Fear Mongering

Justice Samuel Alito warns us of the restrictions on our liberties because of the pandemic. He warns us that nothing like this has happened before, but I guess he does not remember the blackouts during WW II. If he has a gripe against a ruling for same sex marriage or any other one, he should say that. But he will not because he wants to stroke fear, not offer an honest opinion. He is one more fear-monger we must suffer with because of his life appointment

From Millions to Begging

Universities all over the country are cutting non-revenue sports to save money, and they are also asking boosters to give more money to athletics. What universities aren’t doing is engaging in serious soul searching and then, changing the way they do business.

I know that a newspaper headline isn’t always reflective of the article. However, today’s headline caught my attention. It read: “UNC athletics raising money for COVID-19 revenue losses.” The article described how the state flagship university expects to lose $30 million from lost ticket sales, reduced television revenue, and related pandemic woes. Another newspaper reported that the losses could be as much as $50 million.

To fill the gap, UNC has turned to athletic boosters, asking them to contribute to a new fund, called The Carolina Victory Fund. Bubba Cunningham, the school’s athletic director, asks Rams Club members to make unrestricted gifts to help the university’s 28 varsity sports programs. Unrestricted gifts are administrators’ favorite form of giving. With no strings attached, dollars go into a common pot.

In 2019, UNC had $107.8 million in revenue due to many years of financial growth. Now, that run is over. Coaches and administrators have been furloughed or given salary reductions, and other cost-cutting measures have been imposed.

In 2017, when UNC felt that Tennessee would lure its head football coach away, the school’s board of trustees extended his contract through the 2022 season: The new deal paid the coach “$1.95 million this season, including a base salary of $400,000, and supplemental income totaling $1.55 million. Those amounts increase to $600,000 in base salary and $2.4 million in supplemental income — for a total of $3 million — in each of the final three years of the contract.” His incentive clauses ranged from “$50,000 for a bowl berth to $200,000 for winning a national title.”

In 2018–and after a 2-9 season–the coach’s contract was bought out at a $3 million cost for each of the remaining four years.

The bottom line here isn’t hard to locate. And it can’t be papered over by starting a ‘Victory Fund,’ either. Sloppy, irresponsible management of public monies at a large, state-funded school must stop. And if only the situation applied to one state school in one state. It does not.

Athletic programs are operating like drunk workers who have cashed their paychecks and feel as though they are rich. And the NCAA hasn’t imposed curbs and limits on spending as many pro sports do. Now, caught in a bind, athletics directors ask for (drum roll, please) MORE MONEY!

Let’s face it. Trustees who approve such contracts (like the one given at the UNC football coach) wouldn’t manage their own companies in like manner. And they wouldn’t tolerate reckless managers overseeing their departments.

The stark reality is that schools all over the country are cutting non-revenue sports to save money and, at the same time, asking boosters to give even more money to athletics. But they aren’t engaging in serious soul searching. Perhaps that’s because college sports has lost its soul.

The pandemic has been revealing, often in ways that we had not expected. We should be learning valuable lessons about our beliefs/habits and applying that learning to craft a new business model. But there’s little evidence that’s happening in the realm of collegiate sports administration.

Walking Each Other Home

In the movie Mary Poppins the grand nanny by that name says to her young charges, “Enough’s as good as a feast.”

In Walking Each Other Home, subtitled,  Reflections about Living a Christian Life from an Older Dad to His Daughter, Dr. Peter C. Wilcox takes 108 pages to share the wisdom he has gained over 74 years with his grown, therapist daughter Colleen. He uses literature, personal experience as a therapist, his own life experiences, movies, and more to illustrate his lessons for living a Christian life. He quotes writers as diverse as Robert Coles and Maggie Ross. He offers boundless anecdotes. He goes on and on and on for those mentioned 108 pages.

The advice Wilcox writes is not to be faulted. Section 5 of Walking covers such noble topics of life as living with compassion, being kind, be a good listener, clothing others with respect, and more such good suggestions for living a Christian life. But enough, as Nanny Poppins said, is enough.

Wilcox is honest and thoughtful, but I think a good editing could have helped his too long of a letter to his daughter. Also, I question some of his interpretations. For instance, Wilcox states that Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Catholic priest/scientist, ministered to the people of China. That is wrong! Chardin was in China as a renowned scientist who was part of the discovery of the Peking Man. He was not a missionary in China.  Wilcox’s overuse of BraineyQuotes is also irritating since he is only pulling up chosen phrases instead of the entire source. That seems to be cheap scholarship. All of this  add up to good advice being ruined by too many words and misinformation. Such is the case of Walking Each Other Home.

A Name for Herself

The recent election of a woman, a child of immigrant parents from India and Jamaica, demonstrates the possibilities in America. Her parents met in a study group while in college, and Vice-President elect Harris credits her mother’s influence for much of her success.

Strong women had a big part in our country’s development, and as demonstrated by the election of Kamala Harris, they still influence it.

            Kent Van Til tells the story of his grandmother who landed on Ellis Island in 1898. The youngest of the four Recker children, Hermina would become an American along with her family and be eternally known as “Minnie.” Van Til’s story follows her from New York to Chicago to Montana and back to the mid-west. His story is a tribute to the grandmother who told him at age ninety, “Well, I sure haven’t made a name for myself; maybe one of you grandkids will.”

            Minnie’s story is such an American one, and not simply because she became a citizen, but because she, like so many other immigrants to America, pioneered, married, fought in wars, loved, and labored for a life in this great land. Without women such as Minnie and their counterparts, we would not be the country we are today. Immigrants we all are, and while all our names may not be known over the land, all our names ring in its history.

            A Name for Herself is a loving tribute to a woman who was not special in a national way, but so important for her determination, grit, and love for her family and country. Minnie did not complain, even when confronted with the early death of her beloved husband Pete and other griefs of life. Instead of offering excuses, she gave love. Instead of grumbles, she gave effort. Her quiet work is a reason for celebrating her life and all the others like it.

            The only complaint I have is that the book is too long on some information, such as the history explaining why Minnie did not especially like Catholics. I found this type of information became a bit “preachy”, overshadowing the story. However, I recommend A Name for Herself as a good read about a remarkable woman, one of many. Just ask Senator Harris.

The Unnamed Women

The recent election of Senator Kamala Harris to the Vice-Presidency of the United States of America has elicited many remarks about a woman, a black woman, a child of immigrants, being elected to such a position. In her speech last night,  Madam Harris paid tribute to her mother who inspired her, and she applauded the possibilities for young girls made possible by her election.

The list of women mentioned as trailblazers for such a moment is long, and there are too many names to list here. But rest assured that it is a list of female warriors who fought for their rights and the rights of all who would follow them. They are legion.

As I watched and listened to the celebrations yesterday and the two speeches last night, I named names of all the female warriors I could remember. But one name kept returning, and I scanned a bookshelf for In Search for Our Mothers’ Gardens. The 1972 book is the first of non-fiction by Alice Walker, and I was searching in it for a particular poem that Walker introduces by these words: “This poem is not enough, but it is something, for the women who literally covered the holes in our walls with sunflowers.” She then shares her poem titled Women.

They were women then

My mama’s generation

Husky of voice—stout of

Step

With fists as well as

Hands

How they battered down

Doors

And ironed

Starched white

Shirts

How they led

Armies

Headragged generals

Across mined

Fields

Booby-trapped

Ditches

To discover books

Desks

A place for us

How they knew what we

Must know

Without knowing a page

Of it

Themselves.

Madam Harris said in her speech last night that while she is the first female to achieve the Vice-presidency, she will not be the last. The path she and all the other females is lined with the names known, but Walker’s poem reminds us that there were many “Headragged generals” who led their children across fields “To discover books” and to find “A place for us.”

So yes, let the known names be called across the land. Their work and success needs to be recognized and celebrated. However, let the battles of the unnamed be remembered as well. They, too, contributed, and Madam Harris stands on their shoulders.

Hearing and Learning

            In April of 1963 as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. languished in the Birmingham jail, eight local clergymen published a letter in local newspapers in which they denounced Dr. King as “an outside agitator”, and they ended their appeal with these words: “We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.” Their advertisement prompted Dr. King to pen his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” in which he explained why waiting for racial justice any longer was not an option.

In 2006 and ’07, Joe Bageant, a resident of Winchester, wrote Deer Hunting with Jesus. Several  years ago when a good friend loaned me his copy, he said, “If you want to understand many people of the Shenandoah Valley, read this book.” I did, and I have just finished my second reading of this fine examination of class in America.

Bageant, who is deceased, returned to his native Winchester, Virginia in 1999 after a thirty-year absence. He moved to the North End where he had grown up, and he found it as it was in his youth–”the most hard-core of the town’s working-class neighborhoods, where you are more likely to find the $20,000-a-year laborer and the $14,000-a-year fast-food worker.”  He continues, “It didn’t take too many visits to the old neighborhood tavern or to the shabby church I attended as a child to discover that here in this neighborhood in the richest nation on earth folks are having a hard go of it. And it is getting harder.” With that, he began listening to what he referred to as “my people”, and they trusted him to tell their stories with empathy, not pity, and brutally honest as when he writes, “…my people are a little seedier than most;…” He quickly sees that the preferred avenues of escape for his people are alcohol, Jesus, or overeating.

Writing before “the crash” of 2008, Bageant sends a warning as he writes about American Serfs, Republicans by Default, The Deep-Fried, Double-Wide -Lifestyle, and more. He goes to the guts of the working class of the North End where two in five of residents have no high school diploma. He writes of his childhood friend who carries seven credit cards in order to “build up my credit” so that he can buy a double-wide trailer that will decrease in value before he parks it on a rented lot. He writes of “Dottie”, his favorite karaoke singer who lives in Romney, West Virginia. Disabled, Dot lives on her Social Security Disability Insurance, uses an oxygen tank and wheelchair, and is forceful in the way she deals with her doctors. She tells Bageant, “I learned that damned towel-head doctor of mine has only four years of college someplace in South America.” Bageant goes on to explain, “No doubt you [the reader] are wincing at the racist term towelhead.  But people do talk that way, and if we use it as an excuse not to listen, we rule out listening to half of America.”

For me, those words about Dot’s vocabulary are the message of Deer Hunting with Jesus, which is sub-titled, Dispatches from America’s Class Wars. He is telling us, long before Trump and his evil appeared, that there is an entire class of people who are poorly educated, poorly prepared with soft skills, have poor health, possess no or little health insurance, and have children which will continue the cycle of their lives.  Bageant pulls no punches in faulting political leaders locally and nationally,  mortgage companies, our health care system, and others for the condition of “my people.” But, most of all he blames their poor education for their plight. Having escaped the North End, he attended college, fought in Vietnam, traveled, and wrote before returning home. He knows the value of education and knows that a good one will give “his people” a door to walk through.

But Bageant could have been writing of the eight clergymen of Birmingham that I quoted above. We still have people like them who want to proceed slowly in any cause, especially in the area of racial equality . We still have subtle and overt racist.  We still have Dots. Right here among us we have extremes, and it seems to me that we must find a way to hear what is being said from those extremes.  

Bageant sees the lack of  education as the biggest obstacle for “his people.” But, the clergymen from  1963, by their plea, show a lack of education concerning what Dr. King was trying to achieve. If they had had a better education concerning the plight of blacks in the Jim Crow South, they would not have written their pathetic letter. If they had had an education on this topic, they would have developed understanding and empathy. Yet they, like Dot, are voices that need to be heard because they tell us what we need to change. We cannot use their language as an excuse to not listen to them.

On the surface we are an educated society. We have degrees. Yet, too often we refuse to educate ourselves regarding topics or issues we find uncomfortable. I often think of Robert Kennedy who in May, 1963 asked James Baldwin to organize a meeting at his New York City apartment with black and white activists.  The meeting lasted about two hours as the invited guests attempted to explain to Kennedy the plight of blacks and other disenfranchised people. The meeting did not go well, but Kennedy must have heard some things because he soon became a champion for all disenfranchised Americans. He got himself an education concerning racial inequalities in America, and he began working  for change. But he first had to sit in that meeting, hearing words that undoubtedly made him uncomfortable.

Like Kennedy, we must listen to each other—the plodders, activists, the uneducated, the educated-all must be heard. In doing so we will work to create a country of purple by blending our red and blue. If we refuse to, we will have a divided house and lose it all.

Hope

The pandemic rages across every level of world lives. Even isolated villages and towns now feel its presence. In the United States we are a few days from electing another cycle of government leaders, including a president, while European leaders try to make hard decisions to combat the virus. We are bombarded by noise that is masked as news worthy information. The editorial in our local paper today asked: “Are you tired of…?” and then went on to list many of the noises we have be subjected to during the pandemic and its consequences.

Yes, we are tired, but we have quite a distance to travel. In a marathon, racers train to be able to maintain pace and form during the last 6.2 miles, the crucial last miles which begin at mile 20. Metaphorically that is where we are: Mile 20 of a marathon and where our preparation and resolve will now be tested. 

As a teacher of literature, I always chose to expose students to stories and poems and novels and plays that taught a lesson. A brief poem such as Earl carries a lesson that, once learned, will help in difficult times that we all will encounter. Like the well-trained marathoner, a well-read person will have an arsenal to call upon during tough times as now. Having digested such great literature as The Odyssey, a person can use lessons gleaned from Homer’s words to help him or her to carry on; to  “Get on with it,” as the English haberdasher told me one summer  in his store on Oxford’s Turl Street. The list of such literature is long, but sadly forgotten it seems to me. But that is another matter for another essay.

Like all people, I am tired of the turmoil and the uncertainty of this pandemic and our dithering leaders. However, a retired man of 74 living with his wife, five cats, and two hounds on Lake Norman, I have had to cope with only some inconvenience, but nothing like that of a parent with school-aged children and a job or, worse, not a job. These people are facing a difficult circumstance which I am happy not to have to navigate. But I still was reminded of the poem Ithaca by C.P. Cavafy this week because of the death of  Sean Connery and his connection with the poem, and the lesson it carries for us during the pandemic.

Sir Sean said years ago that his big break came when he was five years old, but it took him seventy years to realize that. The break he told of was that he learned to read at age five, and reading then changed his life, opened doors, gave him insight, and more. He said, “It’s the books, the reading, that can change one’s life.” 007! Bond! James Bond! He was a reader. He read newspapers, books, magazines. He devoured it all, changing his life.

I knew none of this until my wife, after reading an obituary of Sir Sean, shared some of it with me, especially the above quotation. He was a man after my heart, but I was aware of one instance of his reading and it is a fine example of literature, of reading and how that changes lives. And it is right there on the You Tube channel. Type in “Sean Connery and Ithaca” then listen to him reading the words of Cavafy. Hear the music of Cavafy’s phrases and allow their meaning to become part of your  soul. See the visuals and  hear the canned music, but most of  all allow Cavafy, through Connery’s resounding Scottish accent, assure you that the trials we face during the pandemic are just another part of a journey we face, and they, and it, too shall pass. Allow Cavafy’s lesson to give you comfort that you, like Odysseus and us all, can gain Ithaca, our safe harbor, our restful home.

“Iron Sharpens Iron”

After retiring from my educational career in D.C., Mary Ann and I moved full time to our postage stamp of land in the Shenandoah Valley. Our drives to and from each weekend now ended, and we settled in for our “golden years.” However, before long a small, public high school near us needed a wrestling coach. I returned to teaching with Mary Ann’s enthusiastic support.

The wrestling program suffered from lack of support, and I asked some of my former students/wrestlers from D.C. for help. A generous fund was established, and I purchased new singlets, warm-ups, and tee-shirts. Every activity in the schools I worked had used the simple “tee” as a way to help build camaraderie and team spirit. But every good “tee” had to be printed with inspiring words, not just the name of the school and team. I decided on “Iron sharpens Iron” which is taken from the King James translation of Proverbs 27:17. Although the school was a 2-A public school, no one ever questioned the words and once at a tournament a father from another school commented that the verse was one of his favorites. The team understood the importance and reason for the words: Each day for the season they worked to make each other better people, students, and wrestlers. For the three years I coached there, each wrestler demanded of himself and his teammates.

During the pandemic, I have been watching the role of sports—professional, college, high school, and even club-try to maintain a pre-pandemic level. Just last week, the Super 32 Wrestling Tournament was held with about 1500 wrestlers competing. The NFL tries  to flourish and even MLB held a sort of World Series.  When the Connecticut scholastic association cancelled football games, some parents with the money formed a league for clubs. The Power 5 continue to push against the affects of the COVID-19 disease. And because of reduced revenue from televised football games, many colleges and universities have cut less lucrative sports, such as indoor track and field or swimming or wrestling or baseball. It is obvious what the objective of sport is—money. That is supported by the way in which we as a country and culture have reacted to the pandemic. The only excuse for the forced continuous of play that I have not heard is that it is someone’s Constitutional Right. But, given time, that may come.

I fear where we will end. We have yet to accept the reality of COVID because we keep trying to deny it. In the midst of a pandemic, we act like the athlete who has not scouted his or her opponent. We are the batter in softball or baseball who does not know what pitch is likely to be used when the count is 2-1. We are the offensive line that does not know how many linebackers will be used on a 3rd down conversion attempt. What I mean is  that we do not understand this virus as well as we need to, and we slowly learn more about it. For instance, we are now realizing some its long-term effects on the brain and other organs. Yet we continue to expose our athletes to it.

We are not iron sharping iron. Instead we rattle about as we commit dangerous athletic events as if we are in control. We have become like a herd of lemmings, full of herd mentality that will take us over the edge. Like the mother in The Rocking Horse Winner, we will discover the lure of lucre leads to doom, not happiness. Let us toughen up and be iron that sharpens iron, not blind lemmings.

Shame

As a boy growing up in NC during the 1950’s, I learned the power of a few biting phrases or words used by my mother and other adults. A single mother of six, Flora A. Barbee knew how to use a privet switch, but her words offered a stronger correction for bad behavior. Her use of the word “shame” carried force. “Shame on you”, was used to draw attention to a transgression involving deeds or words. Another rebuke was that probing question, “Have you no shame?” which placed all the responsibility for a misstep where it belonged—on my young shoulders. My mother, like so many other adults of that era, had a good command of what was called “The King’s English” which carried power without being vulgar.

The shame I am writing of is that of the noun, not the verb. The verb form, as any one knows who has had that frightful dream of  being naked in a crowd, is of no use in changing behavior as is the noun. To be shamed serves, in my view, little worth except to emphasize inequalities. That type of shame is external. The internal shame is what changes behavior.

I have been thinking of shame recently, especially when I read the report concerning Davidson College’s  graduate Greg Murphy, who is a U.S. Representative, and his comments concerning Senator Kamala Harris. During the Vice-Presidential debate on October 7, Murphy tweeted: [Kamala Harris] “is a walking disaster…she was only picked for her color and her race. Is that how we pick our leaders now in America?”

Other graduates of Davidson asked that the college issue comments concerning Murphy who has been honored by Davidson and served on its board of trustees. Obviously, the college, a non-profit, is prohibited from commenting on a political candidate, which Murphy is.

I appreciate the position of Davidson concerning the racist, cowardly rant of one of its graduates. But what can it do in such a situation except issue a standard-bearing comment like the one its president did? I suggest, however, that the college can take a powerful stand against such beliefs by refusing to accept donations from Murphy, not naming him to any board, and continuing to speak out for justice by its actions. When a small, private college refuses funds, that sends a statement much like the question of my mother: “Have you no shame?” It is asking the wannabe Wildcat (Davidson’s mascot) to self-examine his or her words and acts. It is a question that is almost the worse act against a member of the tribe—exile. It is an act forcing the offender to  go away for a while and ponder his action. It requires responsibility beyond deleting words from screens.

Words carry weight by what they represent and acts they cause. Yet, our ears are assaulted by vulgar words in print, on screen, and on television. Our shame is non-existent and its lack enables the cowardly a place to hide and do their evil.