Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ashley, Grandpa, and Baseball

We took our granddaughter Ashley to the Kansas City Royals baseball game the other day. She missed being selected on the giant scoreboard as "Fan of the Game," probably because she wasn't in her seat at the time. She didn't get to meet the team mascot Sluggerrr when he stopped by our section, also because she wasn't in her seat at the time. She didn't get featured on the scoreboard's Kiss Cam--it seems she wasn't in her seat at the time. She did, however, get kissed quite a bit.

Her first game, which I had long been looking forward to, was a lot of fun, but it wasn't quite as I had imagined it would be,

I had thought she would sit on my lap most of the game as I explained to her the nuances of defensive alignments, told her stories from my love of baseball going back almost a half century, and helped her understand that she shouldn't cry when the fans suddenly erupted in a deafening roar that scared her. "This is the Royals, sweetheart. When yelling happens, that's a good thing, believe me."

I needed to give her context here. You see, Ashley, there was the crazy owner Charley Finley and the deified owner Ewing Kauffman. There was small market economics and why we hate the Yankees. There was the World Series in 1985 and virtually no series ever since. There was George Brett and Frank White, hemorrhoids and pine tar, and there was this handsomely remodeled stadium, the K (which goes back to the deified thing).

Ashley seemed to prefer the carousel. Whether there should be carousels in ballparks is a question that should be debated in a by-invitation-only conclave of folks wearing ball caps, badly-faded t-shirts with Dan Quisenberry's name on them, and possibly carrying a tattered baseball glove just in case a foul ball comes their way.

I choose not to take up that issue here. If it takes a carousel to get Ashley to the ballpark that's good enough for me. I know that as time goes by we'll learn from each other the things we love and explore the things we want to share.

In that spirit, please permit me this brief note to my granddaughter:

And so, Ashley, love of my heart. I'm oh so glad you went to the Royals game with us. It was great fun.

Oh, and just one other thing, Sweetheart.

Next time, maybe for an inning or two, you think maybe you could stay in your @#$%&%* seat? I need to explain when it's good to try the suicide squeeze and when it isn't. It's about lefthanders and righthanders, bat control and basepath speed, pitcher velocity and upcoming lineup.

Okay, okay! I know it'll take a while. I'll be patient.

Say, maybe next time you could show me that carousel?

Between innings, of course.

{{{}}} Love, from Grandpa.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Torture, Execution, and the Other Cheek

Originally uploaded by nobt
As a long-time opponent of the death penalty, I have been listening with considerable interest to the national debate on waterboarding and other forms of torture (now delightfully sanitized by the CIA as "enhanced interrogation techniques"). President Obama has repelled the popular notion that torture helps keep us safe in an era of terrorism. Instead, he says, it is our values that ultimately save us, not our ability to extract information from prisoners through a veil of pain and fear.

Opposition to the death penalty puts one at precisely the same intersection between expediency and principle. The inmates on death row are rarely perceived as nice people. Most of them (not all, but most) are guilty of the crimes for which they were sentenced, often horrendous in scope. They do not warrant our sympathy and in most cases they should never again walk freely beyond their prison walls. The cause of abolition is not about them, it is about us. It has to do with the values that are foundational to this nation and that define our place in a global society.

I can already hear the clucking of right wing tongues against bleeding heart liberals who do not have the stomach to do what is necessary to protect our nation from suicide bombers, rapists, and murderers. And, in fairness, many of those clucking tongues do not come from the political right alone. Positions on this issue do not fall cleanly along ideological lines. Often it is personal experience that shapes one's view.

The arguments against the death penalty are numerous--it is disproportionately applied to minorities and the poor, it is far more costly than life imprisonment, it is barbaric, it has taken the lives of the innocent, and there is no evidence that it serves as a deterrent. These and many similar arguments can be documented and are good and sufficient reasons to abolish it. But there is one that trumps them all: IT IS WRONG!

Arguing from moral principle, as Obama has with the torture issue, makes one an easy mark for those who argue from positions of self-righteousness, machismo, or expediency. The bad guys are clearly bad guys. There is no disagreement there. When people are afraid it is easy to let go of civil liberties, constitutional theories, and even logic. Fear becomes the defining issue that pushes others to the sideline.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is reported to have said "...if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also." (Matthew 5:39 NRSV) By citing the teaching of Jesus I do not mean to build public policy around biblical proof texts. We have way too much of that already, often to our detriment. I mention it only because it is a principle found not only in the Judeo-Christian tradition but in most of the great religions of the world. Although it is often used by proponents of pacifism, I prefer to think of it as a broad social principle that rejects vengeance and violence and embraces human dignity and worth as one of the values that is at the foundation of our culture.

Believing in that principle is pretty simple. Living it is not. Rejecting torture in times such as these is one important message that speaks to the world about the soul of our nation. Becoming the last nation in the Western world to abolish the death penalty would demonstrate that Americans truly do believe in the culture of life of which we often speak, but all too rarely embody.