Family Time In Baltimore

We just spent a weekend in Baltimore with our two sons. The event that brought us all together was the Pirates visiting the Orioles over Mother’s Day weekend. So we sprung for tickets and hotel room for the family, and spent time around the Inner Harbor.

Orioles Park at Camden Yards is yet another of these cashless places. Ostensibly, these venues have gone to all card transactions to cut down on germ transmission, an outgrowth of the Covid pandemic. But like many other businesses, I imagine they have gone to cashless in order to cut down on the sometimes hidden costs associated with handling of cash. I still like using cash for small transactions. It galls me to have to use a card for a seemingly minor transaction, although at major league parks, there is no such thing as a de minimis transaction. Unless you were fortunate enough to visit Montreal during the last year the Expos were there, and happened to come in on a Friday where adult tickets were $5 apiece for a slightly sight impaired seat. Since we had both boys with us, they were ticketed at $1 apiece, and to add to the allure, it was dollar dog and beer night. I doubt we will ever get into a major league park for a total of $12 again – and it was Canadian dollars, with each one only about 65 cents US at the time.

We were in different sections of the stadium each game. The first day, we were in the center field bleachers, and had the extreme good fortune to be seated a couple of rows behind some obviously under-age kids who had somehow managed to convince concessionaires to serve them beer. They could not handle their beer, and they became excessively noisy and obscene as the game went on. MF this, and MF that, and their taunts were aimed at anyone sitting around who was dressed in Pirates attire. My wife finally had enough, and stood up and chastised them, prompting a rebuttal about first amendment freedoms from one of the hooligans. She was supported by our neighboring crowd, because she was saying what most of us were thinking. What really caused the kids to face reality was that the beer vendor they abused brought back two security guards, and soon the entire row was removed from their seats. The worst offenders did not return, but eventually all but two of the group came back, and did not bother anyone else for the rest of the game.

The kids missed seeing the completion of a cycle by one of the Orioles (single, double, triple, and home run). For Pirates fans, it was not good since this hitter caused our Friday night loss. But just seeing a cycle was a rare sight – maybe not as rare as an unassisted triple play, or a perfect game, but still a rare feat. That was ok – two days later we saw Mitch Keller go 7 scoreless innings, striking out 13 while not walking anyone. As dominant as I’ve ever seen a pitcher in a game I attended.

We did spend some time in the Inner Harbor. We got to see a local celebrity – Mr. Trash Wheel (see picture above). This contraption was connected to booms which funneled floating trash to the collection zone, where the wheel would turn and toss the floating matter into a container which then was removed. We did not get to see the thing work, but our oldest son who works an environmental job in Henrico County Virginia, was very excited to see this machine that worked to keep the Inner Harbor clean.

The week following our trip was also exciting. My wife encountered her first case of blood clots in her leg, while the same son who was excited about Mr. Trash Wheel went through an appendectomy. Quite a bit of difference between the happiness we had at the ball park, and the trepidation we felt during the next week. It is true what they say – never take anything for granted, since it can all go south on you in an instant. We were just fortunate to avoid more serious consequences in the next week.

It’s All A Mental Health Issue!

So, we don’t have a gun problem in this country. Instead, we have a mental health problem where folks who suffer from mental health issues snap and manifest their issues by shooting up your local: food store; movie theater; house of worship; school (elementary, high school, public, private, university); shopping center; or workplace. Or wherever those who are wanting to make their mark choose to unload their magazines.

Let’s look at mental health and see how this could be used as a factor in limiting access to guns, thereby reducing the toll of mass shootings. In order to be effective, there must be some sort of test a prospective purchaser of a gun must go through. That test would provide an objective answer as to who should be forbidden from purchasing a firearm. And of course, this would imply that every purchase of a gun is considered, thus closing any loopholes on purchases made outside of a retail establishment that sells firearms. In one fell swoop, those on the right have just made the case for universal background checks as a prerequisite for gun purchase.

Ah, but for many folks who have committed mass murder, they have no interaction with the mental health system. Literally the first time they exhibit clinical signs of a mental illness, is when they make the decision to pull the trigger on a crowd of people. Perhaps they would have shown evidence of anti-social leanings by looking at on-line postings. So Republicans seem to be advocating for some sort of screening of all social media postings, with the aim of preventing those who show anti-social leanings from acquiring more weaponry. Just like that, the right is arguing about the virtues of big brother monitoring the public space, and making determinations about what is protected speech vs. what provides evidence of mental illness. Amazing how arguing against controlling gun purchases actually leads towards imposition of massive state control.

Of course, if you have a system for detecting those who would have a propensity towards shooting up a public space, you must have some system in place to treat those who fail the tests of mental stability. Maybe we could re-open those state mental facilities that were closed down over the last several decades. That certainly was a preventive way to keep the looney population away from the rest of us. I don’t know how this approach squares with the actions of red state governors, who have slashed spending for mental health recently. I’m sure those governors will be happy to dedicate tax funding for such a worthy cause in the future, once it becomes part of a comprehensive approach towards minimizing gun violence.

What I just don’t know is how this sort of intrusive clearance process will be accepted by those who only focus on the portion of the second amendment which mentions a lack of infringement on the right to bear arms. That first part about well-regulated militia? Must be just a lot of gobbledy-gook words we can ignore. No, a true patriot just will not accept this sort of clearance process interfering with the rights of citizens from procuring the most modern machines for causing death and grievous injury. Why, those who would propose such limits would make themselves targets for the next round of action from the liberated souls who have purchased their manhood tickets these past years.

What, you mean to tell me it’s all been a ruse? Politicians on the right are just mouthing platitudes about mental health in order to prevent having to take real action about controlling purchases of weapons? I’m shocked, shocked to see such hypocrisy in our elected representatives. You might think they are afraid of their voters, and the hordes of mass shooters they’ve unleashed in their quest to ensure everyone in this nation is armed to the teeth. Who’d have thunk it!

True Equality? Dream on.

Yeah, we’ve turned into a country where everyone has an equal opportunity for success. If you fail at life (poor job, turn to crime, become an unmarried mother) then it is your fault exclusively. The rest of society owes you nothing, and we are justified in looking down our noses at you, enabling us to ridicule you as useless eaters.

This is the mantra for millions of people in this country. We have an entire political party that believes in entitlement – for its members, since only its members are true Americans. Everyone else is a fraud, an unworthy person who really doesn’t deserve to share in the citizenship bestowed upon those who are truly exceptional.

Of course, one of the advantages (or curses, depending upon viewpoint) of living long enough is that I’ve seen how things used to be. And up until the early 1960’s, this country enabled overt racism. In the southern states, the famous Jim Crow laws governed life. People of color could not vote, and woe be anyone who stepped out of place and thought themselves to be uppity. I remember the infamous Bull Connor and the fire hoses aimed at demonstrators. After college, I moved to Memphis in the mid 1970’s and saw sharecropper shanties if I took an alternate road back to my middle-class white apartment complex. If I wanted to go to northern Mississippi, I saw rows of houses with sugar creeks of sewage running in front of the pitiful houses. This was circa 1985.

In the north, discrimination was no less odious. The practice of redlining meant that blacks were shunted into districts where they could be neglected. Neighborhood schools reflected the relative wealth of those neighborhoods. White suburbs have sparkling new schools, while the inner-city schools show nothing but the apathy of the governing classes, allowing them to deteriorate even faster than the housing projects they serve. When an attempt was made to make experiences more equal by instituting busing, we saw rejection of that practice in northern as well as southern cities.

Other governmental solutions saw poor results. Affirmative action rubbed those who believed in meritocracy, as a solution in search of a problem. Many refused to believe that talent could be found in all demographic groups, and that poor test scores were more a reflection of economics than a reflection of character. You saw much zero-sum philosophizing aimed at instilling rage among the privileged classes. Every hire of a minority was unearned, and took a job opportunity from a worthy white applicant.

So now, in the 2020’s, we are told to believe exclusively in achievement as the marker for advancement in society. We’ve achieved our color-blind society. And if you can’t achieve according to the norms accepted by white society, you are unworthy and never will amount to anything. But we are intended to believe none of the differences we now see between races and other groups represents the system being rigged. Why, all of these folks just need to accept their place in society, which of course is below those of us who had all of the benefits.

Reparations is suggested as a way we can even up the playing field. Unfortunately, I see reparations that are resented by those who would give them as a poor substitute for real equality. Instead, I would rather see an effort made to equalize opportunity by truly improving the one system we have to give people bootstraps to tug on. If we as a nation decided to spend the funds we are considering for reparations, and instead spent it on new educational facilities with teacher’s salaries aimed at attracting those residing in the right-hand side of the IQ curve, then I think we can expect better results in a generation or two.

But to say that, well, these people have had rights for 50-60 years with little to show for it so we should forget ever trying to give those ungrateful people anything. They will always destroy anything good we give them. These attitudes have always been present in US society. The political and social media changes over the past decade have enabled these attitudes to become respectable, and unleashed. Their vitriol poisons our public discourse, and now threatens to forbid the newer generations from even learning about how our nation gained the warts we still live with.

I cannot abide those who diminish the experiences of those in the lower, working classes. I have shown the national income distribution, where nearly 40% of the nation lives on an income of less than $50,000 per year. It is no wonder so many folks have trouble saving for the future – they are too busy working full-time jobs and trying to afford even a moderate life-style in the present. Look, there will always be those who game the system and are willing to live on the scraps left to them by the upper classes. You can consider them to be parasites. But so many of our fellow citizens are stuck in low-paying occupations, where any pathway towards success is iffy at best. To condemn those who are hard working to a life of poverty is not fair, and does not reward their efforts. Too many times we castigate those who find themselves in a life with few options for improvement. For once, I’d like to see us honor both hard work, and family formation, through governmental policies which actually reinforce values we would like shared across our nation. To impose only punitive policies is like providing only thoughts and prayers on the issue of guns and expect positive results. It just will not happen.