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.

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.

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.

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.

Observations on Roe v. Wade 49 Years Later

It was on this day in 1973 that the Supreme Court ruled 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.”

Thoughts On January 6th, One Year Later

On January 6, 2021 I saw something I never expected: A group of terrorists, angry that Donald Trump was not reelected, stormed the Capitol in the hopes of preventing the Senate from certifying that Joe Biden was elected President. You can find an excellent timeline here.

At first even the Republican National Committee condemned the riot. But this was not to last.

In the year since this event Donald Trump has continued to claim he won the 2020 election and virtually all Republicans have tried to excuse or downplay January 6th.

A year later I think we have a few takeaways:

  1. The Republican Party has figured out that democracy isn’t working out for them. Since 1992 the Republican Presidential candidate has won the popular vote only once, in 2004. In 2000 and 2016 George Bush and Donald Trump won the electoral vote but lost the popular vote.
  2. Gerrymandering will only take them so far. For the most part state legislatures determine voting districts and the Republicans currently control statehouses in 30 states. After the 2020 census they are working hard at making sure that congressional districts give them an advantage. Instead of voters choosing the candidates, the candidates are choosing the voters. But there is a problem:
  3. People of color vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Despite all Republican attempts, the United States continues to move from a white majority to a more diverse nation. Children of immigrants who are born here are American citizens and can vote when they turn 18 and Trump’s xenophobia and racism are not lost on them.
  4. Younger voters vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Younger voters generally don’t vote as much as their parents and grandparents but that’s changing. The youngest Baby Boomer (those born from 1946 to 1964) is now 57. Gen X (1965 to 1980), Millenials (1981 to 1996), and Gen Z (1997 to 2012), when they vote, vote Democratic. A child born in 2006 will be able to vote in the 2024 Presidential election.

I believe that if Donald Trump remained in the White House on January 20, 2021 he would never leave. He would attempt to cancel the 2024 elections or at least find a way to win a 3rd term. I believe that would end our democracy.

I also fear that if he attempts to run in 2024 his supporters will do anything to make this happen.

I hope I’m wrong.

Happy 2022

This is the time of year when seemingly everyone wishes everyone else a happy new year. This year it seems like more of a prayer than a greeting.

As Americans we generally think ourselves optimistic about the future but I have to admit this year it’s more of a reach for me than usual. Last year at this time I was expecting good things from 2021. Joe Biden was on the cusp of the Presidency and I truly believed that this was the year we would end COVID 19.

I wasn’t entirely surprised by the events of January 6th and was frankly a little surprised that Donald Trump voluntarily left the White House on January 20th. I fully expected that President Biden would need to call the Secret Service to remove a trespasser.

This is what I didn’t expect: as COVID continued to enjoy 2021 I had no idea that large numbers of ordinary people would continue to believe the lies that masks don’t work, that vaccines are dangerous, and that getting sick wasn’t too bad.

Last year 386,000 Americans died of COVID, more than died in 2020. The science couldn’t be clearer. Those who got sick and those who died were overwhelmingly people who didn’t follow simple directions.

Problem is that I don’t see anything turning around in 2022. As far as I can tell the science deniers will continue to deny and the ignorant will continue to work hard to maintain their ignorance. Meanwhile we will continue to discover COVID variants like Omicron.

As an American I find optimism hard, but as a Christian I find hope easier. Unlike optimism, hope does not rely on events but on faith.

Even the most ignorant person, and even the most evil purveyor of these lies lives within God’s love and healing. So if we happy new year is more of a prayer than a greeting, let us rejoice in the hope that makes it so.