Thursday, August 25, 2011

Prime-time players

There is plenty to like about youth sports. It can build confidence, form long-lasting friendships, develop skills, and so forth.

But there are drawbacks too. You've heard of parents who drive their kids too hard while either living out their own frustrated dreams or trying to get them to earn a college scholarship. There's the common sense of such matters as, should there be travel teams for children under 10?

And that brings us to Little League.

The World Series in Williamsport, Pa., right now, as the best teams from around the world are competing to be American, International, and Overall champion. While I'd hate to think that a 13-year-old can have a thrill of a lifetime -- kind of makes the rest of his or her life an anticlimax -- there's no doubt that it's an exciting time.

During the last few years, all of the games on the finals are broadcast on ESPN. Some of the regional tournament games are shown too.

That idea makes me a little uncomfortable.

OK, I get the easy part. The games must get ratings, or they wouldn't be on national television. I don't know what the rights fees involved, but it must help Little League do some good things with youth baseball.

Still ... it's easy to wonder if it is a good idea to put this much pressure on children who may not be prepared to handle it. Sure they say they want to be on television now. But I think of the young pitcher who gave up a walk-off homer to lose the championship for a few years ago. Think kids will bring that up for years to come when they need a verbal weapon? Think opposing players in his area will keep it in mind if they face him down the road?

On ESPN tonight, the broadcast showed a split screen of the Red Sox-Rangers game on ESPN2, and of a round-robin game from Williamsport. Is it fair to imply that they are equal in a way in that fashion?

I'm not sure I know the answers to all that. I just know that it's not in anyone's interests to ask the question, except in the case of the kids.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Great Caesar's Ghost

The original Superman television series from the Fifties had a certain charm that is timeless. Some baby boomers (like me) grew up with the reruns that were shown over and over, and the program even landed on TV Land for a while.

But ... the reruns never included the charming advertisements that the cast filmed for Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Like this one:

This ad raises a couple of questions. One, if you were the editor of the Daily Planet, would you put your full name on your mailbox? Sounds like you'd be asking for trouble.

Two, why is Clark Kent hanging out in the front yard of his boss when Mr. White is eating his breakfast? You'd think Perry would consider that a little creepy.

Then again, the editor of the Daily Planet put out a great metropolitan newspaper with only three reporters -- Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. He must have known what he was doing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Triple trouble

Just when you've seen it all at a baseball game, a play comes along like this:

Nashville went on to win the game.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nothing in the mailbox

The Buffalo Bills have ended the public portion of their 2011 training camp at St. John Fisher outside of Rochester. They'll do their practicing in private now, away from the prying eyes of the public.

That seems appropriate. This is a team that seems to get more anonymous by the moment.

There's been plenty of excitement around many NFL teams in the past few weeks. The lockout came to an end, compressing an entire offseason into a week. Free agents were available, trades could be made, draft choices could be signed, etc. The possibilities seemed, well, if not endless, at least large in number.

But in Buffalo, much of the news seemed a bit discouraging. There were a couple of veteran starters from previous Buffalo teams who had become free agents. Donte Whitner was expected to depart, and he did for San Francisco. Meanwhile, linebacker Paul Posluszny opted to jump to Jacksonville for a big offer and a chance to play in a 4-3 defense.

Now, neither player is an all-pro. Whitner didn't seem to make many plays at safety; George Wilson seemed to find himself around the football more often in spot duty. Posluszny had a lot of tackles, although it's tough to say if that's a tribute to the lack of talent in front of him in the defensive line. Still, these are established NFL players.

On the incoming side, the Bills signed Tyler Thigpen to fill the backup quarterback role. He seems OK for that role, but he's not someone at the moment who might start a quarterback controversy. Brad Smith, a wide receiver/running back/quarterback, is an interesting player but probably is a complimentary part rather than a key ingredient.

During the course of camp, the news got odder. Buffalo's offensive line hasn't been very good in recent times. The team may have had little to lose, but Eric Wood moved over to center to replace Geoff Hangartner for the moment. That left Kraig Urbik as a starting guard, which was, um, surprising. And the other night Chad Reinhart starting taking snaps with the first team. That was a demotion for Andy Levitre, who had started most of the games for the last couple of years. Again, hmmm.

Then there was the surprising trade of Lee Evans to Baltimore for a measly fourth-round pick. A couple of years ago Evans was one of the few Bills on the lists of the 100 best players in the NFL. His numbers have dropped in the last couple of years. Was that due to decaying talent or the constant quarterback shuffling of the past few years? The Bills must have felt they wouldn't renew his contract in February, so they wanted to get something, anything for him now. Still, he was another veteran NFL player who had departed with nothing much of value coming this way in return.

Finally, there's the strange case of Aaron Maybin, who was the team's first-round draft choice two years ago. His playing time dropped off drastically as the months went by, to the point where he couldn't get on the gameday roster by the end of last season. Then, when told to bulk up in order to play linebacker at camp, he reported at 225 pounds. Maybin could be crushed at that weight by opposing 350-pound tackles. I'll miss him, though; he was an unfortunately easy target for jokes in The News' "Five Spot" column.

Last year, I wrote in a blog that the saddest part of the Bills' problems was that they just didn't seem to matter nationally. Yes, they had an NFL franchise, but it was filled with anonymous players and hadn't won consistently in years. I'm not willing to give up on the front office and coaching staff yet, but they still have some selling to do (in the form of better play) to convince me that relevance is around the corner.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The August blues

It sure has been a great August so far for a nation's leaders, eh? Think they want to go back to July for a do-over?

We've had the debt ceiling debate, the credit rating drop, the death of 30 soldiers in Afghanistan, and the stock market bounces for starters. For those of you adding up the winners and losers here, a winner is tough to find.

Recapping, President Obama tried his best to be the adult in the room when it came to the debt limit. He even gave in on raising taxes as part of a broader settlement, and essentially got nowhere in the talks. Then again, he walked out of one session saying he was taking the matter to the American people, which didn't exactly look Presidential.

Then earlier this week, he made a speech that tied together, at least within the confines of his remarks, the Afghanistan tragedy and the credit rating cut. Not sure who had that idea, but there was no way to make it look graceful. Bad idea there.

(For the record, Obama's speech came in early afternoon, and the stock market continued its plunge for the rest of that day. The New York Post implied there was a connection in its stories and headlines for Tuesday's paper, which was silly and unfair. Tough to defend that, speaking as a fellow journalist.)

Most people don't realize that a President can't do much about the economy. If Greece and Italy have problems, the Americans don't have much control. But the casualties from the Afghan occupation and reconstruction (it's really that more than a war in most ways) is a reminder that we've been there for 10 years, and little seems to change from the eye of a distant observer.

Still, Congress looks even worse midway through the month. No one could agree on much of anything in the debt talks, even within parties. The tea party folks weren't thrilled with Speaking John Boehmer's efforts at "compromise," which the liberals thought the lack of tax cuts made it a bad deal. Not a grown-up to be found among any of the principals there. Even the idea of holding up the debt ceiling for political reasons seems silly. Didn't the country promise to pay its bills when it launched those programs? Don't we have a proverbial solemn obligation to do so now? No one really understands much of what deal was made, and no one has much faith that the 12-member super-committee can figure something out in the current political climate.

And the members of Congress paid the price in the public opinion polls. While Obama's approval rating is in the 40's, Congress' rating is down to about 14 percent. How would you like to manage a reelection campaign for any of those people? "No thanks, I'm busy in 2012."

A commentator appearing on C-SPAN the other day made a great point about the political situation in Washington these days (wasn't taking notes, sorry). He said all of the liberals are Democrats and all the conservatives are Republicans. There are few people in between any more. In the old days, Southern Democrats were conservative on some issues, while Eastern Republicans were rather moderate. Now there's not much room for negotiations.

That has led to the rise of calling people RINO's (Republicans in name only) who try to figure out ways of settling disputes. If you haven't noticed, when one side controls the House and the other side controls the Senate, there are disputes.

As usual, the American people seem to be way ahead of the politicians on the matter of the debt limit. Polls indicate they want a combination of tax hikes that affect the wealthy a bit more and close loopholes, combined with good-sized cuts in spending. They at least intuitively realize that tax rates are historically low, with few people in the bottom half of income brackets paying anything (would something like a co-payment hurt?) and the upper half seemed to do pretty well under President Clinton with a top tax rate at 39.6 percent instead of the current 35.

And that's what some of the arguments have been about -- 4.6 percent points. We're not talking about 35 versus 82 percent, like it was 50 years ago, or even 50, under President Reagan. You'd think reasonable people could reach a happy medium (I know, I know).

Focusing on the top at the moment, you'd think Obama should be in some trouble when it comes to reelection. Still, no one looks ready to gain the nomination in a right-wing party and then then go to win the Presidency. Are anyone besides donors enthusiastic about Mitt Romney? Would you love to campaign against Rick Perry, who shared a podium last week with a preacher who claimed New Orleans was hit by Katrina because it was a city of sin?

I'm not sure if we're going to come out of this with anger or apathy in 2012. But the political landscape is waiting to be shaken if someone or something can provide the energy.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Across the Atlantic

I've occasionally shared here stories from my family tree. Here's a pretty good one.

With so many of my ancestors living in Massachusetts, I've often wondered if any of them had a connection to the Mayflower. Seems like the odds would be in favor of it. My cousins' mother did have such an ancestor, but I couldn't find one.

Until Friday.

Then I found a link back to the parents of Elizabeth Howland through Grandma Bailey. lit up when I added those names to the family tree, as they both came over on the Mayflower.

It seems that John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley crossed the ocean blue in 1620. I was starting to feel a little snooty about the whole thing when I read that Howland actually worked as a man-servant for the Carver family while making the trip, although he probably was closer to an administrative assistant in some ways. In other words, though, he probably helped unload the Mayflower.

"Hey, Howland, get these trunks off the boat! Put them by that big rock on the shore for now!"

Howland almost died on the way, according to accounts, but made it to Plymouth. Tilley, who was around 14 upon arrival, came with her parents. Sadly, the winter of 1620-21 was a tough one, and both of Elizabeth's parents died in the spring of 1621. That left Elizabeth as an orphan. John Carver also died in the spring of 1621 he had been the first Governor of the group.

Within a few years, Howland and Tilley got married and had a daughter, also named Elizabeth, some years later. You've got to believe that John didn't have a whole lot of romantic competition for Elizabeth; not many other single men were in town. And the family tree goes from there.

Too bad my grandmother missed out on hearing this story. She would have enjoyed knowing that her great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents had made the trip to Plymouth.