Suckered In

Recently Ben Stein, self-styled American icon and bon vivant, spoke out against the political correctness of the term “Happy Holidays. Because he issued this “hard-hitting” editorial on Fox News, I paid about as much attention to it as I would an issuance from MSNBC. I figure, let the two networks cancel each other off and listen to NPR.

But I was suckered in this time reading all the Facebook comments. I should have stopped—and I did—but it was already too late: I’d already read “You’re my hero, Ben Stein.”

Yikes! Hero?

So, in order to prove I could be as big an idiot as the next guy, I commented. The last thing Ben Stein said that made any sense was “Bueller…Bueller…” and that was 28 years ago. I thought that was pretty funny. But of course my comment begot a personal response. One word: liberal.

Now it so happens that I am one, and if this person thought he was insulting me, he accomplished the opposite: my political perspective has nothing to do with being liberal, but more to do with why we as a people don’t know anything. For instance:

Unarmed people are being killed in the streets by law enforcement officials.

•We just commemorated the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings by recognizing the fact that gun permit requests have risen since then.

•Tens of thousands of Americans were forced to work on Thanksgiving.

•Millions of Americans are paid minimum wage.

•The Walton family has as much wealth as the bottom 40% of Americans—combined.

•The new budget allows wealthy political contributors  to donate ten-times what they could before. Still think your vote counts?

•Taliban extremists murdered 148 people this week, most of them children.

If Ben Stein had chosen to rail about one of these issues—even if his opinion differed from mine—I’d say, fine. But to make a “tough stand” on something meaningless distracts us from what we should be following. Right now there are more people concerned about the demise of “Merry Christmas” than there are those worried about (1) more Eric Garners and Michael Browns in our future and (2) the fact that more then forty per cent of Americans will have a very unmerry Christmas and a very unhappy holiday.

Here’s something we all know: wishing someone a Merry Christmas does not ensure one. The words we choose to express our wishes to someone do not compel that person to honor them. Many times I’ve been told to have a nice day and yet didn’t have one. I think Merry Christmas works pretty much the same way. Still, if you want to anoint Ben Stein your hero, it’s your choice. But if I can say Happy Holidays and, in so doing, cover Hanukkah (and its variant spellings), Kwanzaa, Three Kings Day, New Year’s (day and eve), Milad un Nabi, and oh yes, Christmas, where’s the harm? And if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas and I respond that I don’t celebrate it, then that’s on me—not the wisher.

Either way, there are more important topics to address as the year ebbs than the ramblings of an entertainer whose principal claim to fame was one line in a good movie twenty-eight years ago. And that goes for me too, but as I say, I was suckered in.

 

 

 

 

Keep the guv out of prison

Federal prosecutors want John Rowland imprisoned for 36 to 47 months. Among most observers, eighteen months seems to be a more reasoned approach. But unlike last time he was convicted, I don’t want the guv to go to jail. I just want him to shut up.

I want him to stop turning a profit with schemes like a radio talk show on which he was able to promote his cockamamie ideas and support his like-minded candidates and make even more money hiring himself in all sorts of clandestine positions. And I want him to shut up. Not in prison—home will do.

According to the Department of Corrections website, the average daily cost of incarceration in Connecticut is approximately $95.16 per inmate. That means that Rowland’s eighteen months in prison will cost us $51,000. The cost of supervising an appropriate offender in the community, would come out to about $15,000. Let’s spend the fifteen large and spend the remainder on something worthwhile. It’s the holidays—buy some kids some presents—supply a food bank—$36,000 could make the holidays a lot happier for a lot of people.

For me too—but he would have to shut up.

I don’t want to see him treated like some war veteran when he appears in public. (It’ll still happen in Waterbury, but I’ll give him that one.) I don’t want him serving as a political advisor or a campaign chairman or anything that comes close to world affairs, up to and including engaging in a game of Risk.

His pension? Let him keep it. His house? belongings? Ditto. But he must shut up.

And after the holidays, in January of 2015, I want U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton to say something like this:

“John Rowland, you have been found guilty of a plethora of crimes by which you fed your own coffers and used your influence illegally. But no biggie. If you shut up from now on, you can go home. Also, no rebuttal. No third chances. No talk show. No appeals. No appearances at political fund raisers or party conventions. And no ventriloquism to circumvent the court’s sentence. (I know you’ve already considered that possibility.) You may go.”

Addendum: I note that Chris Donovan, fresh from his own somewhat indirect brush with political ethics is back in the news too, going after Hobby Lobby. I don’t disagree with his opinion, but coming off that whole influence-peddling accusation and his recent demise, he might be better served in joining Mr. Rowland inside the cone of silence, at least for a bit. Of course given the state of politics these days—with the billions being infused into the system by special interests— it might get really crowded in there pretty fast.


The Pope, Putin, and I

There’s a video flitting about these days in which a certain Sheriff David Clarke rails against outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder for, according to the sheriff, throwing gasoline on the flames in Ferguson, Missouri, and questioning Holder’s accusations of racial profiling among police officers. Sheriff Clarke is a well-spoken man, tall, well dressed, and imposing. He is also a man of color. This last fact, more than any other, apparently gives his criticisms more credibility than a white speaker whom we might glibly label as racist.

I don’t think Sheriff Clarke is racist, but he could be. Look, if a straight person publicly defends gay marriage, we don’t think much of it anymore; but if the Pope says it’s okay (and if anyone should be a tough sell, isn’t it the Pope?) then we accept it as much more meaningful and significant because hey, he’s the Pope. In a sense Sheriff Clarke is taking the same approach when he admonishes Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, and other men of color for fanning the flames in Ferguson. He claims that these people, and other Missouri politicians, have thrown law-enforcement officials under the bus in a self-serving attempt to curry favor with the black community.

Full disclosure: I’m a white guy living in central Connecticut—what I know about the black community of Ferguson, Missouri, could fit in a thimble—maybe even a thimble from a dollhouse. But I do think that on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown committed a crime. I do think that Darren Wilson used bad judgment from the outset. I do think the confrontation was avoidable on both sides. And having said all that, I believe that if Michael Brown had not been a man of color, he would be alive.

Because of that belief alone—one which many people share—the flames did not need fanning.

Now if Sheriff Clarke wants to avoid that issue (an issue that that history and statistics support in disturbing detail) then that’s his prerogative. But as for his being a man of color and therefore having the right to speak about the events in Ferguson, that’s no more logical than Vladimir Putin speaking for me because we’re both white. So maybe before we canonize Sheriff David Clarke—as most of the right-wingers have already done—we should remember that this is the same reasonable law-enforcement official who suggested in a series of radio advertisements last year that we all arm ourselves for self-defense purposes.

Most galling of all, Sheriff Clarke accuses Eric Holder of playing politics, but the last time I looked, sheriffs are elected. Now I could be wrong, but I think being elected is part of the political process, and making statements to curry favor is all wrapped up in that. I don’t blame him for it, but he should be intelligent enough to recognize the fact and open-minded enough to admit it.

When those five members of the St. Louis Rams staged a little mini-protest before Sunday’s game, there was outrage—more outrage than some people felt over the killing of Michael Brown. There were calls for boycotts, and one Rams fan claimed he was switching his allegiance to the Kansas City Chiefs. (Now there’s a human being whose sense of values has not been skewed in any way. Maybe that fan could save his outrage for the outrageous?)

Sheriff David Clarke called the shooting of Michael Brown an unfortunate occurrence. Only someone truly removed from the reality of life in that town could put the murder of a young man in such timid language, then criticize the people who rose up against it. Apparently Sheriff Clarke knows civic unrest and he knows gasoline, but he doesn’t quite grasp the relationship between them.

Addendum: All of the above—old news. A grand jury has decided that Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City policeman who applied a choke-hold to Eric Garner, will not have to stand trial. Eric Garner died. Officer Pantaleo is sorry it happened. On we go.

Points of View

Last week in my Plainville Library writing group, we talked about point of view as narrative determination, and I thought of a book I had once used in my English classes called, appropriately enough, Points of View. It was originally edited by James Moffett and I used it many decades ago. It was revised in 1995 by Kenneth R. McElheny, and it’s still out there.

Points of View is not just another anthology of short stories: instead of the works being arranged chronologically or by author, they’re arranged according to the narrator’s method of telling the story—memoir, subjective narration, third person limited, etc. In that book are many forgotten gems, little classics, and among them is “My Sister’s Marriage” by Cynthia Marshall Rich. In it a narrator tries to win us over to her side, much like Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

It’s a masterful story from the 1950’s, and for those of you interested in writing, it’s a perfect example of exposing a character who may not want to be exposed. Read it if you get the chance—you won’t forget it.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB4QFjAA&url=http://homepage.ntu.edu.tw/~karchung/My_Sister’s_Marriage_1.pdf&ei=f7VrVI25BIeHyQSbqIKIBA&usg=AFQjCNE7-Tnymxce9ADKyjZaxXCVTEAfXg&sig2=yWA_aiHuUnmIgNMCWB7OeQ

Just out of curiosity…

You know I hate to be political in a blog…

That’s a joke. What are blogs for if not to take a stand on something? Now I know there are blogs for people who love calico or hollandaise sauce or reserve-tank levers on ’60 Volkswagens—and I respect all those bloggers, really. But with the gubernatorial election looming here in Connecticut, I was just kinda wondering: who’s voting for Tom Foley?

The reason I ask is that he’s talking austerity and uttering the magic words—tax cuts. But what does that mean? Does it mean that the average person will pay less? Maybe, but only on the state income tax. Maybe. Foley has no control over the IRS, and reduced state income means the cities will have to fend for themselves and increase taxes on—let’s see now, oh yeah, YOU. Well, on me too, but I’m not voting for the guy, so I’ll have an excuse. Theoretically he could cut the sales tax, even some other taxes, but in the end you’ll pay the same. Meanwhile reduced state taxes mean reduced services.

We’ve already seen how this works on the national stage with Governor Rick Perry’s Texas. Now you can blame the Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas for botching the Ebola case, but the truth is that on the federal level and the state level, the conservative mania for cutting taxes is responsible for this near-disaster. The CDC’s emergency preparedness program, which provides funding and staff all over the United State has seen the loss of more than 45,000 jobs in state and local health departments because of federal funding cuts. In Texas alone a state-federal cooperative administered by the Department of Health and Human Services has been slashed by over $250 million in the past decade.

Let me put this simply: The average Joe wants tax cuts; but the wealthy adore them!

Let’s say that someone like Tom Foley cuts taxes.

Then someone like Tom Foley with school-age children becomes dissatisfied with public education. It doesn’t matter—he can afford private education.

Then someone like Tom Foley gets sick and doesn’t like his current health care but it doesn’t matter—he can afford whatever doctor in whatever hospital on whatever planet he chooses.

Then someone like Tom Foley loses power during a storm but it doesn’t matter. He can call a private contractor and pay whatever is needed to clear the trees off the wires and save wear and tear on his generator.

Meanwhile the rest of us who voted for austerity have to live with it. The tax cuts that we fetishized in November suddenly seem cold and empty when our roads aren’t repaired, and our schools aren’t funded, and the homeless have no shelters, and programs that promote literacy and sobriety and spousal respect go wanting.

You want tax cuts? Fine. Just understand that you’re going to pay for them every day.

I look at the polls and note that Foley and Malloy are running neck and neck; then I look at the population of Connecticut and see a state where the extremely wealthy constitute a huge minority. The rest of us are either hanging on to what’s left of the vanishing middle class or struggling to make ends meet. And yet half of us are planning to vote against our own best interests? Seriously?

Tom Foley isn’t going to bring jobs back to Connecticut—they’ve been leaving for thirty years driven out by greedy owners seeking cheap labor. That’s on them. Let them flounder in North Carolina or Mississippi or wherever they can avoid paying a living wage to their workers while they themselves take home millions. But before you vote on November 4, try to imagine the next Ebola outbreak—or something like it—and how much you’ll want the local hospitals to be ready when your spouse or your child or your elderly parent becomes ill. And then try to imagine how the hospitals won’t be. That part’s easy—it has already happened.

Of course, you can always shuffle on down to a Mississippi hospital.

Bon voyage.

Selfies and the End of Mankind

I get my electricity from Gulf these days. It’s nostalgic in a way: so many gasoline logos have disappeared or mutated over the years (Atlantic? Esso? Flying A?) that a recognizable symbol makes me feel much less out of touch. So Gulf not only fills my gas tank, but it also powers the garage door opener that allows me to get to my car to drive to the self-serve station to fill that tank. (By rights I should be getting gasoline from Northeast Utilities, but that’s another matter.)

A few days ago I received a letter from Gulf Electricity, and included was one of the little gas cards the company sends out on occasion to people like us with refrigerators and televisions and at least a dozen battery chargers. This card entitles me to $25 worth of free gas. These days that’s almost eight gallons; a month or so back, closer to six. It’s a nice gesture and one worthy of a company whose CEO takes home a salary just north of $13 million. (Full disclosure—much of that is in stock options—but I can still call it $13 million.)

But in the letter that accompanied my gift was this line:

—The average Gulf Electricity customer will earn $50 in Gulf Cash (which I assume is like normal cash) this year, just for turning on the lights. It’s simple: use Gulf Electricity (which I assume is like normal electricity), earn free Gulf Gas!

The exclamation point is not mine, but should have been.

This approach is so wrong-headed in light of our increasing climate concerns that someone, somewhere, should be ashamed…should have said to the Gulf Electricity Team (who signed the letter), “let’s reconsider that line and maybe mention the advisability of restraint.”

But then again why should they? This week’s local news, when it hasn’t been dwelling on Ebola, has featured a story every day about diminished gasoline prices, and in every one of these stories some gleeful reporter has delivered the information in such a way that, if we weren’t somehow happy about this, we were obviously deranged. Well I hate to admit this (though some will not be surprised) but I may be deranged.

And actually it’s not bad here on the dark side, and it certainly isn’t lonely. There are quite a few of us who wonder daily what we’re going to do with businesses so totally unresponsive to the obvious, with a government in bed with so many conglomerates that it could never pass the legislation that would apply the brakes—that would end this indiscriminate use of fossil fuels and the mania to find more. We need that oil, they say. We deranged disagree. We even have reasons.

Let’s say, for instance, I want to buy a car. Now I don’t pretend to know all the raw materials that go into a car, but I know that we can make them from scratch in America because we used to. So let’s say I go to a Honda dealer because Hondas are made in Ohio and Alabama and I want to buy American—and I want to be a responsible American at that so I’m thinking of a hybrid. “Oops, sorry,” the salesman says, “the hybrid is made in Japan.”

Now I know many think that doesn’t matter, but as a symptom, it does. After all, how does that hybrid get from Suzuka, Mie, Japan to my dealership? Well you know the answer—huge ships. They’re not powered by sail either. Instead they burn upwards of 2000 thousand gallons of fuel..per hour! (That exclamation point was mine—it’s a long trip.) And many of these ships burn heavy fuel—that which has a high sulfur content, 2000 times as high as what’s allowable in American cars. And all this happens on their passage to give me a car that shows my ecological concerns. (I don’t even want to know where those twisty energy-efficient light bulbs come from, but I’m pretty sure they’re not going to save us despite Gulf’s suggestion that I turn on the lights.)

I am not a jingoist or a Buy-American nut, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand how the global economy is ruining our future on this planet. And we can’t blame the politicians—they’re bought and paid for. So it’s up to the people to demand change: that benchmark 2º centigrade rise in the earth’s temperature that everyone fears by 2100 will come and go long before then. And incidentally, we’re not destroying the earth—the earth will spin around for many millennia. There just won’t be anybody on it.

I have a niece who loves the beach at Ogunquit, Maine: the shoreline spreads out dramatically over miles, and the size of the beach changes with the moon. At high tide it’s so narrow that finding an unoccupied spot to lay down a blanket is a tribute to commitment and happenstance, but a few hours later sandbars appear and the beach becomes massive. Now I certainly won’t be around to see her grandchildren—Claire is 15 and I’m, well I’m not, and haven’t been for many decades. But I know for certain, despite all the deniers and all the money big business sinks into contradicting climate science, that when she has those grandchildren and wants to take them there and share memories, Ogunquit will be available only in photographs—taken with our phones—after they’ve charged overnight.

Sneak peek at Dark Time

Book-Cover-11

Martin Wilkes waits in LaGuardia Airport for his wife and two children to be returned to him.The three have survived the “Miracle on the Hudson” and, like many others, are being shuttled back to the point of departure. In this scene Wilkes strikes up a conversation with a woman named Sarah whose name he can hardly bother to remember. She has come to retrieve her brother, but her attitudes and motives are quite different from his.

“I actually live around the corner,” she says, “right off Northern Boulevard. I could have walked here, for God’s sake.”
“Your brother called you?”
“From some ferry. I wish to hell he had stayed married. His wife could have picked him up. Of course that would have meant being sober enough to drive and that would have been a stretch for her. Who am I kidding? I’d have picked him up anyway.”
“How old is your brother?”
Not that he cares, but it’s his roundabout way of ascertaining Sarah’s age. She’s attractive, or would be had she not thrown on old clothes and left the house without make-up. Emergencies will do that to a person, he says to himself, enjoying the wit of his observation.
“Thirty-two. Got married when he was nineteen. That worked out pretty well, didn’t it?”
“Kids?”
“Thank God, no. They say God watches over babies and drunks. This time he took care of both at once.”
She smiles but she isn’t joking. She has been put out by this. Sister and brother: probably at each other’s throats since childhood. But now they’ll both have stories to tell at family gatherings. His near-death experience and her ruined afternoon res- cuing the stupid ass while he wept over his lost clubs.
But Sarah, then. Maybe thirty? He doesn’t want to flirt with some kid and become the deviant of the waiting room, but if she’s Sandy Qualling’s age…
“Kind of young for marriage, I guess.”
“Not to the right person.”
Wilkes ponders a response. If he agrees, she knows he’s not interested. But something noncommittal may move the conversation a step forward. Maybe she’ll notice his failure to agree and ask why he seems unsure and he’ll tell her it’s a long story. And Jesus, if she lives right on Northern and he’s forever flying out of LaGuardia, he can offer to meet her at one of the terminal lounges sometime, maybe continue the long story.
Fantasy. Nothing more. They play out in his mind all the time, always arriving at some point where they no longer make sense. He doesn’t know if such activity is normal—doesn’t broach the issue with friends and colleagues. He never acts on any of them and he won’t today either.
“You’re right,” he says, immediately, regretfully, putting an end to a pleasant day- dream. “You gotta marry the right person. Did your brother say anything about a woman with two kids?”
“Sorry. His teeth were chattering so much I could hardly understand him. He just said he was all right and needed a ride from the airport. It was like being in high school all over again, except then he’d call and beg for a ride when all his friends found some bimbo to make out with and he didn’t. How old are your kids?”
“Nine and six.”
“Good, good, old enough to handle themselves. I wouldn’t want to be a mother with an infant in that situation, especially….”
She stops. There is activity near the door, a murmur, a sense of excitement. Sarah stands up.
“There he is,” she says. “Madras shorts, flip-flops, ear muffs. What an asshole.”
She races over, hugs him briefly, then stands back and shakes her head. Her brother smiles, shrugs. Sarah turns around, gets Wilkes’s attention and points to the survivor as if to say, See? Asshole.
In seconds the two of them are gone.
Throughout the room blankets abound, wrapped around people’s shoulders and draped behind them, some dragging on the floor. Maybe beneath them are business suits and jeans, but now the throng looks like so many monks being herded back to the monastery after some abortive escape attempt.
A few kids straggle in, but the arrivals are mostly adults, business types like him on a midday flight. Many of them seem dazed and nearly all of them quiet. As Sarah said, they’ll have stories to tell in years to come, but right now the tales are bottled up by fear and relief, and when they talk the words come out in staccato outbursts. One survivor says this is the first bus, that more are coming. Another complains blandly about the cold. Another is weeping, the blanket partially shielding his face. A white-haired woman tosses a blanket on a chair and lights a cigarette, takes a few puffs, then without apology grinds it out with her foot. If Wilkes didn’t know it before, he knows it now: this has not been some glorious miracle to the survivors; instead it has been an afternoon of horror and trauma amid the specter of a cold and watery death. In a day or two they may very well celebrate their good fortune, but at the moment they do not feel the least bit euphoric.
He will have to remember this when dealing with Keira, provide her with enough recovery time. And if it takes a day or two or a week, then he can certainly accede to her wishes. Maybe it will put in perspective the annoying childhood friend at the airport, teach her not to lose her composure that way. The kids, of course, that will be different. Kids are resilient—they rocket from dejection to joy in seconds, leaving the trauma for their parents to sort through. Still, he will keep an eye on them too, make sure there is no emotional residue.
But those are concerns for later. When the next bus does arrive and his family bounds into the terminal, he will welcome their safe return before dealing with such minutiae.

*****

Interested? To purchase Dark Time from Fast Pencil, http://www.fastpencil.com/publications/6946-Dark-Time

To purchase from Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_3_9?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=dark+time+by+chuck+radda&sprefix=dark+time%2Cstripbooks%2C236

Ebook or paperback available.

Jeter at Fenway

Now that the Derek Jeter parade has reached its terminus—not a moment too soon for anyone, especially Jeter (who must have wanted nothing more than to begin that Tuscany vacation his team gave him), I wondered, would such adulation ever be heaped upon another player from another sport as he made a farewell tour?

We’ve had famous athletes announce their retirements in basketball, football, even hockey. Remember Ray Bourque, the superb Bruins defenseman who spent his final year with Colorado and whose planned retirement became a rallying cry for that team in their quest for, and achievement of, the Stanley Cup? But even Bourque, for all the encomium of those final months, never achieved the fame of Mariano Rivera or Jeter. Bourque was a good guy, John Elway was a good guy, Kareem was a good guy, but you know what? We like baseball players better, and I think it’s because they embody the American dream more than their counterparts in hockey, football, or basketball—the other  lucrative professional sports.

After all, baseball players seldom come out of college or high school having achieved great national fame. There are no LeBron Jameses or Johnny Manziels dominating the amateur baseball headlines, and these two stars’ sudden fame and equally sudden wealth in no reflect the America we live in—the America where people work their up, step by step, and finally achieve some sort of stability and comfort. In baseball it still works. Baseball players, as good as they may be, generally start in the minor leagues where their everyday life is far from romantic:

—They often share a room with three or four others;

—Most require second jobs in their home team city;

—Their post-game spreads may comprise little more than peanut butter and jelly and a few pieces of fruit.

—Many of them live below the poverty level and earn less than the famously underpaid fast-food workers whom they see often enough from the other side of the counter.

It’s a humbling experience, one which they accept because they love the game. But that experience humanizes them too, so that when they get to the majors—to the show—they are more appreciative than those who go from nothing to millionaire overnight.

—Derek Jeter, for instance, in the early nineties played for the Gulf Coast Yankees where he was mercifully benched late in the season so that his average would not fall below .200;

—He later played for the Greensboro Hornets where he made nine errors in his first forty-eight chances;

—In his second year at Greensboro he was voted “Most Outstanding Major League Prospect.” That year he made fifty-six errors, still a record in that league.

—He also played in Tampa, Albany, and Columbus—not exactly Podunk towns, but not exactly New York City. He was never an overnight sensation, and when he did arrive it was due primarily to injuries to a starter and back-up. The rest may be history, but it’s legitimate history. Earned history.

Yes he kept his nose clean and never embarrassed his team or his family or himself. And he never strutted about as if he were bigger than the game. And he played for a team and never forgot that fact. Dustin Pedroia, Andrew McCutcheon, Adam Wainwright, Torii Hunter—baseball is filled with similar team players who shrink from the spotlight and refocus glory on those around them, who don’t show up the oppositions and don’t strut around the bases following a home run. Contrast that with the NFL receiver who must choreograph a football celebration or jump into the stands to prove how special he is while the team celebrates somewhere else.

Many claim that football has supplanted baseball as the American sport of choice. I won’t deny that, but until football (and basketball too) become once again team sports instead of showcases for individual achievement, it’s unlikely that a game between two losing teams going nowhere will fill the stands just because one of the players is retiring. That’s what happened at Fenway all weekend, and it’s a tribute not just to Jeter or to Boston, but also to the fact that we haven’t quite lost that appreciation for the struggle that precedes the success.

How good does it feel?

At one time sports reporters asked real questions—questions like what kind of pitch did he throw you when you hit that home run? or were you surprised when the coach told you to line up at tight end? or where did you learn to hit a topspin backhand like that?

These were questions for which there were actual answers, that required the athlete to construct, if not a sentence, at least a thought. That must have been the heyday of sports journalism—now seemingly gone.

Today’s sports reporters ask questions like how good did it feel to hit that home run? or how surprised did you feel when the coach told you to line up at tight end? or how great does it feel when you hit a topspin backhand like that?

These three questions have three answers, but they’re all supposed to be the same: Very, very, and very. They require no thought and provide no insight. They render the entire interview unnecessary and superfluous, in very much the same way I don’t need both unnecessary and superfluous in this sentence.

If I could momentarily interrupt this mild tirade about what is admittedly a trivial topic…the title of my blog, Begging No Questions, is a gentle jab at all those people who see no difference between begging a question and raising one. I’m currently raising one about sports interviews, but the interviewers themselves are coming close to begging the question—a term which means assuming something true that ought to be proven first. For instance, how do you know the baseball player felt good about hitting the home run—maybe, like Paul O’Neill in the Seinfeld episode, he was supposed to hit two home runs, just the way Kramer promised the little boy in the hospital. How good did it feel? That’s begging the question, and that’s what sports interviews have become.

(For those with an aversion to correct usage but a predilection for crime shows, we can call it leading the witness. I’m okay with that also.)

The whole idea of an interview is to glean information, not simply to fill time or satisfy some network requirement. Yet today’s format is designed so that even the most unconcerned interviewee can provide a response. In fact, the Japanese players on the Yankees (for instance) do not need a translator for those post-game on-field interviews. They simply need to remember 非常に非常に、and 非常に、 (See above for translation.)

If throughout history this had been the standard of Q and A, I’m sure we would have heard questions like these:

—How good did it feel to see that Eiffel Tower after thirty-three and half hours in the air?

—How much did it hurt to know, your majesty, that some ragtag American rebels your soldiers?

—How surprised were you, General Custer, to learn that you had underestimated the strength of those combined tribes? General Custer? General?

When I was still teaching English and polled my students at the end of Macbeth to elicit final questions, they would often ask why Lady Macbeth took her own life but her husband didn’t, or why Malcolm gets to be king at the end, or why a man with free will can be controlled by three weird old women with a cauldron. Good questions all…with actual answers. Today, however, my students would probably say, “Mr. Radda, how satisfying is it to have just finished teaching a major tragedy for the thirtieth time?”

非常に

Believe me.

非常に、

Walking our streets in peace

Soon we’ll all be safe from chimps, and they’ll be safe from us.

If our legislators do their jobs (and yes that would be unusual) we can soon put an end to the epidemic of multiple-, even mass-murders committed by these primates over the last dozen or so years. It seems hardly a day goes by when some chimp or ape or baboon isn’t terrorizing a school or a shopping mall or a movie theater or a military base. And this doesn’t even take into consideration drive-bys and domestic disputes that seem so prevalent. Thank goodness (and just in time for the latest Planet of the Apes film) peace may be as close as the next Washington signature.

We should all be grateful to our elected protectors for taking this most courageous step toward curbing the menace. Thank you Chris Murphy, for one. When I voted for you I didn’t know you would someday shield me from animals too, otherwise I’d have voted more than once! And Senator Blumenthal, calling these rogue primates a “ticking time bomb,” well, that does capture the fear many of us experience whenever we step outside our homes these days, living (as we do) in this land of unregulated simians. Kudos to both of you.

Now I know some readers are thinking—hey wait, chimps aren’t really the problem. And those readers paying really strict attention probably caught me making stuff up—sometimes I do that. It wasn’t chimps terrorizing schools and malls, etc. It was people with guns. But guns…well, now…um…see there’s something we can’t address because, although chimps didn’t manage to get themselves included in the Bill of Rights, guns did—or at least muskets did—or at least a well regulated Militia did—which is almost like guys with unlimited access to assault rifles and all manner of automated and unregulated weaponry. Sort of.

But if we can’t do anything to eliminate gun deaths and actually improve life in America, at least we can stop the scourge of chimps…with a law no less. And before you go asking some moronic question like, can’t we pass a law that requires background checks for someone who wants to buy a missile launcher to protect his bird feeder from squirrels? well, it’s that whole musket and militia thing-y again. That and the fact that some folks just like to shoot things. Still, generations from now chimps will still shudder when they speak of their twenty-first century human regulators. Of course those twenty-first century humans still have a problem with the muskets, but at least there will be fewer domesticated primates to apply for (and no doubt receive) firearms permits—and that’s a good thing because you know, sooner or later, someone is going to inform the chimps of their Second Amendment rights.

Just a word if I might about Charla Nash whose bad fortune it was to befriend a woman who owned (kept?) a chimp. Despite Chris Murphy’s baffling comment (“I think she looks pretty good.”) no one is denying or making light of her suffering, nor is anyone claiming we don’t need laws to protect animals and the humans who interact with them. But in the time it took you read this, someone with a gun killed somebody. And though I don’t have the statistics to prove it, past history indicates that during the same time span, nobody was killed by a chimp.