Side By Side

I guess I’m surprised that they sell political t-shirts at Reagan National Airport — but they do.  There, side by side, you will find Hillary and Trump shirts and other paraphernalia.  So, if you haven’t already gotten your political fix just by being in D.C., you can buy a t-shirt on your way home to publicly proclaim your loyalty.

The cashier reports that the Hillary t-shirts are outselling the Trump t-shirts by a considerable margin.  

Yard Sign Vandalism

A few days ago the Washington Post carried an interesting confession by a suburban Mom in Maine.  She admitted and she and two of her friends became so enraged by the presence of a bunch of Donald Trump signs on their street that they went out one night and tore them down.  Unfortunately for them, their act of vandalism was seen by the police, and the next day she received a summons to appear in court, because the owner of the property that displayed the yard signs — who just happened to be the chairman of a Maine PAC supporting Trump — was pressing charges.

trump_yard_signsWhy did the woman suddenly engage in an act of vandalism?  Because she hates Trump, and is angry about his crass comments about women, which remind her of her own experience with a crude boss who propositioned her for sex, and she thought that the number of yard signs supporting Trump were destroying the “equilibrium” of her neighborhood.  She writes that she and her friends “felt assaulted by the number of signs. The idea of “cleansing” our streets seemed like the fastest way to restore balance and alleviate our election stress.”  Now she regrets her conduct and recognizes that she momentarily snapped — and will have to face her day in court.

As the Post article notes, this election is raising temperatures nationwide, and the hard feelings are being acted out through Facebook rants, yard sign thefts, acts of vandalism — all the way up to tossing a bomb into a Trump campaign headquarters.  It’s sad to think that this wretched campaign might bust up friendships or family relationships, and it’s even sadder when suburban Moms decide — even if only momentarily — that they have the right to trample on a neighbor’s exercise of their rights to free speech.  Whatever you might think of Trump, you have to at least acknowledge that his supporters have the right to at least express their opinions, just as you have the right to vehemently disagree with those opinions — and if you don’t acknowledge that reality, then we’re really in the process of losing something fundamental and immensely valuable about America.

But here’s the saddest thing:  the Maine Mom hasn’t even met the man whose yard signs she stole.  She didn’t try to talk to him to tell him how she and her friends felt, and he didn’t try to talk to her before deciding to press charges.  You’d like to think that neighbors could at least talk to each other and try to bridge the gap, before resorting to stealing yard signs on one side and going to court on the other.  Maybe if they’d sat down face to face they might have realized that they were dealing with a human being, acquired an understanding of how the other person felt, and perhaps changed their mind on how to proceed.

But these days, it seems, no one talks anymore, and the first response is to escalate — which is how the courts in Maine are going to be hearing a case involving a suburban Mom who stupidly stole some yard signs because she thinks Donald Trump is a jerk.

Back And Forth On Globalization

One key theme is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign could be summarized — using one of Trump’s favorite adjectives — as “disastrous trade deals.”

Basically, Trump argues that, for decades, American leaders have been taken to the cleaners by foreign counterparts and have negotiated trade pacts that have cost countless American jobs, as cheap goods manufactured overseas have flooded the United States while companies have moved their operations to countries where products can be built more cheaply.  It’s a theme that Trump sounds whenever he comes to the industrial Midwest and can stand in front of an abandoned factory.

30501Today the Washington Post has an article that adds a bit of nuance to the globalization debate.  It’s about a Chinese billionaire named Cho Tak Wong who has bought a former GM factory in Moraine, Ohio to manufacture automotive glass.  Moraine is one of those “rust belt” communities that have been devastated by the departure of good-paying, steady blue collar jobs that used to be a staple of the Ohio economy, and local officials are hoping the factory will help to reverse that trend.  The Post reports that the purchase is part of a shift in globalization fortunes, as wealthy Chinese businessmen look to parlay their profits in China into purchases of American businesses.

Nothing is ever as simple as a presidential candidate presents it, and trade certainly falls into that category.  And blaming “trade deals” doesn’t recognize the impact that other decisions — like laws imposing increasing wage and benefit obligations on employers, or the ongoing pressure from the American consumer for products at cheaper costs — have had on the exodus of American jobs to places where labor and benefit costs are substantially cheaper.  You can argue the merits of “globalization,” but the reality is that we are in a global economy whether we like it or not.  It will be interesting to see whether what’s happening in Moraine, and elsewhere, will ultimately shift the debate.

Clash Of The Lovable Losers

Tonight the Chicago Cubs face the Cleveland Indians in the first game of the 2016 World Series.  For most of recent baseball history — say, for the last 60 years or so — if you’d predicted that even one of those teams would make it to the Series, people would have laughed at your brashness.  Predicting that they both would make it would have been viewed as compelling clinical evidence of insanity.

chicago_cubs5That’s because the Cubs and Indians have an unmatched record of futility in major league baseball.  The Cubs haven’t been to a World Series since 1945, and they haven’t won a Series since 1908.  The Tribe, on the other hand, last won a World Series in 1948.  When you’re looking back to the Truman Administration, or the Roosevelt Administration — as in Theodore Roosevelt, not Franklin — for your last Series triumph, that’s pretty frigging sad.  For decades, generations of fans of both teams have experienced unrelieved heartache and losses, have believed in jinxes, and have been convinced that the fates are against them and they and their teams are cursed.

But this year, one of those teams, by definition, is going to win the World Series.  One of those beleaguered fan bases is finally (finally!) going to see their favorite ball club hoist the championship trophy, setting off a celebration that will never be forgotten.  I’m guessing that this year the TV ratings for the Series will be through the roof, not because there are enormous numbers of Chicago and Cleveland fans in America, but because the prospect that one of these lovable losers is going to bring an end to decades of outright failure is just too intriguing to miss.

cz7jxepAnd by the way, it should be a pretty good Series if you’re a baseball fan.  The Cubs are the heavy favorite to win the Series and the overwhelming choice of ESPN’s panel of experts.  That’s not dissing the Indians, but rather recognizing that, this year, the Cubs were easily the best team in baseball, from start to finish.  They won more than 100 games, had a bunch of their players make the All-Star game, have a powerhouse lineup of hitters and pitchers, and have a guy in the bullpen who throws 103 m.p.h.  And, unlike the Tribe, they haven’t seen their roster of starting pitchers decimated by injuries and drone accidents.  If you watched the way the Cubs mauled the Dodgers in the last three games of the National League Championship Series, you’d pick the Cubbies to win, too.

As for the Tribe, they’ve been the scrappy underdogs all year, and the World Series will be no different.  The Indians have made it this far because Terry Francona has managed his tattered pitching staff with historical deftness, and the starters and relievers have performed brilliantly when called upon.  The Indians batters collectively hit just .168 in the American League Championship Series, which is well below the Mendoza line — but the few hits they got were timely hits, knocking in just enough runs to hand the game to the bullpen after the fifth inning.  And, unlike the Dodgers, for example, the Tribe played stellar defense and helped the bullpen make sure that those one- and two-run leads held up.  It was the kind of baseball John McGraw and Tris Speaker would have appreciated.

I’m convinced that tonight’s game is a crucial one for the Tribe.  They’re facing Jon Lester, who was 19-5 in the regular season and has already won three games in the playoffs, and are going with their best remaining pitcher in Corey Kluber.  Given the anemic performance of the Indians’ offense this postseason, the Tribe simply can’t afford to fall behind and count on big innings to catch up late.  Kluber will need to somehow quiet the Cubs’ powerhouse offense, the Indians will need to scratch and claw for a few runs, and the bullpen will have to come through once again.

It should be a great Series.  Go Tribe!

Red River

Recently I ran across this article about a spill from a nickel mining facility in Russia that turned the Daldykan River an ugly, blood red color.  The spill was admitted by Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of nickel and other industrial metals, although the company said that, despite the discoloration in the water, the incident posed no risk to people or fauna in the river.  The article reports that the region where the spill occurred is one of the most polluted areas in the world.

160907215643-russia-river-red-exlarge-169The story got me to thinking about an incident that occurred when I was a kid.  One time UJ and I were exploring around a nearby stream on a warm summer’s day in the suburban Akron area near our house.  We noticed that the water had a weird smell to it, and that there were clumps of dirty brown foam drifting by on the top of the water.  It’s the first time I can remember encountering pollution, and thereafter I really paid attention to it.  I noticed the litter on highways, and the news stories about air pollution, but the pollution problem always seemed to be most obvious with rivers, streams, and lakes — like the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie.

Shortly after UJ and I saw the dirty, foaming river, the United States started to pass major environmental regulations, and states did, too.  And while there is no doubt that the federal and state environmental regulators have had their moments of overreaching and bureaucratic inertia, there is equally no doubt that the environmental protection laws, and clean-up requirements, have had a tremendous, positive impact on air and water quality.  Anyone who compares the Lake Erie of 1970 to the Lake Erie of today will acknowledge that fact.

I’d like to think that an incident like the red river of Russia couldn’t happen in the United States — but if it did, I also have confidence that we would get it cleaned up.  I tend to be suspicious of government promises to fix problems, because they often turn out to be empty words, but environmental regulation is one area where the government has had a major impact.  The red river is a good reminder of that.

Still Reelin’ And Rockin’

Chuck Berry turned 90 this week.  Perhaps fittingly, one of rock and roll’s few surviving pioneers will be releasing an album of new songs next year.

chuck-berry-duck-walk-hd-wallpaper-1Many people helped American music take an abrupt turn in the early ’50s, from the big band/crooner/torch singer sound to the chaotic rhythms of rock and roll, but Chuck Berry was foremost among them.  Berry helped to define the genre in two key ways — in writing about fast cars, music, and girls, and in producing a guitar-focused sound that made everyone want to move their feet and strum the air.  More than 60 years later, the riffs he produced on Maybelline and Johnny B. Goode remain some of the greatest ever recorded.  And Berry’s showmanship on stage, including his trademark duck walk, helped to define what live rock music should be, too.

When Elvis Presley died almost 40 years ago, I was working for the Ohio State Lantern, which ran a headline referring to Presley, as many did, as the King of Rock and Roll.  Our faculty advisor, Tom Wilson, emerged from his office to vigorously object to that headline, because he thought that title could only be given to Chuck Berry.  Some people in the newsroom argued with Mr. Wilson, but not me.  He was absolutely right.  And Berry’s recordings remain as fresh and catchy today, and as ready to convert a young person to the world of rock and roll, as they were when they first hit the disk jockeys’ turntables so long ago.

One other thing:  it’s nice to be able to write about a music legend who has lived to a ripe old age.  Rock music takes its toll, and many of its best have been felled by drug overdoses, plane crashes, or violent death.  Chuck Berry duck-walked right on past all of that, with his wife of 68 years, Themetta, there beside him.  Two of their children are part of the band that has recorded the new album, too.

Buckeye Statis

Every four years, since at least the 2000 presidential election, the people of the Buckeye State have braced themselves.  They know that, as residents of a “battleground” state, they are going to be subjected to an onslaught of campaign ads and campaign appearances,  questions from pollsters and reporters who will clog the streets, and the disruption of traffic and everyday life that naturally comes along with regular visits from presidential and vice presidential candidates and their surrogates.

unnamedAnd, as part of that process, every four years politics becomes a much larger part of the daily lives of Ohioans than it would be otherwise.  People talk about the election with their friends, debate the choices, and post yard signs and maybe even attend a rally or volunteer for their candidate.  It’s as if, with the pressure of “battleground” status, Ohioans feel a certain obligation to the rest of the country and think hard about how to cast their vote.  And good-natured discussion with your friends, family, and colleagues about the choices was a big part of the whole decisional process.

This year, though, has a decidedly different feel to it.  There’s not as much activity from the campaigns.  One night last week both President Obama and Donald Trump were in Columbus for speeches, which resurrected some of the hectic feel to which we’ve become accustomed in presidential election years, but it also reinforced how things have changed since 2012, and 2008, and 2004:  in those years, visits from the competing campaigns were virtually a daily occurrence.  This year, not so much.

And this year the vibe of the people of Ohio is different, too.  There are still some true-believer advocates for both candidates in Ohio (although in my neck of the woods you won’t see any pro-Trump signs), but for the most part the population seems to be sad and depressed.  People don’t want to talk about the election, or the candidates, or anything having to do with politics.  The only passion comes when people start talking about how deeply flawed the candidates are, and how rotten the choice is, and how the process really needs to be changed so we don’t end up with such a terrible choice, ever again.  Sometimes this feeling comes out in strong words about what a disaster it would be if one candidate, or the other, were elected — but it is always strong words against a candidate, and never strong words for a candidate.  The only real energy seems to be negative energy.

What does this mean?  It means people talk about the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Indians even more than they would otherwise.  It means you try to avoid any mention of the election at lunch or at social gatherings, for fear of loosing another eruption of that terrible negative energy.  It means you really don’t want to live in a battleground state anymore, and would rather just forget about the whole thing.

What does it mean about how Ohioans will vote come Election Day?  I don’t know, but I do think I wouldn’t really trust the polls this year.  I think we are dealing with an electorate that is deeply guarded about their feelings and trying to work through a bleak, deep reservoir of disappointment and bile about parties, processes, and candidates.  I’m skeptical about how many Ohioans are sharing their real feelings with pollsters.  Pollsters just remind us about how the system has let us down.  Who really wants to share their true feelings with walking, talking reminders of a failed process?