We Still Have A Long Way To Go

Slowly — all too slowly — we make progress on basic issues of treating everyone the same, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and other characteristics.  Often, we stop and proudly congratulate ourselves on our enlightenment, and then, inevitably, something happens that shows that we aren’t quite as enlightened as we thought after all.

Consider the report ESPN ran recently concerning Michael Sam, the first admittedly gay man to play in the National Football League.  Sam, a linebacker, was a fine player in college.  He sacked Johnny Manziel of the Browns in the Rams’ most recent preseason game, but rather than reporting on Sam’s on-the-field performance the ESPN reporter addressed whether Sam was showering with his teammates — and thereby indulged in some of the most benighted stereotypes imaginable.  It’s amazing that such a report made it on the air, through who knows how many layers of editors and producers and anchors and production assistants, without someone at the network recognizing how demeaning and insulting it was, but it did.  To its credit, ESPN recognized that the report was an egregious blunder and apologized, but you still wonder how it happened in the first place.

One of Sam’s St. Louis teammates, defensive tackle Chris Long, tweeted:  “Dear ESPN, Everyone but you is over it.”  I wish that were true.

Keeping Track Of Uncle Mack

10502429_944538671533_2387090454819837848_nFacebook obviously has its faults, but it’s got one huge virtue — it makes it so much easier to keep track of what your friends and family members are doing.  Take Uncle Mack, for example.  What’s the lawyer/saxophonist/actor/occasional Webner House contributor in the family up to?  It turns out he’s been working on a film called The Orangeburg Massacre.  Calhoun ‘da Creator’ Cornwell is the motivating force behind the movie, and his Facebook page has lots of information about it, including the photo above in which Uncle Mack is prominently featured.  A trailer for the film is due in the near future, and I’ll post it when I see it.

The Orangeburg Massacre is the name given to the incident in which South Carolina Highway Patrolmen opened fire on students at South Carolina State College, who had been protesting in an effort to achieve desegregation of a bowling alley.  Three African-American students were killed and and 27 people were wounded in the shooting, which occurred on February 8, 1968 — more than three years before the much more well known Kent State shootings.  Does anyone doubt that the relative notoriety of the two incidents has at least some relationship to the race of the students who were victims?  It is wonderful that a film is being made about the Orangeburg Massacre, 45 years later.

Some people retire and do nothing except work on their tans and frequent Early Bird specials at local restaurants; others use their newfound free time to explore new interests and expand their horizons.  Uncle Mack is squarely in the latter camp, and I think what he is doing is pretty cool. I don’t know anything about the movie or his role, but I am proud of his willingness to tackle it and, we can hope, contribute to greater awareness of a shameful, racist chapter in American history.

Suddenly, September Traffic

If Gershwin were a Midwestern commuter, he might have written: “Summertime, when the traffic is easy.”

That’s because, at any given point during June, July, and August, a good chunk of the population is on vacation. That means, in turn, a reduced number of cars crowding onto highways and byways at the peak hours. The result, typically, is a smooth and pleasant ride to work.

When school starts up again, though, everything changes — which is why it’s not only schoolchildren who dread the words “back to school.” Vacations are over. School buses and school speed zones are blinking their yellow lights. Everyone is back in town and — what’s worse — everyone is leaving for work at about the same time, after they’ve dropped their kid off at school or the bus stop. People who might have been leaving for work at 8 in July are now on the road at 7.

It’s like the Super Bowl, where everybody is watching the same TV channel and uses the bathroom at the same time, placing huge burdens on municipal sewer systems at the same moment in time. Roads that formerly ran free and easy are now clogged and filled to rank overflowing with traffic, and it stinks.

It’s why September driving is usually the worst and most congested of the year. This week, it was suddenly September traffic in Columbus.

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

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I’ve always thought and hoped that I was a special dog.  I’ve tried to be good, I really have.  I’ve chewed a few things, sure, and sometimes the food I eat comes right back up again, but I can’t help that.  I protect our place when cats come around, and, unlike another dog whose name starts with K, I never have “accidents” in the house.

But I knew I was special when I saw my picture on the cover of a magazine.  And, at about the same time, the Leader started giving me wet food out of cans!  Food out of cans, can you imagine?  That’s when I knew how special I really am.

Now, when I was through the neighborhood, I know all eyes are on me.  “There she goes,” they are saying, “the special dog who was on the cover of a magazine.”. Other dogs in the neighborhood, like Sassy, act like nothing has changed, but they can’t fool me.  I’m famous!

If being famous means getting that wet food from the can, I like it!  Speaking of which . . . I am hungry!

P.S.  Don’t forget today is National Dog Day!

Euro Zone Danger Zone

With all the bad news around the world lately — from ISIS savagery to North Korean nuttery, from Russian power plays in Ukraine to Chinese saber-rattling in the Pacific, from the Ebola outbreak in west Africa to Boko Haram mass kidnappings — nobody’s paying too much attention to Europe.  That’s unfortunate, because Europe is a mess right now.

Economically, Europe is a basket case.  In the second quarter of this year, Germany’s economy — the largest on the continent — shrank by 0.2 percent.  The most recent data indicates that business growth continued to slow in August.  In France, the economy is completely stagnant, producing no growth for several quarters while unemployment is above 10 percent.  The French economy minister resigned yesterday in a public disagreement with the country’s very unpopular President about whether France should follow austerity policies or policies that funnel government money directly to households; the economy minister said he felt compelled to speak out to try to avoid the European Union’s “descent into hell.” 

IMG_5596The unemployment situation in Europe is terrible.  Statistics presented by the European Central Bank president at an international conference last week are daunting — they show European unemployment growing while American unemployment is declining and indicate that the recession that hit the world in 2008 really hasn’t ended in the Eurozone.  The statistics also show that people who aren’t highly educated are losing their jobs by the truckload and that jobs are vanishing in the business sectors that traditionally employed less educated people — like construction and heavy industry.  The service sector is holding steady, which means that if you’re looking for a job in the Eurozone and you don’t have advanced degrees, you’re lucky to get a position as a waiter.

When economies fail and bitter people can’t find jobs to fill their time and feed their families, political and social unrest follows closely behind.  It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise that we are seeing a deeply troubling increase in anti-Semitism in Europe, from public protests triggered by the Israeli-Hamas fighting in Gaza to attacks on synagogues and social media hate speech.  The fact that some Europeans are returning to virulent anti-Semitism of their forefathers indicates that the EU initiative really hasn’t materially changed a continent where prejudices run deep.

The economic, political, and social situation in Europe is a toxic mix.  Other crises have distracted attention from the various Eurozone woes, but we shouldn’t ignore what’s happening across the Atlantic.

The New Big Ten

Today I was invited to Ohio State’s homecoming game.  What traditional Big Ten team is the opponent this year?  That’s right — Rutgers.  Wait, what?

Oh, yeah.  Ugh.  This is the year the Big Ten adds the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Maryland Terrapins to the conference.  I don’t know whether Ohio State will be any good this year — I’ll write something about that later this week — but I know that Rutgers and Maryland aren’t likely to increase the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule any.  Last year the Scarlet Knights were 6-7 in whatever conference they were in (was it the Big East?) and the Terrapins were a hardy 7-6 in the ACC.  Will they be any better this year?  Heck if I know, but I do know that a homecoming game against Rutgers doesn’t exactly get the blood pumping.

I get what the Big Ten is doing.  College sports these days is all about money, and money flows from TV revenue.  The Big Ten wants the Big Ten Network to be carried on the cable packages in the big media markets on the East Coast, and it also hopes to increase sales of jerseys, hats, and other paraphernalia.  Does that mean lots of New Yorkers and inside-the-Beltway types will decide to watch Big Ten football this year and wear Big Ten gear?  I doubt it — unless they’re alums and were going to be watching the games, anyway.  I’m not sure that New Yorkers pay any attention whatsoever to college football, and the main sport in D.C. is politics.  But there’s probably enough Big Ten alums in the two markets to make cable companies include the Big Ten Network, and that’s what matters.

I think adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten is lame, and when I see the devious looking Maryland Terrapin sporting the Big Ten logo, as in the illustration accompanying this post, I cringe.  They may make a lot of money through this expansion, but they’ve really undercut the tradition in a conference that had a tradition second to none.  No amount of money is worth that.

 

Bicycle Hit Man

On this morning’s walk I came within a whisker of being struck by a bicycle.

It happened on one of the darkest parts of the leisure path, where there are no street lights.  The cyclist didn’t have a headlight.  I could see him because there was a dim red light on the back of his bike, but he apparently didn’t see me.  I moved to the right edge of the path, but he kept veering inexorably over in my direction.  I’m guessing he was fiddling with his gear or water bottle and wasn’t paying attention; I’m fairly confident no one has put out a bicycle hit on me.  Finally, I trotted off the leisure path to get out of his way, and the sudden movement got his attention. He said “Sorry!” as he righted his bike and went whizzing past, and I emerged from the encounter unscathed, with only an adrenalin surge to remember him by.

There’s always been an uneasy truce between cyclists and walkers on leisure paths and sidewalks. Bicycles move much faster than pedestrians, of course, and it’s unnerving to hear cyclists shout “On your left!” from behind you before they go flying by.  When I see cyclists weaving though the people on the path, I’m tempted to think that the path should be reserved for walkers and joggers.  Then I remember that I ride my bicycle on the path, too, because it’s a great ride — a smooth path, unhindered by stop signs or cars that drive too close, with a cool tunnel, little hills to get the blood pumping, and long coasting runs.  It’s perfect for cycling, just as it’s perfect for a brisk, head-clearing morning walk.

There’s no reason why cyclists, pedestrians, and joggers can’t share the leisure path, day or night or early morning.  But the cyclists need to really pay attention, especially when it’s dark outside.  Having a light on the front of the bicycle would help, too.