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Who wooda thunk it?

  Here we are at the major baseball leagues all-star game and the Philly Phillies are sitting up at the very top of the National League’s east division. It was just a few months ago that the overwhelming majority of the experts who get paid big bucks to write or talk about professional sports were counting the team out for this year. Only one of those we read said there was a very slight outside possibility that, with a generous dose of luck, they just might end up as the second ‘wild card’ when the regular season turns into the postseason come early autumn.

The 95 games played so far is a long way from completing the 162 which make up the season and we’re not about to prognosticate prematurely, but at this point we’ll pronounce the Phillies an unexpected and most welcome success. Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, Rhys Hoskins, Maikel Franco, Jake Arrieta and even Seranthony Dominguez aren’t yet ticketed for that baseball Valhalla up in Cooperstown, N.Y., but their on-field performance and that of the rest of the roster has caused fans to sit up and take notice.

All we can say is that we trust they’ll keep it up the rest of the way and wish them the best. It has been 10 years since the last World Series championship; it’s high time for another. Go, Phils. Go!


An out-of-control kindergarten

  There was a television commercial a few years back promoting vacation travel which featured a teacher at her wits’ end trying to cope with an out-of-control kindergarten class. She went on her vacation and, we hope, was fired when she returned, and the commercial eventually vanished from the screen. But we were reminded of it by hearing and reading about yesterday’s marathon interrogation of F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok at a joint hearing of House of Representatives Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees.

Republicans were mouthing support for President Donald Trump’s verbal attacks on the integrity of the intelligence community, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and, ultimately, the continuing investigation of relations between the Trump 2016 campaign organization and Russia-directed efforts to influence the outcome of the election. Democrats were supportive of the F.B.I. and its many decades of proven integrity. Anyone outside the Fox News orbit has to agree that Mr. Strzok and the committees’ Democrat minorities were hands-down winners, a victory which, on the grand scale of important stuff, doesn’t count for much.

Mr. Strzok was obviously irresponsible for airing his anti-Trump views prior to the election in personal e-mails he should have known, given his position with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, might become public. The question is not whether expressing political opinions is a right all Americans have – it is – but whether Mr. Strzok and his colleagues acted improperly to advance those views. There is conclusive evidence they did not. He and the F.B.I. at the time had more than conjecture that Russia was interfering with the election and releasing – or just leaking – some of that information would doubtless have had a profound effect on the result.

It's impossible to regard yesterday’s proceedings as anything but a parody on congressional oversight. “With all its yelling and interruptions, the hearing was a fitting coda to the hyperpartisan farce of an investigation that House Republicans have conducted into the F.B.I. and Mr. Mueller’s Russia probe,” The Washington Post says today in an editorial. “Oversight panels have devolved into partisan conspiracy machines racked by political bickering. The result is needless harm to the F.B.I. just when the agency should be focused on preventing more foreign attacks on the nation’s democracy.”


All we can add is that we find it hard to believe that these rambunctious kindergarteners are the same grown-ups we sent to Washington to make our laws and oversee the functioning of our government.


It'll get worse before it gets better

Did someone think to count the towels still in the executive washroom before Scott Pruitt left the Environmental Protection Agency building? Corruption and government at all levels have long been friends, but Mr. Pruitt has to rank among the all-time leaders when it comes to brazen malefactors in cabinet-level positions in the United States government. He’s a shoo-in for the Sticky Fingers Hall of Fame.

Of course it’s understandable that someone with exotic tastes who has spent some time in the nation’s capital would want to take home a used mattress from Trump® International Hotel Washington D.C. Who wouldn’t want his wife to land a $200,000+ job, preferably with a minimal amount of work expected? And how better to escape loud-mouth cellphone users than with a personal sound-proof telephone booth of your very own? Think what you could do with a fistful of customized silver fountain pens emblazoned with your autograph @$130 apiece.

Senator Tom Carper, who serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee, summed it up very well in a recent e-mail: “Mr. Pruitt’s brazen abuse of his position for his own personal gain has been absolutely astounding, rivaled only by the silence of far too many in Congress and in the White House who allowed Mr. Pruitt’s unethical, and, at times, possibly illegal behavior to go unchecked. History will not look kindly on this era: neither on Mr. Pruitt’s entirely irresponsible tenure nor on Congress’ abdication of its constitutional responsibilities all in order to protect political allies.”

We hope that Mr. Pruitt doesn’t get too comfortable back in Tulsa with his good buddies in the oil and natural gas business. Don’t forget he’s still the subject of something like 15 inspector general investigations back at the E.P.A. We trust that those inquiries will be allowed to continue to conclusion and that the former administrator will have to return to answer to their findings. And, we add, bear the resultant consequences, financial, legal and otherwise.

Unfortunately, Mr. Pruitt’s personal conduct while in office is just the proverbial tip of an iceberg which isn’t likely to be melted by global warming – assuming that climate change isn’t just another bit of whimsey by the scientific community abetted by the fake news media. President Trump turned blind eyes to the shenanigans going on at the E.P.A. because the administrator was “doing a great job” leading the administration’s charge against environmental regulations. 

The New York Times – which no objective person considers a purveyor of fake news – this week published a list of 46 mostly protective federal rules and regulations that have been scrapped and another 30 in the process of being eliminated. Just a sampling of some caught in E.P.A.’s sights and killed: a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions; a rule that prohibited use of hydrofluorocarbons – powerful greenhouse gases – as a replacement for ozone-depleting substances; limitations on toxic emissions from major industrial polluters; a rule that mines prove they are able to pay to clean up future pollution.

Before you get the idea that Mr. Pruitt’s exit is good news for the environment, listen to Lukas Ross, senior policy analyst for Friends of the Earth. “The only person more dangerous than Scott Pruitt,” he said, “is Andrew Wheeler.”

Mr. Wheeler was immediately appointed acting E.P.A. administrator pending nomination and Senate confirmation of a new administrator, possibly himself. What’s important is that he comes not with a mandate to get the agency back on course, but to carry on with the Trump administration’s dangerous deregulation policy. Without the distraction of his predecessor’s inane antics, he’ll be able to devote his full efforts to that. In short, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.


A must-read book

 It isn’t a beach read, but you’d do well to put # NEVER AGAIN at the top of your summer-reading list. The miniature-size paperback sells for ±$10 – there’s also a somewhat cheaper electronic edition – and an average reader, if so inclined, can get through it in a single sitting.

That’s not to imply, however, that it’s not a serious work nor one that can or should be easily forgotten. It’s both.

Written by two teenage survivors – brother and younger sister David and Lauren Hogg – of the mass shootings last winter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., it takes you into their besieged classrooms that fateful afternoon. There were many eye-witness stories published and broadcast at the time, but the Hoggs’ stories are told only after you’ve been given enough details about their previous outward lives and inward feelings that they are real kids you actually know.

Stoneman Douglas High School was the site of the second St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The first occurred during the Prohibition era when gangsters were mowed down in a garage in Chicago. This year the victims were mostly youngsters doing what they were supposed to be doing on a normal school day. For 14 students, a teacher, a security guard and coach, and the school’s athletic director it was their last school day. Historians generally agree that the first massacre had what, for the perpetrators, was an unintended consequence, repeal of Prohibition. It’s still quite possible that the second will result in a very much intended consequence, reasonable and effective gun control.

Four days after the shootings, three students – Cameron Kasky, Alex Wind and Sofie Whitney – decided that mourning, memorial services, prayers and condolences were not enough. If adults talked for a while about taking steps to prevent needless slaughter of young people but did little to nothing to bring it about, it was high time that young people took the lead to make sure something a clear majority of Americans believe has to happen happens. They enlisted some schoolmates – including David Hogg, Alfonso Calderon, Sarah Chadwick, Jaclyn Corin, Ryan Deitsch, and Emma González – and formed Never Again M.S.D.

Using social media and the grapevine the instruments of instantaneous communication have become, the group mobilized untold numbers of teens and twenty-somethings to organize media interviews, open meetings, rallies and demonstrations not only in Florida but around the country. The March for Our Lives in Washington and cities literally on every continent except Antarctica attracted probably a million participants and a vast television audience on March 24. That clearly demonstrated the potential of a dedicated movement. This summer a nationwide motor tour will urge young people to register and vote in November for candidates on the right side of gun control.


Here comes the judge

If the boss tells you on Friday afternoon there’s something important s/he has to tell you but will wait until Monday so as not to ruin your weekend, how enjoyable would you expect the next two days to be? Something like that pertains to the nation this weekend.

President Trump has said he’s deciding whom to nominate to fill the Supreme Court vacancy and will make the announcement on Monday. He reportedly has interviewed at least seven prospective justices, but claims he hasn’t asked any of them how they’d rule on overturning Roe v. Wade, his grossly inhumane border policy, gun reform, affirmative action, health care, tariffs, et al. Irrespective of how often Mr. Trump is known to have lied or made misleading public statements – 3,250 times, or an average of six and a half a day, since taking office, according to the latest Washington Post tabulation – it may even be true there was a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy in effect at the White House during the closed-door interviews. Also, there’s no evidence – yet – that the president brought up the matter of swearing personal loyalty to him as he has done with cabinet and other offices.

It doesn’t really matter because the interviewees were culled from a list compiled by right-wing organizations. Those certainly are the most thoroughly vetted job seekers in the current administration. You can rest assured it has been fully determined that they will echo Mr. Trump from the bench on every opportunity which arises.

The so far seldom-mentioned wild card in all this is the fact a Trumpian court may well be called upon to decide matters which affect him directly. The president and several cohorts are under active criminal investigation. In one or more ways, a related court finding could easily rise to the level of a landmark ruling on such principles as whether a president is above the law and-or whether the rule of law prevails in this country.

It is incumbent upon every U.S. senator – including Republicans inclined to believe their obligation to the nation trumps their present fear of opposing their supreme leader – to listen to their consciences as they participate in the ratification process. Will they agree to seat a judge on the highest tribunal in the land who has fixed opinions about the outcomes of major cases before hearing testimony or possibly has already made a commitment to someone with a strong interest in those outcome? We suggest that none of the 100 senators would accept that if applied to the lowest-standing magistrate back home. 


Why Beethoven turned on Napoleon

 If listening to classical music is your Independence Day thing but you've heard Tchaikovsky's 1812 Festival Overture so often that you no longer flinch when the cannons open fire, may we suggest you listen to someone from the opposite side this year.

Tchaik was celebrating the 70th anniversary of Napoleon’s Grande Armée being driven in ignominious retreat from Mother Russia. It so happened that Ludwig van Beethoven was a great fan of the then First Consul of France and his enthusiasm for the Little Corporal was unflinching. So when he jotted down the last notes for his third symphony, nearly a decade before Napoleon left Moscow with egg on his face, Luddie wrote – in Italian for reasons not clear to us – ‘Sinfonia intitolata Bonaparte’ (‘Symphony entitled Bonaparte’) on the cover and left the manuscript on a table where all his friends could see it.   

The composition was  inspiring. No less an authority than Leonard Bernstein once likened it to “Zeus with a fistful of thunderbolts or Thor wielding his hammer.” Critics have said it covers the full range of human emotions – daring heroism; despair and mourning; rousing triumph; and more. In short, it’s a symphony fit for an inspirer, a true champion of the people.

Why are we telling you all this?

While wandering through  the Internet we came across the rest of the story. You may, like us, find an interesting parallel to today worth thinking about this Independence Day.

We'll let  music historian Alexander Lee, a fellow at the University of Warwick, near Coventry, England, take it  from there:

“Beethoven was in for a nasty surprise. Not long after putting the final touches to his symphony, [his pupil Ferdinard] Ries came to him with news that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor of France. Beethoven was furious. Flying into a rage, the composer shouted: ‘So he is no more than a common mortal. Now he, too, will tread underfoot all the rights of man [and] indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men [and] become a tyrant!’ Snatching up a pen, Beethoven then strode over to the score and scribbled out the title so violently that he tore through the paper. Thenceforth, the work would be known simply as the Sinfonia Eroica (‘Heroic Symphony’).”





Media ignores the Blue Rocks

There’s no practical way to determine if Wilmington is unique, but it’s reasonable to believe there are very few cities with a professional sports franchise that’s all but ignored by local media.

The other evening we went down to the Riverfront and enjoyed watching an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel. It was  a good game professionally played. There was just the right amount of on-field entertainment between innings.

Next morning we found nary a word about the game posted on Delaware On-line, the Gannett-News Journal website, nor that of W.D.E.L., Delmarva Broadcasting’s flagship radio station. The News Journal website – and, we presume, the related newspaper – carried articles about the Philadelphia Phillies, the out-of-season Eagles and Seventy-sixers, girls golf and a rehash of previously announced new football coaches at local high schools. We can’t deny continuing interest hereabout in those topics goes well beyond the Eagles’ victory in the Super Bowl or Villanova’s winning the N.C.A.A. college basketball championship, thanks mainly to Salesianum graduate Donte DiVincenzo. But we also think the Wilmington Blue Rocks deserve considerably more public attention than they’re getting.

Believe it or not, a few of us who root, root, rooted for the original hometown Blue Rocks team are still around and we’ve carried fond memories down though many years. There was no lack of coverage in those bygone days about who won -- and lost -- the games. The players were household names; we argued their strengths and weaknesses ad infinitum in the schoolyard; thrilled when we asked them face-to-face to please autograph the ball with the batmark on it that we actually caught when it flew our way.

If you go by 30th Street and Northeast Boulevard and listen closely, you’re liable to hear the sad refrain originally written to mourn Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn:

And there used to be a ballpark
Where the field was warm and green.
And the people played their crazy game
With a joy I'd never seen.
And the air was such a wonder
From the hot-dogs and the beer.
Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here.

And there used to be rock candy,
And a great big Fourth of July
With the fireworks exploding
All across the summer sky.
And the people watched in wonder
How they'd laugh and how they'd cheer!
And there used to be a ballpark right here.

Now the children try to find it,
And they can't believe their eyes
'Cause the old team just isn't playing,
And the new team hardly tries.
And the sky has got so cloudy
When it used to be so clear,
And the summer went so quickly this year.
Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here.

[Joseph G Raposo © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.]

We also remember going door-to-door and explaining to the neighbor lady why she ought to sign the Save-the-Blue-Rocks petition we were carrying when the Interstate League was folding because the Blue Rocks and the other teams had lost their fan base.

As far as we can tell, today’s Blue Rocks are still very much viable. They draw reasonable-size crowds and an evening spent by Judy Johnson Field in Daniel S. Frawley Stadium in south Wilmington is still an enjoyable family experience. Those who follow the sport appreciate the opportunity to witness the early careers of potential stars who’ll follow the likes of Zach Greinke and Eric Hosmer as they climb the baseball ladder from Class A to the Majors. Few will make it, but that won't be for lack of trying 

We don’t advocate boosterism, but believe objective media attention toward a recognizable community asset is very much in order. 


Age discrimination

Time  reports that  the College Board has decreed that history began in 1450, not at the dawn of civilization, as we've always thought since -- well -- the dawn of civilization. While it's a private organization, the board's S.A.T. tests have a lot to do with who gets into college and its advanced-placement program determines some of how much they have to study after they get there.

What this is all about is the content of a.p. courses high school kids take and the tests which determine if they pass and are eligible for college credits. The board said there's too much to be learned in the courses. So the decree seeks to cut that down by limiting a.p. world history to studying about and being tested on historical involvement only of folk born after the middle of the 15th century.

We've been told that our generation enjoyed learning history because there was a lot less history to learn then than there is now.

If the board has its way with high school curriculum administrators -- and it probably will --  today's teens will come up way short with no knowledge of Moses

(b. 1394 B.C.),  Buddha (b. 567 B.C.), Confucius 

(b. 552 B.C.), Jesus (b. 3 B.C.), or Muhammad (b. A.D. 570).

Imagine growing up unaware that such old friends as Abraham and his son Isaac, King Tut, Homer, Aristotle, Hannibal and his elephants, Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, Constantine, Attila the Hun, Charlemagne,  Genghis Khan and Marco Polo were born too soon to have trod this planet. Look on the bright side: Christopher Columbus, Leonardo da Vinci,  Michelangelo, Martin Luther, Q.E. 1 and Shakespeare all made the cut. 


Clear and present danger


Extent of the harm done this week to the system of checks and balances the founding fathers wisely built into the Constitution will gradually unfold over the next several weeks and months. However, it already is a matter of grave concern. A government of three separate branches independent of each other has for more than 200 years preserved America’s freedom and democracy through good times and bad. History offers many examples of what happens when a demagogue wrests control of a country’s government from its people.  

There is much not to like in the Supreme Court’s split decision upholding President Donald J. Trump’s executive order banning travel to the United States by persons form eight nations, six of which have Muslim-majority populations. Writing for the five-judge court majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. gave virtual carte blanche to any president to take such actions in the name of national security now and in the future. That makes sense given that the president has an unquestioned obligation to defend the country against all enemies, foreign or domestic. What’s more, a responsible president certainly could be expected to consult qualified military and civilian advisors, as well as the established intelligence agencies and not take such obligation lightly. 

Unfortunately, we do not have a responsible president. We have one who acts impulsively, guided only by personal and political motivations, be they good or, in most instances, evil.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of four dissenters from the decision, wrote in a blistering opinion that the court’s ‘conservative’ majority was “blindly accepting the Government’s misguided invitation to sanction a discriminatory policy.” She did not have to reference the numerous bigoted, racist and blatantly disturbing comments that have emanated from the White House since President Trump’s took office nearly a year and a half ago. We all have heard them and no one, supporter or opponent, can have any reasonable doubt about where the president stands.

We wonder why Justice Roberts was willing to overlook President Trump’s well-documented reputation as a pervasive liar when he claimed to have acted as a matter of national security. Nor can we understand why the judge ignored the fact that the executive order before the court was a third version that admittedly had been sanitized to slip by constitutional muster.

What concerns us most is that the court decision has taken us another giant step in a direction we should fear to go. It is evident that Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, despite references to his integrity at the time of his appointment, may actually be another Trump surrogate in an important position willing and anxious to do the president’s bidding. With Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s announcement of his impending retirement, the way is open for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to foist a sixth member of the court’s trumpian bloc upon us. Unlike three years ago when the senator refused to even consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, he is anxious now to act before voters have the opportunity in November to determine the political makeup of the chamber which has to ratify President Trump’s nominee.

It will require a strenuous effort to direct public outrage against a corrupt administration that already has blatantly disparaged rule of law, due process, fair trials and respect for human dignity. Given that outrage against the ‘zero tolerance’ enforcement policy forced at least a partial backdown, moral leadership from both major parties can turn the tide against an even more egregious danger. We can only hope it will be forthcoming.



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