Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Am I part of the game or not?

I was watching SportsCenter the other night, and I saw a fan getting escorted out of the stadium I think in Philadelphia. (Second one in about three days, I believe.)
Did he throw beer on a player? Nope.
Get into a drunken brawl in the stands? Nope.
Barrel over a little kid in pursuit of a foul ball? Nope.

Seems this fan's sin was to have touched (i.e. "interfered with") a ball that was in play. Now, anyone who follows baseball has seen those fans along the first- and third-base lines straining with every inch of their bodies to reach a ball that is bouncing foul in their general direction. But that wasn't the case with this guy. He was sitting in the outfield bleachers, and a ball had bounced hard off the warning track to well within his arm's reach. All he did was stick his arm out and grab it. Pretty instinctive response, really.

Instead, he got hauled away by stadium security like he'd just gotten back from streaking. For this, I ask Major League Baseball: Are we part of the game or not?

All we sports fans see on TV are ads for video games that are so real you almost bruise; we see cameras placed in every orifice on the field during big postseason series; and we get players in dugouts and huddles "miked up" so we can feel like we're right there next to them. It's partly how owners justify charging us the outrageous rates they do for tickets, beer and food. ... But God forbid we would actually feel some kind of entitlement to a ball bounding our way.

Look, I'm not saying the fan should've been able to jump the rail, call off an outfielder camped under a fly ball, and haul it in for himself. I'm just saying that intent always has to be taken into account. The big yellow foul poles at either end of the outfield are considered part of the field of play, and if a batted ball hits one on the fly, it's a home run. Why can't fans be classified similarly? If a fan reaches for a ball, and is within reason in doing so, why can't that determine the result of the play like the foul poles? The fan snags it, it's a home run or ground rule double; the fan drops or redirects it, it caroms around and possibly results in a double.

My point is I get tired of being taken advantage of by Big Sports. It's bad enough that the Packers (and all of the other NFL teams) charge full price for tickets, beverages and food for exhibition games. But we suck it up because we're fans and, hey, it's either see them or don't. The least they can do is let us keep our seat if a once-in-a-lifetime souvenir comes our way.

Gas today: $3.14/.24/.34/Diesel $3.09

NBA reaping what it sows

With the media salivating over disgraced NBA official Tim Donaghy's promise to name names of coaches, players and other officials in his alleged gambling escapades, I find myself wondering how eager they'd be if he also promised to name sports writers.

This whole thing should surprise no one, especially with regard to the NBA, which David Stern has run like his own little fiefdom for the better part of 20 years. You know this thing reaches all the way back through the '90s and "the Jordan Rules." And I'm willing to ... err, bet, that it includes playoff pairings and the draft lottery, the latter of which is inexplicably shielded from the public. Gee, nothing fishy there.

The chickens are coming home to roost. And the egg will be on Stern's face.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Newest Knight

The clock ticks toward the end of the first day of life for my new son. And I wonder.
Holding him close in a rocking chair, I gaze into his tightly shut eyes. And I daydream.
I recall the musical beauty of his first life-affirming cry. And I pray.

I thank God for granting me a healthy son and a strong wife to deliver him. I hope He will grant me the two things for which I regularly pray; the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. These are the only two things any person truly needs, as they complement one another, and both lead to all of life's other little wants that we so often mistake as needs.

It's easy to get sappy when talking about babies. One comedian took aim at that habit, saying that people who have children have pretty much given up on their own lives and are willing to pass the torch to another generation that may not "F it up as bad as I did." But there's something to that. It's hard to look at this little 9 pound blank slate and NOT think about what could lie ahead for him.

I'm not talking about the 2044 election cycle, when he'll first be eligible to run for the presidency. I'm talking about the simplest of things; the types of conversations we might one day have. Consider Ben Folds' "Still Fighting It," an ode to his son in which he imagines a day when "maybe we'll both sit down and have a few beers." Will he like sports? Will he be musically inclined? Will he be a multi-billionaire? Or will he grow up to have a simple job, write an occasional blog containing his ruminations about social, political and sports issues, and go on to have a child of his own?

As with most things, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. But I love the possibilities. And I love him.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blame the object? Or the person?

Something struck me while listening to the news story about five teenage girls killed in a car accident after the driver was apparently distracted by text-messaging a friend while she was driving.
I found it interesting that in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting, people were quick to blame the shooter's ability to buy firearms and the renewed cry for gun control. But after the deaths of these young ladies in New Jersey, people focused on the girls' use of their cell phones.

In both cases, the misuse of a legal, inanimate object led to the needless deaths of far too many people. But in the former case, voices cried for regulation, whereas in the latter case, those same voices cried out for common sense in the use of the object that led to their demise.

The irony is that the proper use of a firearm is likely to lead to someone's death or great bodily harm, whereas the proper use of a cell phone is unlikely to kill anyone. Note the term "proper use." If a firearm is being "properly used," that means it is being used in self-defense. This means that using the firearm is, in the shooter's judgment, preventing undue harm coming to them or someone else.

The common thread through both of these cases is the importance of proper use, especially in the case of the text-messaging driver, which proved that even the most seemingly benign tool can be deadly when misused.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Health care hits home

Still no baby. I'm starting to wonder if the wife is really pregnant or just covering up for some dramatic weight gain.

Anyway, this impending birth, coupled with a friend's recent mild heart attack, got me to thinking about health care. (And really being thankful that she and I are able to have health insurance because I don't know how anyone could have a baby or a heart issue without it.)

I always found it hard to believe that 47 million Americans have no health insurance. I'd really like to see that broken down to how many are children (who thus COULDN'T be independently insured), how many of the rest don't have health insurance because they CAN'T get it, and how many CHOOSE not to get it and simply roll the dice that they won't get sick. My suspicion is that if all 47 million of those folks broke down their expenses, a majority of them could afford health insurance even if it was in leiu of things like cable TV, cell phones, or even multiple vehicles.

"Oh, that's so cruel."
Not really. In my case, when I was in my mid-20s, fresh out of college and powerdrunk on my first "big boy" paychecks, health insurance was nothing more to me than some annoying forms to fill out before I found out how much vacation I could take. I had it, and fortunately I was reasonably healthy enough that I didn't realize until recently how fortunate I was to work at places that offered it.

Not that I'm going to sit here and defend insurance companies, but they are free-market entities that can choose whether or not they want to cover someone. And from a truly bottom-line standpoint, it would make the most business sense to cover the person who, evidence would indicate, would be LEAST likely to file a claim. Government encroachment on this business model reeks of socialism.

I understand that pre-existing conditions can sometimes skew people's rates and make health insurance unaffordable. And anyone who has to go into the hospital for anything more than an aspirin is easily looking at a bill equal to one or two years salary. No one can afford this.

So what is the government's role? Theories abound, of course, but I feel the gov't should simply be there to fill in the gaps; to take up the slack where people have no other options. That's consistent with the general theory of conservatism, which would seek to lay out options for people and thus grant them a degree of empowerment to solve their own problems. The bottom line is to give them the ability to choose, something liberals love to trot out when it applies to abortion (another thread, another time).

Tommy Thompson may have the answer, not that you'd know it by his moments in the national spotlight as a GOP presidential candidate. Tommy initiated a program called BadgerCare when he was governor of Wisconsin (1987-2001). BadgerCare, which began in July 1999, covers those who work for an employer who doesn't offer health insurance, but who make too much money to be covered by Medicaid. By covering those who make up to 185% of the poverty level (which, if the poverty level is typically set at $18,000, would reach up to $33,300). Its original goal was to cover 40,000 Wisconsinites, including 23,000 children, by the end of 1999.

The state Department of Health and Family Services published a report card on the program in 2005, and you'll see that the scores are generally reported as average-to-above-average.
Actually, there are some other status reports on it regarding coverage of kids, and from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation noting programs mimicked by New York, New Jersey and the Clinton administration. The Economic Research Initiative on the Uninsured at the University of Michigan released a study calling BadgerCare a success. And even Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has called BadgerCare "a model for the nation."

(It irritates me that Thompson has made no mention of it, as health care is obviously such a hot topic right now. ... But, again, another thread, another time.)

I'll stay on this topic if I learn more about BadgerCare. But for now, wish Bubba a healthy recovery.

Gas today: $3.35/.45/.55/Diesel $3.09.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Balloons, but not for Junior

Well, no baby yet.
So the wife and I went to the Balloon Glow on Saturday (7-7-07) that kicks off the annual Balloon Rally that visits Wausau every year. Got some cool photos. I'm told the regular balloons go for about $70,000, while customized models (see the ultra-cool rubber ducky here) can go from $110,000 to $150,000. Also, the operators use 10-gallon tanks of propane, and they go through about 30 gallons on an average ride.
Not a hobby I'll be taking up anytime soon.

Update: Just found out today why the Balloon Glow seemed so utterly lame on Saturday. All of the baskets were detached from the balloons and sitting on the ground because gusting winds would've made it dangerous to have that many in the air in such close proximity at one time. Normally, I've been told, they hover fairly low to the ground, then do their "countdown to glow," and then fire 'em up. Now THAT would be pretty cool. Oh well, next year. Junior (not born yet) should dig that.

Ernie would love this one.

No, the duck's not actually on fire.

Friday, July 06, 2007

7-07-07 ... and counting

As this once-in-a-millennium day dawns, I find myself wondering if it will be the beginning of my new life as a dad. My wife's due date arrives today, and she's as ripe as she's going to be. She's gotten so big the baby looks like he's going to fall right off the front of her.

But God bless her for being so brave and strong through everything so far because the more I learn about the intricacies of pregnancy, the more I thank the Lord that I'm a guy. Organs getting shifted around by the growing fetus, acid reflux, constipation, soreness pretty much everywhere. The whole "gaining 30 pounds" thing I think I could handle. But the rest would be enough to cure any gender-confused man.

So the nursery has been painted and papered; the requisite blue sports-themed outfits have been purchased, washed and organized; and here we sit, afraid to plan anything more than 12 hours ahead or travel more than half an hour in any direction just in case "it happens." (Though I'm starting to think this whole birthing process is much more gradual than we're led to believe in the slapstick comedies on TV.)

Though, God willing, he'll be born safely and healthy. Then maybe he can become my own little version 2.0, and I can impart some of the wisdom I've taken from the mistakes I've made ... and go from being a father to fully a dad.

See it again, Uncle Sam

With immigration being such a hot topic in the news lately, it got me to thinking. What must America look like to a foreigner?

I had the opportunity to see a nation from just such a vantage point in 1998, when some friends and I took a whirlwind tour of some parts of Europe around our Memorial Day weekend. I saw Paris, London and Amsterdam in about one week. That's not much time to really absorb the culture, but it was just enough to see the biggest tourist attractions; the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Arc de Triomphe in Paris; Big Ben, Westminster and the Tower of London; and ... well, let's just say "Amsterdam" and realize that those who know, know.

Anyway, one thing that has really stuck with me from that trip was one of the more mundane sights. As we cruised through the French countryside headed for the Chunnel, I gazed out the window at the terrain. It didn't look terribly different from Wisconsin; rolling pitches, farm fields. But somehow the farmhouses looked different. They looked like they had housed generations under their quaint roofs. They weren't like our houses, with wooden and vinyl siding and looking like they were built sometime in the last 50 years. These French homesteads were built of brick and stone. It struck me that some of those houses could have been older than my home country.

It made me wonder what kinds of conversations went on in those houses. Probably idle chatter about the crops, maybe school, maybe the local soccer team. Hell, maybe even sneering at the ignorant American tourists who were probably breathing on the glass gazing out at the French countryside from that damned Chunnel train again.

I also think about my honeymoon in Greece in 2004. As the tour bus wound around the treacherous hillsides, I could scarcely take my eyes off the seemingly endless fields of olive trees, the rocky slopes, and the occasional sheep herds that moved among it all. I wonder now, what would Greek tourists think about a ride along a long, straight stretch of country road in northern Wisconsin. "Ooo, look, honey; cows!"

Perhaps my points is that, in both cases, what was so everyday and mundane to them seemed new and fresh and fascinating to me. It's that mind-set that I try to adopt sometimes on my way to work in the mornings. Sometimes I'll take a different route. Oh, sure, the highway is faster. But like in the movie "Cars," that faster route can sometimes take you past things you'll never otherwise see. I cruise through the American countryside, ride the crest and trough of each rolling undulation on the paved strip that guides me past cornfields, cow pastures and American farmhouses.

And I try to see America again through a fresh set of eyes.