

Conservative states like Mississippi and Texas will outlaw abortion while liberal states like New York and California will not and this will allow wealthy women to travel to end their pregnancies, a right denied to poor women.

If we wish to be a pro-life nation we need to work to prevent unplanned pregnancies and we know how to do that. First we need to provide sex education in high school. Evidence shows that instead of giving teens permission to have sex it gives them the tools to make mature decisions. Second we need to ensure that everyone has free and available birth control.

Finally, Switzerland’s experience tells us that we need to work on closing the gap between rich and poor. Nearly three out of four women choose abortion out of a fear that an unplanned child will drive them deeper into poverty. I have several friends that describe themselves as “oops babies,” that is, a pregnancy that was unplanned but not unloved or unwelcome. Our best ability to become a pro-life nation lies in the ability to prevent unplanned pregnancies or at least welcome them as “oops babies.”