Thursday, May 13, 2010

Destroy property

Hi, my name is Sean, and I am a flag burner.

(no, wait, that isn't what I mean...)

Hi, my name is Sean, and I approve of burning the flag.

(hmm... not really, I mean, I would rather people not burn the flag...)

Hi, my name is Sean, and I don't approve of burning the flag, you Nazi cows.

(well, that's closer; I don't want to see people burning the flag, but I don't want to see a law against it, either. And using the word "Nazi" means you have lost the argument before it starts. Let's see if I can clarify things just a little bit more...)

Hi, my name is Sean, and I'm just a guy. I'm not a patriot; I'm not an anarchist; I'm not a socialist.

I'm just a guy.

I'm not planning on burning the flag, but I'm not going to pull a Rick Monday and take the flag away from someone who is planning on it, either.

I'm just a guy.

Burning a flag can represent some strong feelings against the United States of America, or the administration at the time; it can represent utter despair over the course of current military action, or it can simply be a desire to draw attention to a certain cause.

The American flag is a symbol of certain beliefs and values. Oooh, that's good. Let me state that again. The American flag is a symbol of certain beliefs and values. It isn't those values. Burning the flag may show contempt for those values, or maybe not; you can't make that determination without knowing the person and their motivation. But burning the flag does not stamp out those values and beliefs. If anything, burning the flag is those beliefs and values in action. Freedom of speech. Freedom of peaceful assembly. Freedom to protest our government in a lawful manner, because let's face it, this isn't the Adams administration and the Alien and Sedition Act is no longer in force. We do have the right to protest the government.

You can't outlaw flag burning. You can't. Oh, you can try, and you may be able to get something on the books, but if you outlaw flag burning then you need to outlaw tea party assemblies and "Obama as The Joker" signs as well. Ooh, I just hit someone too close to the belt. Protest is protest. If you want the right to protest, even if your protest simply exposes your idiocy, then the other side has the right to protest as well, even if the other side is as ugly as their backside.

What about those people who picket military funerals? Well... I would have a hard time banning something like that. I certainly think funerals are solemn occasions, a time for mourning, a time to say goodbye. It isn't a time to score some sort of political point. It certainly isn't a time to show up because you know you'll be seen. Let me repeat that in a different way. If you want to get rid of people picketing military funerals, then you need to rid yourself of the people who come in from town and wave their flags and carry their banners because they want their picture to be in the paper so people can see how patriotic they are.

In other words, funerals should be for the family and close friends. Not for the neighbors who lived next door to the guy but only saw him when he was mowing the lawn; not for the guy who beat the crap out of him in high school because he liked different bands; not for the couple who brought their kids by for Halloween and didn't see him again until next Halloween. Funerals aren't a photo-op.

So let's try this again.

Hi, I'm Sean, and I'm in favor of people exercising their freedoms with copious amounts of common sense.

(Yeah, I think that sums it up well. But what do I know. I'm just a guy.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Defy authority

In my younger years, way back in the 70’s, I was a geek; but I was a geek with one specialty- I was good in spelling bees. Very good. I still have a certificate from the now defunct Cleveland Press that testifies to my prowess in defeating all comers in my elementary school to take the crown.

It was no surprise to me, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone doing any amount of digging into my personal history. I started reading before kindergarten. My grandfather was a man of words. My father raised me on crossword puzzle magazines. Spelling talent just came natural to me.

We moved to New Baltimore, Michigan in 1977 and I entered sixth grade at Dean A. Naldrett Elementary School. I went about the difficult task of getting used to a new environment and making new friends. One day the teacher made an announcement.

“We will be holding the class spelling bee next Friday morning.”

Hot dog! My chance to shine. My father helped me study the list of words, taking special glee in getting me to spell Mohammedanism. When Friday morning came I was prepared. And I won. My winning word? Mohammedanism. I kid you not.

As a result I was able to move on to the school spelling bee, along with my second runner-up. We were given the official list of spelling words, and once again my father spent time with me on a nightly basis to study the list. As we went through each word, my father noticed something odd.

There was a misspelled word. On a list of words for a spelling bee. And ironically, the word was “genius”. Spelled “genious”.

What to do? Do we try to notify someone? Do we just hope someone else notices the mistake? My father asked me to notify my teacher. I didn’t want to. I was in sixth grade, long before I took it upon myself to adopt causes.

The day of the school spelling bee came and I was ready. Before our class made their way down the hall to the room I attempted to tell my teacher that there was a problem. Whether she didn’t hear me, or heard me and just didn’t respond, I’ll never know. And it didn’t matter. The time for the competition had come.

Students stood up, students spelled, students were eliminated. I was cruising. With about six kids left it was my turn again.

My word? If you’ve made it this far you already know. My word was “genius”.

I had a choice to make. Do I ask them if they wanted it spelled correctly or spelled as given on the list? Do I just spell it like it was on the list? Do I spell it correctly? Continuing to believe that someone had to have noticed by now, I spelled it correctly.

And I was eliminated.

Tears sprang to my eyes as I sat down. I couldn’t believe it. There was no way this could stand.

There was every way this could stand. The teacher running the spelling bee announced that there was some confusion regarding my elimination, and then explained the rule- words had to be spelled exactly as they appeared on the list. Even if they were spelled wrong.

My run had come to an end. When junior high came around I was quickly eliminated on the word committee, and I would never enter another spelling bee again.

This took place in 1978. If it had taken place in 2008, there might have been a lawsuit. There might have been a blog campaign. There definitely would have been bad press. But in 1978, you just did what the principal told you. Hell, they still paddled back then. 32 years later, and you would think I would be beyond it.

I’m not.

If you haven’t learned Bruce Springsteen’s axiom that “blind faith in authority can get yourself killed”, you need to learn a lesson. People in authority will lie to you. They will use you. They will follow the "rules" no matter how wrongly those rules are applied.

I learned a healthy respect for rebellion from that day in 1978, and I’ve carried it with me ever since. Through church scandals. Through political brouhahas. Through reading one President’s lips, through a President who did not have sex with that young woman, through “Mission Accomplished”. If someone in authority tells me something, my first response is not to believe it. Don’t tell me, show me. Prove yourself trustworthy, and then I’ll believe you.


Friday, May 07, 2010

Take me out to the ballgame

I put the MLB Channel on the telly this afternoon, sat down at the table with my Replay baseball game, pulled out the 1978 Angels and the 2005 Angels, and I was immediately trapped in a time warp. The years started melting away...2004- the Boston Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years...2001- Barry Bonds hits 73 home runs and the Seattle Mariners win 116 games...1998- McGwire and Sosa... the years are flying by faster now, and so are the players...1995- Cleveland Indians in the World Series...1980- will George Brett hit .400?.... The time machine is slowing down now- 1979, 1977, 1975...

1971. The year before the Oakland A's three-year run as the champions of the world began. On this particular day a 58-year-old gentleman is sitting in the grandstand, his 28-year-old son beside him, and his 5 and 3-year-old grandsons along as well. It was batting helmet day, or t-shirt day, or some such promotion; the batting helmet would have shattered with one of Vida Blue's slowest pitches, but that didn't matter to the five-year-old; all he cared about was that he was there, at the ballpark, eating peanuts from a giant bag and dropping the shells gleefully on the concrete. Were we allowed to do that? he wondered. But it didn't matter- his grandpa was doing it, his father was doing it, so he did it too. The names of the players were magical- Blue Moon Odom, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers. He laughed every time he saw Rollie's handlebar moustache. The field looked enormous and the players looked small from the nosebleed seats. The green and yellow uniforms may look hideous to those looking back from a vantage point of thirty-nine years, but to that five-year-old, they were a fashion statement. He wore his souvenir helmet and t-shirt with pride.

Fast forward four years. In 1975 our protagonist was now nine years old and living in Ohio, as far away from the Oakland A's as they were from their next appearance in the World Series. The Milwaukee Brewers were in town, and that meant a chance to see Hank Aaron, the newly crowned home run king. This nine year old boy thought it would be a simple thing to walk onto the field, present Mr. Aaron with a paper and pencil and get him to sign. Get used to disappointment, kid. Whether Hank Aaron hit a home run that day or not is a fact lost to the sands of time, but to the nine year old, it didn't matter; he was there.

Have you guessed? That boy was me. I have been to many ballgames in the 39 years since I ground those peanut shells into the concrete in Oakland. I've lived through great Oakland teams, mediocre Detroit teams, and great Cleveland teams (although I had to swim through a lot of mediocrity to get there). Classic moments- George Brett's .390, my brother waking me up to tell me that Len Barker had pitched a perfect game, Jack Morris pitching a no-hitter in 1984, and the Detroit Tigers winning it all that year. And calling the action, whether he did so in real-life or not, is the late, great Ernie Harwell, a man who personified class, a man who took time out of his day to write a letter to my friend Dr. Jeffrey Smale simply because I wrote to him and asked.

I am a baseball fan. I have seen a lot of teams and a whole lot of players pass through real-life on the way to my memories, some for a cup of coffee, some for a full-course meal plus seconds. For every Joe Charboneau there's a George Brett; for every Marvin Freeman there's a Tim Lincecum. Well, maybe for every 100 Marvin Freemans :) There are good players and bad players, good times and bad times. When the players went on strike in 1981 I was heartbroken, but I stayed a fan, playing Strat-O-Matic and APBA baseball day after day, and several times on Saturdays. When the players went on strike in 1994 I wanted to turn away from the game completely. Then the Indians had to go and play their way into the Wold Series in 1995. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

And you want to tell me Barry Bonds brought the game to the brink of ruin? I think the game has been on the brink of ruin for the past... well.... how many years has professional baseball been around? Let's say 139 years, since the National Association in 1871. The baseball cranks of the nineteenth century lived through the National Association, the American Association, the Union Association, the Player's League; they saw the National League expand to twelve teams and shrink to eight; they saw the arrival of the rebel Western League as it morphed into the American League and challenged the Senior Circuit for the best players. The twentieth century fan saw some of the best players in the game denied admission to the dance because of their heritage, the defiling of the sacrosanct World Series in 1919, the blossoming of a portly pitcher and slugger from Baltimore, Maryland whom veterans like Tyrus Raymond Cobb looked upon with disdain. "He has ruined the sport!" he cried, when in fact he helped to save it. The ball has been juiced more times than a mother's breast and spat on more times than a bartender's spittoon; the game has been proclaimed dead more times than Paul McCartney, yet it staggers on and even thrives.

I know, it's only baseball, but I like it.

The players haven't ruined the game. They can't. If a steroid-influenced ballplayer hit a juiced ball into the upper deck and no one was there to hear it, would it still leave an asterisk? The players may play the game, but the fans make it live. If the fans hadn't taken a shine to Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, then a 56-game hitting streak would mean about as much as a three-dollar bill. Babe Ruth? Without a legend behind him people would just as likely remember Grover Cleveland's daughter more. When Kirby Puckett died, his legal troubles were relegated to a sentence or two, because he was so well liked. When Marge Schott died, her racism was still a story, because she wasn't well liked.

The game will live because of Dan Okrent. The game will live because of Topps. The game will live because of Ethan Allen and Richard Seitz, because of Hal Richman and Pete Ventura, because of men like Ernie Harwell and Red Barber, because whenever three or more children get together the candy wrapper can still be first base, the bookbag can still be second, the leaves can still be third and the tree stump can still be home. Mom may have been more powerful than Kenesaw Mountain Landis, but there was always tomorrow, always one more chance to be Gorman Thomas or Al Kaline or Ken Griffey Jr or Hank Aaron.

If you love it, they will come.

So if you will excuse me, I have to go. Three-Finger Brown and Honus Wagner await my presence at the ballpark.