America’s game ain’t cheap

My son started tee ball last weeks. He’s pretty excited.

This will be his third sport, following past dalliances with hockey and soccer. It is already the most expensive sport we’ve signed him up for. Yes, more expensive than hockey.

The hockey league he tried was sponsored by the NHL. Everything – skates, pads, jersey, pants, gloves, helmet, stick, and gear bag – was branded with the Chicago Blackhawks logo. They were the Little Blackhawks. All that gear, plus the eight week introductory league, was $85. He took two sessions of that introductory league before deciding it wasn’t for him. $170 for his brief foray onto the ice. Not cheap, but not terrible. And we keep the gear. We could probably recoup some of our cost by taking it to Play-it-Again Sports or some other sports re-seller. More likely, we will just donate it.

Soccer was even cheaper. Cleats, shinguards, ball. Boom, done. Throw in registration fees and youth team sports don’t get much cheaper than soccer.

Which brings us to baseball. Even with recycling his soccer cleats, tee ball (and the baseball that follows it) is deceptively expensive. Our registration fees included nothing other than getting his name on a roster. Everything else, even a hat, is on us to provide. The cheapest glove available was $35. The cheapest bat — a “tee ball only” bat that apparently would burst into flame if used to strike a pitched ball — was another $25. Which actually isn’t so bad. But this is strictly entry level stuff; if/when he requires another bat in a year, the median price range appeared to be in the $70 neighborhood. Batting helmets allegedly are provided for games, or so says the coach. But he didn’t sound too sure that would actually be the case, so tack on another $17. Other items we decided against buying until we know whether he intends to play for more than a year or two. But they will add to the cost.

Baseball is America’s game. College and professional football have outpaced baseball as an industry, as a passion for fans. But baseball is still America’s game. Football never goes in a sentence with Mom and Apple Pie. Major League Baseball could take a cue from the National Hockey League. We live in an era where more and more parents are growing reluctant to let their children into football. It would take next to nothing from baseball’s profitability to step in and eliminate cost as a deterrent from getting kids to play.

The teams in my son’s league take their names from their MLB counterparts. There are Cardinals and Red Sox and Dodgers and Royals and even Expos. My son’s team is the Cubs. It’d be nice to see MLB invest itself a little more in making playing the game a more attainable goal for its youngest fans.

Rebranding, Housekeeping, and What Have You

I’ve had this blog for five years. I’ve done very little with it. A few amusing (I hope) personal anecdotes. Some other personal stories, remembrances of Ben. And then nothing. I haven’t added anything in going on two years.

So what’s this then? I don’t know. But I recently got away from Facebook and need some means of maintaining an online presence. Some outlet for things I want to share. My Facebook profile still exists; I just won’t be updating it henceforth. Some part of my reasoning for this is no longer wanting to have my information farmed and used without my explicit knowledge. Zuckerberg won’t be getting anything else out of me that he can share with Godknowswho. But still, I don’t want to delete it. Everything I put there is *me*, for better or worse.

A lot of what I put on that Facebook page alienated a lot of people, I’m sure. Friends don’t talk politics or religion. Well, I talked politics. A lot. Often with no small amount of anger. I’m sure I’ve offended and/or alienated my of my Facebook contacts. Friends and family. I offer no regrets for that. A lot of what’s going on in the world should make people angry. A lot of that stuff will start appearing here instead.

I have a lot of writing that I never put on Facebook or anywhere, for various reasons. Some of it I deemed too personal, or that it just didn’t fit this particular venue or that one. Some fiction, some non-fiction. Some opinion. Some vitriol. More of that will begin appearing here, along with (hopefully) new stuff as events unfold. My intent, and we’ll see how long I keep at it, is to better curate this site, beginning with this rebranding exercise.

The original title to this blog was “I Should’ve Been a Musician”. At the time, I thought it was kind of cheeky, and my very first post attempted to explain what I was going for with that title. But it’s also kind of negative. Almost 47 is too old to worry about the things you aren’t. Life’s too short to dwell on should’ves.

My name is Scott. Friends call me Moo.

Representation

A little thought exercise regarding representative democracy:

The lower chamber of France’s Parliament, the National Assembly, has 577 seats, which are elected directly by the people. The population of France is approximately 66.7 million.

The House of Commons, the lower chamber of Parliament in the United Kingdom, holds 650 Seats. Population in the U.K. is 65.1 million.

In Germany, the lower, directly elected chamber of the legislative branch, the Bundestag, holds 630 seats. Germany’s population is 82.2 million.

And in the United States of America, the world’s leading democracy, the House of Representatives holds 435 seats to serve a population of 324.7 million.

To put it bluntly, our level of representation in Washington stinks.

The number of seats in the House of Representatives was adjusted on a regular basis throughout the 19th century as new states joined the Union and the population grew. However, the number was last adjusted following the Census of 1910, when the nation’s population was tallied at 92.2 million people. It has more than tripled in the century since.

The only requirements set in the Constitution regarding the number of seats in the House is that the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000 citizens. How quaint. We’re currently at about one for every 750,000.

And we wonder why our representatives do a poor job of representing us?

It would be nice if the Founders had, along with the minimum requirement of 30,000 citizens per Representative, possessed the foresight to include a maximum number as well. 300,000 would be a reasonable figure, in my opinion.

At current estimates, that ratio would give us a Lower Chamber with nearly 1,100 seats. California alone would have in excess of 130 seats. Would such a number of Representatives be unwieldy? Perhaps. Together with the Senate, this would give us a Congressional membership of 1,200. Which seems excessive only until one considers the United Kingdom, with its population roughly one-fifth the size of our own, somehow manages with a Parliament (House of Lords plus House of Commons) exceeding 1,400 seats.

Clearly, something is amiss in our government. Congress regularly has an approval rating below 20 percent, yet incumbent candidates win re-election more than 80 percent of the time. People everywhere feel they have no voice. Congressional seats have become de facto lifetime appointments in far too many districts as a result of pervasive gerrymandering (hey, Pennsylvania, have fun trying to carve out those perennially safe seats you’re so fond of when you have 43 Congressional Districts instead of 18 — Texas and North Carolina, to name two other notorious offenders, would have 84 and 32 districts respectively).

Carrying this idea to its logical conclusion, we can look at the Electoral College. Applying the results of the 2010 Census with the minimum standard of one district per 300,000 population, and maintaining the Senate at its current number, we arrive at an Electoral College of 1,154. This includes three Electors for the District of Columbia, which would actually have five votes if the 300,000 standard were applied. But until the District is granted actual representation in Congress, it will retain the minimum number of Electors.

Interestingly, and surprisingly to me, this new apportionment would not change the results of our most recent Presidential election. Donald Trump, on the strength of winning seven of the 10 most populous states (Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, and Michigan, losing only California, New York, and Illinois), would emerge with 649 Electoral votes, compared to 505 for Hillary Clinton.

I’m under no illusions that this idea will ever come to pass. Our Representatives seem rather fond of things as they are, and why shouldn’t they be? For the vast majority of them, their jobs are safe. Re-election is nearly a given for as long as they wish to keep running. They have outstanding health care benefits, and a generous pension.

But for the rest of us, I tend to think more representation would be a good thing.

Silent Majority

So I haven’t written anything worthwhile in a long time. Welcome back, me.

What’s on my mind today? I’ll tell you what: Measles. Five infants in a Chicago area daycare are on my mind. Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield are on my mind. Herd immunity is on my mind. My two younger children, who received their initial MMR booster, but are for another nine months too young to receive their second, are on my mind. The Montessori school where we send our kids, with its vaccination rate of 85%, is on my mind.

Five infants in a Chicago-area daycare. Every one of them less than a year old. Every one of them too young for the first MMR booster. Every one of them relying on herd immunity to keep safe from disease. What must their parents be feeling at all of this? Vaccination rates in upscale Chicago suburbs are lower than in the majority of the country. It’s possible, maybe likely, that the parents of one of those five kids had no intention of vaccinating. But what of the other four? What must it be like as a parent to watch your child suffer through an awful disease for no other reason than the selfish vanity of those who think they know better?

Speaking of parents who think they know better, I give you Ms. McCarthy. The list of her lies and distortions is too long to enumerate here. But everything she has ever said on the issue (indeed, every argument every anti-vaxxer makes) traces to Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s paper in the late 1990’s that connected the measles vaccine with autism. The less said about that paper or that (now unlicensed) “doctor”, the better. “Debunked” is not a strong enough word to describe how thoroughly that paper has been discredited, yet… It persists. And while the arguments have evolved over the last 15 or so years, their root in that execrable man’s paper have not. Some will still cling to the autism claim. Others will claim it is the preservative, Thimerosal. Others will claim it is the dosing schedule. The surest sign of a liar and a huckster is how easily they will shift from argument to argument, rather than acknowledge the failure of their stance.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all of this, my children are being children. They are very good at that. Childhood seems to suit them. They love their school, where Nora attends kindergarten and Josh and Lia are in the preschool program. And it saddens me to think we may have to remove them from a place they love due to the righteous idiocy of the 15% of parents who failed to vaccinate your choice (and it is a “failure”, no matter how much they will paint it as a “choice”. Lipstick on a pig and all that.) But the second there is a confirmed case of measles here in the far reaches of Sangamon County, we will remove them. My lovely bride (no shrinking violet, she) informed the school of this. The school director suggested she would have the non-vaccinated children stay away from school during the course of an outbreak here, but not good enough.

In my wife’s words:

“I explained that if and when the measles outbreak hits Sangamon County, we are pulling our kids out, because vaccines aren’t 100% and Josh and Lia are too young for the 2nd MMR shot. I also explained that as the public school vaccine rates are all over 95%, this will be a major factor in our enrollment decisions for next year… If enough people take this stand, private schools will change the policies. Likewise, if enough people ask their legislators to remove non-medical immunization exemptions, they will go away.”

As usual, she is right. I’m tired of being the silent majority on this. The anti-vax crowd is loud, and too many people hear them. They do not debate the issue honestly, or in good faith. They rely on junk science, and on disproven and debunked claims. I used to sort of shrug my shoulders in a “what can I do” kind of way. I grimly assumed the only thing that would ever turn them back was when children inevitably (and it IS inevitable) started dying.

I’m not doing that any more. I’ve already buried a child. If I can play the tiniest role in preventing someone else from burying theirs, I will play it as loudly as I can.

Moving day

I hate moving more than I hate most things. I hate it, despite having made surprisingly few wholesale moves in my life. In 1998, I moved from Lemoyne, PA to Boston; and in 2009, I moved from Boston (okay, Somerville) to Charlottesville. There have been a few other small moves scattered in there. But moving within a city does not entail the level of disruption to one’s life that is incurred by moving across state lines, hundreds of miles, to an entirely new city and place.

No, I’m not moving. But our neighbors are.

It’s a little sad to watch friends prepare to leave. Tomorrow, the moving van will be in place, and then they’ll be gone. What bothers me most, however, is not that friends of mine are leaving. It’s that Nora’s friend is moving. She seems to be taking it fairly well, but I still don’t know how she’ll react when the reality hits her that Ava doesn’t live across the street any more. Even though she knows it’s coming, there’s no knowing how she’ll respond in that moment. I don’t know how she’ll react when the moving van actually drives away. I don’t even know if I want her to be there when it does.

I have this vision of her, watching the van disappear around the corner, standing there for a few seconds, then turning to look at me with tears in her eyes and a trembling lip.

Perhaps I’m over-dramatizing things a tad. But losing a friend sucks, no matter your age.

Home

I started last night to write a post about Nora’s birthday party on Saturday. But there are other things on mind at the moment. One thing, actually.

I was not born in Boston. I was not raised there. But for 10-plus years, Boston and its inner suburbs was home, and they were the best years of my life. I met too many friends, I had too many great experiences, for it to be otherwise. Above all, I met my wife there. This life I have in 2013 — this family, these children, all of it — is a direct result of my decision in the spring of 1998 to pack up everything I owned into a Penske van, hook my car up to the back, and make the trek from idyllic little Lemoyne, PA to Boston.

I was not unfamiliar with the city on my arrival. For just about every summer of my childhood, elementary school on up, summer included a trip to Boston. The genesis of these trips was always the Red Sox. Dad’s life as a sports fan begins and ends with those Sox. He was bit by the bug in the pennant-winning summer of 1946, and his sons stood no chance but to be bitten by that same bug. With so many annual trips under my belt, it seemed only natural in early 1998, as I was applying for admission to graduate school, that my eyes turned to Boston University, which offered a strong program in broadcasting. My admission being secured that spring, the next decision was an easy one, and in late August, I was off.

I was fortunate in two ways when I moved to Boston. First, while I was moving to an entirely new city, I was at least moving to a city where I had friends. Pat, Pete, and Pat, acquaintances from my days with Proteen Records* lived in Boston, and through them I was able to join a group of extended friends that I eventually came to regard as some of the best I’ve ever known. Secondly, as an incoming member of a new class of students, I was instantly immersed with a collection of friends who were as new to the city as I was. It was the best of both worlds, and very necessary to my well-being, as it became quickly apparent that my many previous visits to Boston left me with approximately zero understanding of the city beyond its many tourist attractions.

(*Proteen Records and its history will have to wait for another post.)

I’m not going to even attempt to wrap up 10 years and four months of my life in a blog post. I know this is going to wind up a bit of a disjointed mess when I click publish. But today’s tragedy leaves me feeling ill. I’m not even sure what I’m hoping to accomplish by writing about it, or about Boston. There’s no point in trying to make sense of it all when there is no sense to be made. Whether this turns out to be an act of international terrorism, or domestic terrorism, or the work of a singular and severely fucked up human being will alter nothing from where I sit.

To put it simply, I love that city. I love its people, its  little neighborhoods, its maze of one-way streets, the anarchy of its grid, the dilapidated nature of its mass transit system, its fundamentally quirky mix of Puritan aesthetics (no booze on Sundays!) and liberal progressive ideology. As I type, Carolyn reminds me of the time we had lunch at Atlantic Fish Market, which is practically today’s Ground Zero.

As I type, no fewer than 134 people are in various stages of critical care. A two-year old boy is in ICU with head trauma. An eight-year old child is dead. As I type, families grieve.

Last August, on a visit back to Boston, Carolyn and I stood together on the beach at Winthrop, talking about the future. It was the end of a lovely week visiting all of our lovely friends, and one thing became startlingly clear to both of us. We felt like we were home.

Someday, I hope to call it home again.

April

April is not my favorite month. Although in the four years since I moved to Virginia, it’s moving up the list.

For my first 37-some years, I lived in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts: states where April did not truly yield spring weather until it was practically May. In Massachusetts especially, April was just as likely to produce a day of 38-degree drizzle as it was 63-degree sunshine. That’s not the case in Virginia. Here, on only the first day of the month, we were treated to a lovely 65 degrees. I look forward to what the next few weeks will bring.

April is a metaphor. Springtime. New beginnings. Stuff like that. For baseball fans, it is the annual rite of unbridled optimism.

April is when I became a father. And while the occasion was unexpected (Ben and Nora weren’t due until June), and while the early arrivals of my children led to countless hours in the unpleasant environment of the NICU, and while all of this led inevitably to Ben’s death a scant 31 days later, I cannot keep from smiling at that initial memory. At that wave of emotion the first time I put eyes on my son, the first time my daughter opened her eyes.

April is planting seeds in the little starter pots purchased at Lowe’s, watching Nora try to fit the little trowel from her gardening kit into a seed pot that’s maybe one or two inches in diameter. April is tilling the garden, pulling winter’s overgrowth, shoveling compost, and transplanting the sprouts after they’ve germinated. That my tomato crop tends to feed the local deer more than it feeds my family is not a concern in April.  In April, in my head, we are just a few months away from a bountiful harvest, from Carolyn making and storing jar upon jar of roasted marinara, from fresh salsa (assuming the peppers and onions grow), from caprese salad appetizers two or three nights a week (assuming the basil doesn’t get dug up by the dog or some other critter). Oh, well. As Rick once told Ilsa: “We’ll always have cucumbers.”

April is the Independent Film Festival Boston, still going strong — stronger than ever — four years after my last direct involvement. Two of the last four Aprils, that has meant a return trip to Boston, to see movies and friends. We’re still up in the air over our ability to make the trip this year. But whether I’m there or not, the news of opening night and its annual success always reaches me, always leaves me feeling happy.

April is promising myself this year I’ll get back out on the golf course at some point this summer (last round of golf played: July 28, 2007). This year I’ll dig out those rotted landscaping timbers near the shed in the back yard. This year I’ll get the lawn re-seeded. This year, I’ll repair the cracks in the driveway.

No, no, no, and no. And besides, if I did all (or any) of those things, what would I have to promise myself next year? What would I have to look forward to? No, let me be content to simply make those promises, and leave the keeping of them for another April.