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Archive for Life

April 8, 2021 — And now, the wait

This afternoon, with a sit-down behind a white curtain in a pharmacy near the apartment, your Founder received the latest of nearly 3/4 of a billion worldwide injections of a Coronavirus vaccine.

As such, I’m expecting any one of a number of symptoms to hit me anytime over the next one to five days. Friends of mine have reported various side effects from body aches to headaches to fatigue. And at least one vaccine in current use is linked to the formation of blood clots in the brain, albeit it is a 1 in 250,000 chance.

But as my sister told me last weekend in a phone conversation, a small chance of a vaccine side effect is better than getting COVID-19, which can be lethal if left untreated. There are already nearly three million people worldwide who have died from the virus. While more than half a million are Americans, there are rising numbers in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) as well as the European Union.

As such, this pandemic is not only taking a horrific human toll, but an economic one. The United States, E.U., and the four developing BRIC nations are the world engines of manufacturing, and account for 3/4 of the world’s Gross Domestic Product.

Even though most present vaccines have proven to be effective in tests and have proven effective in a real-world application, there are still enough people around the world who won’t get the vaccine, which is a public health predicament of the highest order.

Some people are likely not to get the vaccine because of the lack of public health infrastructure in second- or third-world nations. Other people may choose not to receive vaccines because of suspicion or superstition. Still others are anti-vaccination because of political ideology.

Thing is, our world has eradicated pandemic disease before. World health agencies have declared victory over smallpox and rinderpest, and we’re nearly there when it comes to polio.

Why is this important? If enough people are vaccinated in a given population, a pathogen will not be able to spread, and will eventually die off.

Of course, given the fact that COVID-19 has at least five variants, the massive vaccination effort in the United States isn’t going to be enough yet.

But I’m doing my part. I hope each of you do the same if able.

April 4, 2021 — Towards a parallel resurrection?

When my parents died, one of the things I inherited was the only new car they ever had, a 2000 Ford.

It was a car which I used to transport Papa to visit Mama when she was in rehabilitation after that awful sepsis infection in 2010, and I would drive him to various and sundry places like the diner, the doctor, and the day I had to go up to the hospital to spring him after he was found with a golf club, mismatched socks and shoes, and a box of buttons.

At about the same time, my sister would often borrow the Ford to go from place to place whenever one of her cars had to go to the shop. She kept a plastic box of ashes (not hers, but a few ounces of ashes from the barbecue we held in her honor after her funeral) in the rear compartment. These ashes — an outward sign of an inward grace — remain there to this day.

The Ford became a link to my parents in a deep, deep way.

When I was a teenager, Papa would sometimes ask me, “When you get older, will you drive me around in your little car?” This was before I ever started driving classes. But when he lost his vision and his ability to drive in his mid-70s, the prophesy came true. Whenever I came home, I drove him to many places.

I would also help Mama with the groceries, also unloading them even during that terrible day when she almost fell down on the lawn because she was trying to walk on the uneven grass.

This past week, the Ford’s check-engine light went on. I have an appointment scheduled this week with a Ford technician, but, after 21 years of service, I think it is about time to let go.

I’ve felt a range of thoughts and emotions, which are magnified by the fact that I have been very much isolated because of the COVID-19 pandemic for the last year.

Look, I know it’s just a car. But it’s so much more — a tangible link to the past.

And perhaps, time to let go.

March 31, 2021 — Thoughts for a designated day of visibility

Today is the annual Transgender Day of Visibility, which comes at an interesting time in American history.

In a number of states, activists and lobbyists have been proferring and pushing through laws which seek to do the clumsy work of trying to define who gender non-conforming people actually are.

I say “clumsy,” because the “trans” person of today isn’t as simple as the Hollywood trope of the transvestite, someone who dresses in the other gender’s clothing. These days, there are persons who may have undergone gender reassignment to become the other gender.

But there are also a number of occasions of persons born with genetic changes which may have any number of reasons, including the environment, relaxed regulations on blood tests for marriage licenses, and also relaxed regulations on the marriage of first cousins.

There are hundreds of thousands of what can be called “trans” youth all across America. There are different names for them: genderfluid, non-binary, intersex, etc. A number of states, however, see threats to people who are gender-conforming. Activists and lawmakers have actually been able to pass anti-trans legislation in a number of states.

These activists and lawmakers couch their rhetoric in mostly two scenarios: the effect of transgender people on women’s sports, and which bathroom transgender people can use at the mall.

Now, I can understand what could happen with mixed-gender athletic competitions, especially in competitions where size, strength, and speed are prized. But recent moves by the WNBA, the NWSL, and the International Amateur Athletics Federation have shown that it is the ruling bodies of sport who should be the ultimate arbiters of who should participate in a particular event, and not the government.

The same can be said for public accommodations and even gender-affirming health care, the latter of which is under threat in Arkansas.

The problem, it says here, is that these laws are solutions in search of a problem. Trans people are already among us, and don’t intend harm to others.

Trans people are people, and it is not the job of self-styled culture warriors backed with the infinite power of the state to become bathroom police, health-care police, or sports participation police.

March 26, 2021 — Social media as a creative process

Some of you may remember what I did with this site when Leroy Nieman, the sports artist, died nine years ago. For 10 days, I changed the colorway of the logo in the header of this site to honor his splashy, colorful artistic style.

Well, as many of you know from being long-time users of this site, one of my favorite artists is Andy Warhol, who would make studies of multiple images in different colors. If you’ve seen any of my “unfiltered” commentaries on our Instagram account, you’ll notice that the backdrop we use is full of different treatments of this site’s logo.

Most of these images have one thing in common: they have been created on, of all places, my phone. The Apple App Store has a number of free or low-cost photo or image applications with names like Olli, MegaPhoto, HipsterCam, and Hyperspektiv, and they can turn pictures and videos of objects, landscapes, and people into remarkable pieces of art.

When we started posting on TikTok, we knew we didn’t have the kind of content that would normally attract viewers. I’m not one for doing small stunts or lip-syncing to songs I barely know. But we do have our logo and a bunch of different still and video filters.

I’ve been having fun mixing up still and video effects for TikTok — adding a color here, an overlay there, posterizing, rasterizing, and then, at the end, adding a musical track.

I’ve also been occasionally taking video from my screen and adding it in there to point you in the direction of an issue or an event that we’ve not covered in the blog.

All this has gotten me, oddly enough, an outsized number of likes and views per day. I mean, it’s just a logo, right?

March 17, 2021 — Return of a formerly-ubiquitous item

The brown packet came in the mail today, with a white box inside. About 30 minutes later, after reading the instructions, I am now doing something I have not done in about three years.

I’m wearing a wristwatch, made by the Wyze company.

I remember the first time I ever bought a watch for myself. It was a Pulsar watch from a nondescript booth at an outdoor flea market in New Jersey. I liked this watch because it was one of those with an analog watch face with a digital display below it. I used this watch for keeping time, running a stopwatch, and running a secondary timer for an alternate time zone.

I saw a watch in not just a utilitarian sense, but an aesthetic one. A distinctive, simple timepiece is a status symbol, even if it’s just for an office worker. Heck, there was a time when I had a cheap off-brand watch with a gold metal band, and I was treated like royalty in restaurants and shops in the better parts of town, including places frequented by public figures.

I owned a number of watches, most of which emphasized form over function. I had an orange watch, a white watch, and one in basic black. I have also had one with a green face and a Swatch with a pink face.

But all this was before the ubiquitousness of the cell phone, and the fact that most people under the age of 25 don’t feel the need to wear watches because they can easily get the time from their phone screen.

Several years ago, my brother bought me a cheap bracelet smartwatch, from China. The item was fraught with problems. It was far too small for my wrist, and it also stopped working the moment I tried to apply a little heat to the silicone band to try to expand its circumference.

Now, I’ve had Casio watches which take your pulse and another which estimates your blood pressure. But this new smartwatch is a combination of form and function. This has the ability to turn off and on lights and smart devices in your home, and also serves as a sleep monitor as long as you wear it while you sleep.

This watch is a pulse-taker and it also is a blood oxygen reader, something which I think is very useful, given my medical history in the last few months.

It’s taken me a while to figure everything out, but I think this may be some of the best money I’ve every spent, considering some of the more expensive alternatives.

March 3, 2021 — Extreme tubing (for me)

I have accomplished a lot during my time on this earth. I have visited London, Paris, Madrid, and Venice during a backpack trip to Europe, I have degrees from the two highest-ranked universities in their particular fields of endeavor, shaken the hands of Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, driven 105 miles an hour in a police car, and have started up and maintained this website for two decades.

And I can’t cook a potato.

Nope, I’ve been completely unable to bake, fry, poach, boil, microwave, or otherwise apply the correct amount of heat in order to make a potato into its edible state.

It’s been a considerable source of frustration for me through my adult life. Yes, I can get whatever starch I need from microwaveable rice, putting bread in a toaster, or heading up already-cooked potato products (such as steak fries and tater tots) in the air fryer.

But last week, I ran across a bag of new potatoes in the area where day-old produce was laid out for quick sale. I figured it was worth the time and the risk to make one more go of it. Only this time, I had a secret weapon.

For it was a couple of Christmases ago that I received one of those cloth microwaveable bags (which are invariably red in color) that claims to be able to hold potatoes while you microwave the contents for four minutes, and the inside will come out perfectly every time.

I filled the bag with about eight small potatoes, and did so with a bit of apprehension. What if the recommended time frame was too much for the small potatoes, and was instead meant for larger tubers? What if enough microwaves bombarded the contents of the bag? Would they burn from the inside?

I carefully did the cooking in two stages, per the instructions on the bag. Putting the potato bag on the rotating plate in the oven, I ran the microwaves for two minutes, then flipped the bag over again for two more minutes.

To my amazement, when I removed the potatoes from the bag, they were cooked. No mushies, no dry patches, nothing amiss whatsoever.

It’s a new day.

Feb. 17, 2021 — The end of a monument to dysfunction

This morning, with the press of a button, several thousand sticks of dynamite were detonated in Atlantic City, N.J. just off Mississippi Avenue. In 20 seconds, the edifice formerly known as the Trump Plaza casino became a twisted wreck.

In truth, however, it was a twisted wreck from the very beginning.

The site, located across the street from the Pageant Motel where our family stayed for a couple of summers while my mother took the annual exams to become a registered nurse for the State of New Jersey, was originally supposed to house the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino. Our family watched that property start construction, but the project stalled in 1980. What happened was that Penthouse founder Bob Guccione was caught up in the Abscam bribery scandal, and that projected receipts from his movie Caligula fell well short of being able to finance construction.

The casino project eventually fell to Donald Trump, then a New York-based real-estate mogul, to complete. It was not, however, without obstacles. A homeowner named Vera Coking refused to sell out, and the Plaza was built around the property. There was a noticeable apse in the southern wall of the casino where her three-story house stood.

The Trump Plaza casino was complete by 1984, but when it opened, casino management did something that rubbed locals the wrong way. Posted on signs between Columbia Place and Mississippi Avenue were signs saying that this stretch of oceanfront beach was reserved for people staying at the Trump Plaza casino.

People were stunned. You see, New Jersey remains one of the only U.S. states that regulates unfettered access to the beach. Towns are allowed to charge money for beach tags — an economic barrier which has contributed to segregation in many shore-area counties over the last 100 years. It’s a kind of de facto segregation that continues to this very day.

But the Trump beach reservation in Atlantic City — a town that does not require beach tags — was done away with swiftly amid public backlash. Not to mention that it was completely unenforceable.

The Trump Plaza, being the casino closest to Boardwalk Hall — a convention center which has hosted the Miss America Pageant, numerous sporting events, and large gatherings — should have been a primary money-gainer within the Trump casino empire. But in leveraging Plaza revenues to build other properties including Trump’s Castle, the Plaza suffered financially.

Now, Trump’s Castle has its own story. The original laws allowing casino gambling in Atlantic City originally allowed for development only along the Boardwalk area of the city. But Trump was able to develop an area adjacent to the State Marina along Brigantine Boulevard. With that development came a road which took down one of the last middle-class neighborhoods in the city. Despite legal actions, the road was built right to the Trump’s Castle front door.

In addition, the debt leveraged by Trump’s other casinos to build the Castle wasn’t enough to finish the project The Castle was only able to open because Fred Trump, the father of Donald Trump, bought $3.5 million in casino chips which he never cashed in — a move that was deemed to be an illegal loan.

Needless to say, because of these and other episodes of financial dysfunction, the Trump casino empire filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Six years later, he filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for President.

The rest, as they say, as history. But with today’s implosion, so is the Trump Plaza casino hotel.

Jan. 20, 2021 — The possible effects of the Biden administration on field hockey and lacrosse

Today at noon, Joe Biden takes the oath of office to become the 46th President of the United States. As we’ve done on occasion the last few years, we’ve engaged in thought experiments as to what could happen to the environment around both field hockey and lacrosse with a major change in world events.

Given the fact that the powers of the American presidency are inherently weak, you’re not going to see either of these athletic pursuits grow, shrink, improve, or weaken due to executive order. There are limits to what the Executive Branch can do by fiat. Instead, we can try to figure out what upcoming policy initiatives could help or hurt these or any other sports in America.

Like it or not, the Biden Administration is going to be defined on how well or poorly it is able to handle the continuing effects of the Coronavirus. This goes to everything from medical research to logistics to the approval process for new vaccines. While there are two vaccines in wide use now, there are two more which are awaiting approval from the FDA, with some 235 more in some phase of development.

No matter how many vaccines there are in the pipeline, however, there is still one thing missing from the public-health response to COVID-19: a treatment. People who go into the hospital for treatment are given oxygen and only one approved treatment, a drug called remdesivir. There are a number of other treatments that have been given limited “alternate use” authorizations, but there is no actual data showing the long-term effectiveness of these treatments.

The lack of a treatment, I think, is a major deterrent for the American public to want to get together in social situations, whether it is dining out, going dancing, or attending sporting events. Even if 300 million Americans get vaccinated, there will be a small percentage of the public who will resist vaccination, and another small percentage (five to six percent) for whom vaccination won’t completely prevent the person from contracting COVID.

Once people are ready to play and/or attend sports again in mass numbers, what is going to happen to the field hockey and lacrosse infrastructure in the U.S.? Let’s start with colleges, which form a significant portion of the competition scape in this country. Colleges and universities have been losing so much money as a result of the cancellation of sports seasons that it is any guess as to whether any sport without a nationwide reach is going to be able to survive.

The two sports that most people are looking at in terms of survival are men’s gymnastics and wrestling, each of whom have seen precipitous declines over the last three decades. But I think we should also take a close look at the “emerging sports” category, such as beach volleyball, bowling, and rugby. If any of these are defunded by enough colleges, what is going to keep prominent schools from a full-scale culling of sports on the level of what Stanford announced last year? Or what the University of California, Berkeley has been threatening to do for the last 10 years?

I frankly don’t think that, even if a Federal stimulus package was offered to colleges and universities, it would save any sports on the financial verge. Budgets, I submit, will be the determining factor for certain sports in the future.

The same, I think, goes for national governing bodies. We wrote last year that USA Field Hockey was one of many governing bodies who took Paycheck Protection Program money, especially seeing as neither the men’s nor the women’s field hockey team had qualified for the Olympics, meaning that a funding cut from the United States Olympic Committee is imminent.

I don’t have all of the spreadsheets in front of me, but I’m pretty sure that the Coronavirus is going to deal a potentially fatal blow to a percentage of organized sports bodies. I’m looking particularly at combat sports like boxing, taekwondo, and judo as well as fringe team sports like handball. Given the usual political calculus of bills having a nationwide impact, I’ll be interested to see if there is enough political will to set up a bailout plan for sports bodies which are hemorrhaging money.

But what I also see during a Biden administration is another change that is going to be necessitated by COVID-19, and that is an uptick in manufacturing of field hockey and lacrosse equipment — sticks, goals, pads, and the like — in the United States.

The COVID-19 contagion has thrown an enormous spanner in the works of international trade, especially to the country with the most cases in the world. The item that used to be shipped cheaply and quickly from China, Vietnam, or Bangladesh is now taking sometimes north of six weeks to be shipped to American shores.

And once they get here, their movement is hampered by a glut of undelivered parcels and packages at import and mail facilities, especially on the West Coast. Remember that volume of holiday packages? The backup is still going on to this very day.

To overcome current and potential future shipping and logistics problems for sports equipment manufacturers, I have a feeling that many processes are going to return to the United States with a resurgence that we haven’t seen in some time. The U.S. has a lot of open manufacturing space as well as millions of people who are willing to do the work, especially given the number of jobs which have already been lost due to the virus. Too, manufacturers are no longer on a nine- to 12-month calendar for rollout of a particular item, but must respond rapidly to the latest trend.

Now, I can’t project how many field hockey and lacrosse sticks are going to have the “Made in USA” label on them in four years, but I know that the current pent-up labor availability is enormous. We’ll see what happens.

Jan. 1, 2021 — My hopes for 2021

The end of 2020 sees the end of one of the tumultuous years in the history of the world. Oddly enough, this tumult wasn’t as a result of war, natural disasters, or terrorism.

Instead, the COVID-19 global pandemic has been responsible for 83 million worldwide infections with 1.8 million deaths. It has had devastating effects on many worldwide economies: the United States, the world’s largest economy, leads in infections and deaths from Coronavirus.

But you’re also seeing three out of the four so-called BRIC countries in the top four in terms of the number of COVID infections. Russia, India, and Brazil, with more than three million positive tests each, are similarly overrun by the virus, and they were, along with China, four of the most important growing economies in the world before the onset of the pandemic.

Not only are public health and world economies being affected by the virus, but also competitive sports. Here are my hopes for 2021:

I hope that the spring collegiate field hockey season is able to take place without the kind of tumult that has befallen football and men’s basketball in the last year, and is able to wind its way to a champion.

I also hope that teams in the ACC which did not win the automatic qualifier are able to get a fair shot at the two at-large bids in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

I hope that the college women’s lacrosse season is able to take place, especially with the talented players expected to make an impact this fall.

I hope that, in Division I, that teams other than the University of North Carolina are able to emerge as national championship contenders. I think Notre Dame, Denver, and Michigan are going to be major Final Four contenders if they are able to get through their seasons.

I hope that the National Women’s Soccer League is able to put a good product on the pitch, given the fact that a number of NWSL and U.S. stars are currently under contract to foreign clubs.

I hope that the “nouveau riche” women’s soccer clubs worldwide — I’m looking at you, Manchester City, Paris-St. Germain, Club America, and FC Barcelona — are treated as more than just window dressing, and that the corporations that run and sponsor them put the money and resources behind their women’s teams equal to the men’s teams.

I hope that both the WNBA and NWSL are given proper credit for the way they were able to make good on their 2020 seasons.

I hope that two major female athletes who played very little or not at all in 2020 — soccer’s Megan Rapinoe and basketball’s Elena Delle Donne — are able to come back with their club sides and have an impact at the 2021 Olympics.

I hope that the Olympics are able to have a full re-opening with fans in the arenas this summer.

I also hope that the companies responsible for long-term transport — especially cruise ships and commercial aircraft — undergo systemic reform so that their vessels do not continue to be petri dishes for viruses and other diseases.

I also hope that as many of you as are able can will take advantage of vaccine distribution programs in the first three months of 2021 and help flatten the curve of COVID-19, given the fact that there are seven billion people in the world, and there are maybe only 400 million doses of vaccine in the pipeline right now.

And I hope you, dear reader, stay safe and well until then. Mask up, socially distance, and just be careful out there.

Dec. 31, 2020 — 184 right, 130 wrong

Today, I finished my Trivial Pursuit Master’s Edition Year-In-A-Box calendar, a calendar full of questions about everything from Texas to s’mores to poke bowls. It’s the last Master’s Edition as next year’s calendar is going to be from the Classic Edition which, according to some reviews, is easier than the Master’s or the original Genus edition.

We’ll see what happens with the questions on the 2021 calendar. But this year’s questions were about the same difficulty as in 2019, which reflects the fact that my percentage of correct answers was 58.6 percent, much lower than the last couple of years.

Yep, I still keep score.