Forty years ago, as he was chasing Babe Ruth’s all-time homerun record, Henry Aaron was the subject of death threats and vile racial slurs and insults. Now 80 years old, Hammerin’ Hank is once again the subject of death threats and vile racial slurs and insults. His offense? He told USA Today reporter, Bob Nightengale, that he thought the nation still had a way to go on the race front and that today’s racism is particularly insidious because as he put it:
“The bigger difference is back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”
I’m not sure what they’re actually wearing these days, but they are clearly armed with internet access and computers. Nightengale reports that in response to Aaron, the Atlanta Braves baseball club has received a torrent of the nastiest, racist e-mails you could ever imagine:
“Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur)” a man named Edward says in an e-mail to the Braves front office obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
Edward invokes the epithet five times in four sentences, closing with, “My old man instilled in my mind from a young age, the only good (racial slur) is a dead (racial slur).”
And there’s more:
Marion calls Aaron a “racist scumbag.” Ronald won’t attend another Braves game until Aaron is fired. Mark calls Aaron a “classless racist.” David says that he will burn Aaron’s I Had A Hammer autobiography.
Oh good, book burning- another sign of enlightened tolerance.
As reporter, Nightengale, puts it quite eloquently- the difference between 1974 and 2014 is that back then, Aaron had the gall to pass Babe Ruth as the all-time homerun king, today, he had the audacity to speak his mind.
Mr. Aaron has kept a good sampling of the hate mail he received forty years ago- as a reminder of what he and Jackie Robinson and dozens of other black players had to put up with. It was when he was asked why he still has all those hate-filled attacks filed away, that Aaron responded with the sentence above- the sentence that has proven his point so vividly and so sadly.
Back when I worked at CNN, Hank Aaron ran a BMW dealership in Atlanta and he wanted the CNN Radio newscasts pumped into the showroom for his customers to get the latest news updates every half hour. Hank loved CNN back then. He was close to Ted Turner and then CNN President, Tom Johnson. We gave Hank’s dealership access to the CNN Radio feed and he very graciously sent back an autographed baseball that I have proudly on display in the living room of my Pentagon City apartment.
I used to look at that baseball from time to time and think, wow- signed by the legitimate home run king of all time. Today, I look at it and see a baseball signed by a kind and wise man who counters hatred with the sword of truth. And it makes me even prouder to have an artifact that, to me, now also stands for the righteous but elusive goal of social justice and racial tolerance.
Please- keep speaking your mind, Hank. Your words in 2014 are as powerful as all the lumber you ever used to pass the mighty Ruth all those many years ago.
The National Science Foundation released a survey last month that found nearly 1 out of 4 Americans mistakenly believe the Sun orbits the Earth. This was all cleared up about 500 years ago by Nicolaus Copernicus who correctly theorized that the Earth and all the other planets in our solar system orbit a largely stationary sun. Still, 25% of the country disagrees. So does this mean the media is obligated to present the other “side?”
We know by now that the earth is a spherical object. There are satellite photos that confirm it. There are still-photos from the moon. Get high enough in a jet and you can see the curvature of the earth. Yet, there is an actual Flat Earth Society that contends otherwise. This is, literally, their take on the world:
Do we carve out a few minutes to give the Flat-Earthers their “side” of the argument?
There is something called the “Creation Museum” that opened in Petersburg, Kentucky six years ago, that among other things, shows humans walking around with their friends, the dinosaurs. There is ample evidence, of course, that humans never co-existed with dinosaurs; the creatures had gone extinct by the time relatively new-fangled human beings came along. But let’s find the Museum Curator and put him on the air because, surely, this is the other “side” of the Dinosaur story.
And now, Neil deGrass Tyson, hosting a modern-day sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is under attack from some quarters for espousing Darwin’s theory of evolution with opposing groups demanding equal TV time from FOX and National Geographic to talk about creationism. That is the very definition of false equivalence.
Science and religion, fact and faith- are too entirely different realms. This does not mean there are no religious or spiritually-inclined scientists or that there are no persons of the cloth who subscribe to scientific discipline and study. It would be great to hear both “sides” on a show that deals with the controversy of creationists versus scientists. But if you’re writing a book or producing a TV series on the history of the universe- it’s about facts, not opinions.
From a philosophical point of view, I must admit I have never understood the revulsion on the part of fundamentalists toward the theory of evolution. How is it, in any way, an affront to the belief in the existence of a higher power? How amazing is a God that creates a universe that allows for the constant change and improvement of all living things through the process of natural selection?
I would go even further and wonder aloud how anyone who studies the infinite nature of our universe could be without a sense of wonder that eventually lands at a spiritual place that attempts to answer what we can’t with pure science. What came before the “big bang” is not knowable. What extends outside the edge of the universe is unfathomable, because theoretically, there is no edge of the universe.
It is in the realm of philosophy where science and spirituality rightfully mingle together. I am grateful to live in a world that considers both. There is little doubt in my mind that all of life as we know it and understand it, spiritually and scientifically, is, in fact, an amazing miracle.
But let’s not corrupt scientific fact with religious opinion by putting spiritual beliefs on some kind of equal footing with objective scientific inquiry. Those beliefs are completely legitimate. In a church. Or in a museum dedicated to Creationism. But not on a television series based on the story of our universe as we’ve come to understand it through long-established methods of scientific research, inquiry and peer review.
I still find it hard to believe I received a cancer diagnosis almost a year ago. The tumor that was discovered in the stomach was surgically removed last May and there are no signs of any return of the disease though I suppose you’re never really certain enough to declare victory over such a thing, pretty much ever.
One of the courses of treatment you take to prevent the return of cancer via the bloodstream is chemo therapy in pill form- a much more civilized, seriously less horrible alternative than the kind of chemo you get intravenously. It’s called Xeloda and it’s a rather amazing drug. When used to actually attack tumors, it has an excellent track record of shrinking if not annihilating them. And for preventive purposes, as I used them, there is strong statistical evidence they do the job as well.
They are no picnic. Extreme fatigue is one of the effects, along with nausea and uncomfortable things that can happen to your hands and feet. I started taking them July 1st and they gave me weekends off to recover.
I take the last of the pills tonight and I’m done which is worth celebrating- but also kind of scary. As long as you take them, you feel like you’re doing something proactively to keep cancer from coming back. When you’re done with them, it is apparently quite normal to feel like you’re operating without a safety net.
Except you‘re not. My doctors at Georgetown tell me there is new research that indicates that minimal, regular exercise, to the tune of 45 minutes a day of even casual walking, has just as strong a statistical correlation for cancer prevention as chemo-therapy. About a week after they told me this, there it was in the Washington Post- same research-same conclusion.
This is good news for me as I don’t own a car and I actually already walk 36 minutes a day back and forth to the subway. Hopefully, the weekends I was using to physically recover from the effects of the chemo drugs will now be filled with more energy and a little less couch potato action.
This is the last time I intend to blog about this whole thing. It was, honestly, very helpful to me to write about this journey from fear to good health. It’s been a long path, but one that need not be revisited. I continue to be incredibly grateful to my friends, family and colleagues for the tremendous support, love and prayers, all of which worked remarkably well. Thank you all.
And now on to the business of living.
There’s a piece in Politico today (a publication that exhibits all that is wrong and twisted about political coverage with its superficial and cynical repackaging of what is pretended to not be conventional wisdom), that says it’s time to do away with the annual State of the Union speech. I could not disagree more.
I will admit that in the hours leading up to the event last night, I was kind of dreading the tediousness of it all; the 75 interruptions for applause with the one side clapping while the other sits on its hands, the requisite heroes in the audience sitting with the First Lady, the tiresome glad-handing and back-slapping that occurs as the cabinet and the Joint Chiefs and the Supremes and, finally, the President, enter the chamber.
But sometimes the event- the speech and its reactions- surprise you.
There were several moments that made it all worth it to me. In every case, it was when unity unexpectedly filled the chamber. Hope for the future of the Republic!
Unity Incident #1: When the President spoke about America as a place that offers unending possibility and opportunity.
It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth.
The line about Speaker John Boehner was classy and it was greeted in the chamber by a standing ovation by both parties. And when the President delivered the line about himself being the son of a single mom, Boehner, in turn, graciously stood and clapped for him.
Unity Incident #2: Ok, granted it was kind of minor, but when the President riffed on the importance of equal pay for equal work he offered this great line:
It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.
Boehner’s reaction was a genuine smile. Clearly the Speaker has taken in a few episodes of Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, and company. It was kind of like an athlete tipping his cap to an opponent; a “well-played, sir” kind of thing.
Unity Incident #3
The amazing moment that involved one of the heroes sitting with the First Lady, Army Ranger, Cory Remsburg. It just could not get more poignant:
I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program – a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.
A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.
For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.
Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.
“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”
Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.
The applause in the chamber was deafening. And lasted for at least five full minutes. Forgive me for abandoning my usual snarky cynicism, but that, was a deeply moving experience.
And it’s moments like those- the ones that belie the divisions and anger and hatred, that are good for the country to see. Yes, it’s mostly predictable and the ritual, for some, gets annoying. But there’s a, perhaps, naïve side of me that gets damn near misty-eyed when I see Americans standing together united by…anything. We need to see more, not less of that.
If ever there was a no-brainer for Time magazine’s selection of Person of the Year, it is this amazing Pope. There’s an interesting new survey that explains how he is resonating with Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
The Washington Post/ABC News poll finds an amazing 92% have a positive view of Francis and 95% of the Catholic Church in general. Pope Benedict was at 73% after the announcement of his retirement last February.
There is a slight political divide. His ratings are highest among Catholics who describe themselves as moderate or liberal. But even “conservative” Catholics give him a 91% approval rating. Non-Catholics give him a 62-18 favorable/unfavorable, compared to 48/31 for Benedict.
The reasons for the amazing appeal of this Pope seem fairly obvious to me. His humility, his call for economic justice and equality, his warnings about the excesses of capitalism all echo the words and philosophies credited to Christ himself. Those who know Francis say his own experiences as a Cardinal in Argentina inform these views, especially on economic issues. Through Argentina’s rough, depression-like economic downswings he saw first-hand the massively wide gulf between the poor and the rich. At a time when this disparity has never been greater in the United States and throughout the world, his message resonates powerfully.
But those on the moderate/liberal side of the equation should not misconstrue the Pope’s populist positions as a change in Church doctrine on a host of controversial issues. What has changed is the emphasis.
Agree or disagree with aspects of these doctrines, for example, there is a basic consistency to them. On abortion, it is completely consistent to be anti-abortion and anti-death penalty. Conversely, in my opinion, there is a dissonance in espousing pro-choice/anti-death penalty views or anti-abortion/pro death penalty positions. I mean sanctity of life is sanctity of life. And while I admit I am still in the “dissonant” camp, I can still step outside my views and see the inconsistencies of my own political beliefs.
The point in regard to the Pope’s emphasis on certain issues is that the Church often lands on both sides of the political ledger, with positions on economic equality and against the death penalty, for example, falling on the liberal side and policies on abortion and homosexuality on the conservative side. The most recent Popes have dwelt exclusively on the conservative side of things and in the process have alienated moderates and progressives. Francis, meanwhile, is emphasizing things like economic equality and brings his great sense of humility to bear on topics like homosexuality in which he states, in his own words- “Who am I to judge?”
Ultimately, I think it is his disarming humility that is the foundation of his appeal. He walks the walk. He lives in a modest apartment. You won’t ever see him wearing Benedict’s famous red Prada slippers. He has literally washed the feet of convicts and beggars. Vatican security confirms he regularly sneaks out at night to mingle with normal people. He classifies himself first and foremost, not as Pope, but as a sinner.
I know there remains a very deep well of anger against the Catholic Church for its past actions; from sexual abuse and attendant cover-ups to economic hypocrisy in building wealth- quite literally through the contributions from the poor and dispossessed.
But in this miracle of a Pope, there is hope. Hope that humility, enlightenment and the philosophies of Christ himself, will lead the Church, and the rest of us, to a much, much better place.
The last 300 company-owned Blockbuster stores are closing and I, for one, am laughing really hard. And no, it’s not because I forgot to return a 15 year-old video and now my $400 thousand late fee won’t be collected. It’s because in the annals of corporate history, the schmucks who ran Blockbuster were greedy morons who will go down in history as a case study in total strategic cluelessness.
I am not laughing really hard that 2,800 people will be out of work- that’s sad. Though I must say, I find it hard to believe those poor folks thought there was still much of a future in brick and mortar video rental businesses in 2013, A.D. I urge them all right now to avoid sending their resumes to the last Barnes and Noble left in town.
But back to the corporate idiots. First and foremost among them is Viacom which bought Blockbuster for $8.4 billion back in 1994. Dish Network would shell out $320 million a couple of years ago to buy the bankruptcy-riddled company. Let’s put those numbers in relief. $8.4 billion versus $.3 billion. That puts the idiots at Viacom right up there with Rupert Murdoch’s trendy acquisition of My Space for $580 million which he would end up selling six years later for $30 million.
So what were the major mistakes? Oh, not much- other than failing to anticipate the major consumer and technological trends of the 21st century. Like digital streaming. Like the concept of on-demand viewing. In 2000, Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, offered to merge with Blockbuster and the video rental store executives basically laughed him out of their offices. In 2002, Blockbuster executives were still unsure of the veracity of this thing called the Internet. A “niche” market, they called it.
Viacom’s idea of remaining competitive against new-fangled competitors like Netflix was to create- and this is really original- a video rental business that would ship directly to consumers! Oops, day late and a dollar short. By the way, showing they now understand the new trends of the past 20 years, Dish network just announced they are also killing off the Blockbuster video-by-mail service, which most people also did not know still existed.
But mostly, Blockbuster sucked because they put really cool, independent, often family-owned video rental stores, out of business. They replaced neat, eclectic movie titles at the indie’s with mass-marketed crap. They also sucked because whatever family fun was to be had hitting the neighborhood Blockbuster on a Friday night, was a huge and expensive pain-in-the-ass by Tuesday morning, when you realized you’d forgotten to return the videos on Monday and now ended up owing pretty much the price of the original rentals in late fees. And then you had to, like, drive an actual car through snow storms and monsoons to return said late videos.
At least the nice Blockbuster employees knew their cinema! Oh, that’s right. Most had no clue about the motion picture industry. Well, as you were checking out paying last week’s late fees and about to incur the following week’s penalties, you could also pick up overpriced bags of popcorn, Twizzlers and Raisinets. That was something.
But we really do have a debt of gratitude to pay to Blockbuster. Turns out, Netflix founder, Hastings, forgot to return his copy of Apollo 13 to Blockbuster way back when and owed some $40. It was his fault but he felt so stupid about it that he purposely avoided telling his wife about the late charge. He started thinking about that and found it insane he was willing to compromise the integrity of his marriage over a video store late fee. That same day he went to the gym and realized he was paying about $30 a month for unlimited use of the workout facilities.
Hey, now there’s an idea, he thought- what if somebody rented videos by mail with unlimited due dates and no late fees?
Netflix now has over $3.5 billion in annual revenues. And though they initially botched their transition from a mostly mail-delivered service to a streaming model, they were obviously savvy and smart to see the digital writing on the wall in the first place, and now with the creation of their own content like the Emmy-nominated “House of Cards,” they show they are creative too.
And that’s the difference between those who at least try to envision the future- and those who don’t.