Friday, 14 September 2012

Make a Wish

Today, ESPN-dot-COM have an interesting thought exercise on their web site.  They asked a number of baseball players and celebrities a 'turn back the clock' question - if you could pick a single game in the entire history of Major League Baseball, and go back in time to see it, which game would you select?

If you could go back in time and see any baseball game, what game would you choose and why?
You can pick from any game from baseball history, any game at all. It can even be one you saw in person but would like to see again.

The one stipulation was to apply the Wrinkle in Time rule - that is to say, you cannot alter history in any way (other than that, perhaps, you were not alive or in attendance on that day) - the outcome, the play, the weather, the stale, over-priced hot dogs and warm beer would remain as they were.

According to their survey, the single most chosen game amongst players, celebrities, and their own staff was the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers - Boston Braves game in which Jackie Robinson made his debut as the first black player in the big leagues.

My reaction to this is, "really?  No; REALLY?"

Of all the games ever played - the Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, the 1960 Pirates/Yankees Game 7, the May 1979 Cubs/Phillies 23-22 game, the 'Bloody Sock" performance of Kurt Schilling - the Jackie Robinson game would be the single game you would want to see?

Not to diminish the significance of the game, and at the risk of wandering into territory that is to say the least impolitic, I find this response to be an admixture of equal parts political correctness and dishonesty.

The importance of Jackie Robinson, both to the game of baseball as a historical talisman, should not be understated.  His breaking of the so-called "color barrier" was a pivotal moment in the fabric of our country, and that deserves some consideration.

But was the game itself really worth consideration beyond the list of memorable contests?  From the perspective of play, the answer has got to be no. I can think of dozens of games, easily, that offered more on-the-field drama or excitement.

Doubt it?  Quick - tell me who won the game, and what was the score?  Don't Google it before answering. (Answer to be provided at the end).  I am guessing that nine of ten people, to be conservative, cannot.

Perhaps it's due to the historical significance of the game?  But if that's the case, is it more significant than the first game?  The first American League game?  I would argue that the first professional game would be at least as significant as the Jackie Robinson game.

Maybe the interest implied is so that the person could claim that he was at the game when it happened.  OK.  But that seems the answer to a different question, don't you think?

Jackie Robinson was a great player, and his appearance was a significant milestone, but I think this sort of almost forced reverence makes more of him in history than he was in life.  And that in my opinion, diminishes rather than elevates his legacy.

(Answer: In Jackie Robinson's first game on 15th April 1947, the Dodgers beat the Braves 5-3, in front of just 12,623 fans in Ebbet's Field).

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Irresistible Forces, Immovable Objects, and Our "Rights."

Read today an op-ed from the Sunday New York Times; investigative journalist Bill Lichtenstein published a piece entitled "A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children."  In the editorial, Lichtenstein notes the rise over recent times in the use of "isolation rooms" and restraints in public schools as a means to discipline otherwise seemingly uncontrollable children. Included in the piece is a personal comment about the experiences of his then-kindergarten-aged daughter "Rose," who apparently was subject to such punishments on several occasions.
IN my public school 40 years ago, teachers didn’t lay their hands on students for bad behavior. They sent them to the principal’s office. But in today’s often overcrowded and underfunded schools, where one in eight students receive help for special learning needs, the use of physical restraints and seclusion rooms has become a common way to maintain order. 
According to national Department of Education data, most of the nearly 40,000 students who were restrained or isolated in seclusion rooms during the 2009-10 school year had learning, behavioral, physical or developmental needs, even though students with those issues represented just 12 percent of the student population
It's an interesting, if not to say eye-opening read.  And needless to say, I do not support the abuse or torture of children.

But one reaction I did have is this: after 40 years of "mainstreaming" children with learning, mental, and behavioural problems, ostensibly because it is the right of all to be treated "just the same as everyone else," where does one draw the line when circumscribing the rights of one child versus the rights of another?

In reading Mr Lichtenstein's story, he reveals, among other things, that his daughter has "speech and language delays," and at times becomes "fidgety and restless when she is unsure of what is expected of her."  Furthermore, it is revealed that "Rose" on occasion throws "violent tantrums" and at school became fixated with a scene from the cartoon "Finding Nemo," where sharks repeatedly (and violently) attempt to attack the story's eponymous protagonist.

"The school provided no solution," Mr Lichtenstein offers, dryly.

I am the parent of a small child - one who is NOT prone to "violent tantrums," nor bouts of "fidgety or restless" behaviour.

Where do his rights (and the rights of the other students in the class) come into the equation here?  When a child is repeatedly disruptive, not to say violent, that has a consequence for the others in the room whose learning is, at the least, interrupted.  Each time the teacher has to stop and tell "Rose" or other students to be quiet, to return to their seats, not to throw a tantrum or hurt the other children, that infringes on the rights of every other student in the classroom, doesn't it?

I am not a proponent of group rights - at all.  As I see it, we do not have collective rights, but rather, individual rights.  Amongst those rights, for school children who are compelled by law to be in the classroom, is the opportunity to be educated by a professional.

I'm sympathetic to "Rose" Lichtenstein, and to a lesser degree, her father.  Really, I am.  But if we disavow "time out rooms" for repeated bad behaviour, whilst at the same time insisting that public school classrooms are appropriate for all children, how do we expect our teachers to teach effectively?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Does Time REALLY Always Fly?

Today is the 11th of September 2012; the numerical representation ("9-11") will immediately resonate with most of us in the USA as well as the Western world, and likely a large chunk of the rest as well.  Of course, it's the anniversary of a terrible day eleven years ago when several groups of men, using vessels of commerce , leisure, and transport, destroyed the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, a section of the Pentagon in Washington, several thousand lives.

It's become something of a grim tradition on this date - people posting "where I was" remembrances of that particular date when they heard/saw the news. I was living in San Jose, California; my day had just begun with the familiar voice of the bumper announcer on KNBR, broadcasting the top of the seven o'clock hour news teaser - "If you've ever been to New York and seen the World Trade Centre, it's gone...."  Unlike many here on the east coast, my day did not begin just like any other.

Maybe it's the distance that an entire continent made; perhaps it's that at that time, I had only seen the Twin Towers out the window of a plane landing at Kennedy Airport.  But as I read the comments of those who are now my neighbours here in New Jersey, just an hours' drive from NYC, I find it odd the feeling "it seems like only yesterday."

To me, it seems like a lifetime ago.

The distance between then and now is temporal and metaphorical.  EVERYTHING about my life is different.  I suspect the same is true for a lot of people.

Honestly; think about the way you felt when you went to sleep on the night of the 10th of September 2001.

The country felt more prosperous. There was no lost decade economically.  No stock market crash (two, in fact, if you count the Tech Bubble).  The fear of shadowy bad guys waiting to hit at us was constrained to Hollywood movies.  There was no Iranian bomb.  We wished for a continuation of the good times - "hope" was not tied to "change."

Worst of all, no decade of seemingly endless, hopeless wars.

Personally, there is practically nothing about my life that is the same today as it was then.  In the time, I've gotten married, changed jobs (three times).  My son was born, grew, and entered school.  I now live thousands of miles away.

It doesn't seem like only yesterday to me, and in a sense, I am glad for that.  I haven't forgotten - nobody should forget of course.  But as I see it, the best way we can celebrate and remember those who were killed that day is for us to live.