Some thoughts about the Boy Scouts’ move to admit girls

Photo (cc) 2013 by Phoebe Baker

I’m no longer involved with the Boy Scouts (not boycotting; just at a different stage of my life), but I continue to take an interest in what they’re up to. Admitting girls and giving them a chance to become Eagle Scouts strikes me as odd, given that both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts were set up with the idea that there is value in having single-gender youth programs. The Girl Scouts aren’t admitting boys, so this comes across as an effort by the Boy Scouts to encroach on the Girl Scouts’ turf in order to bolster their own shrinking programs.

When our kids were younger, I was a Boy Scout leader and my wife was a Girl Scout leader. It was my impression that the Girl Scouts was a better-run program with none of the issues that bedeviled the Boy Scouts such as its longtime ban on gay scouts and leaders (since lifted) and atheists (still in effect).

I’m not sure how the Girl Scouts can respond to this latest move. The Boy Scouts may well have some success in recruiting girls who would rather be in a program integrated by gender. In our Facebook discussion, a few people have suggested that the Boy Scouts have a more robust outdoors program than the Girl Scouts, and that girls interested in that should be welcomed. Still, I’m skeptical as to whether this is a good move.

Over at The Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson offers a different perspective.

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Remembering Muhammad Ali

Malcolm X photographs Muhammad Ali after his first defeat of Sonny Liston. Photo via Wikipedia.

There was a time when those of us in our 50s and 60s cared about boxing. The one and only reason for that was Muhammad Ali, who died Friday at the age of 74. Ali was a great boxer, but it was his persona that made him so appealing: smart, funny, antiwar, an outspoken voice against racism.

I was not a huge boxing fan. Besides, in those days boxing was a big business, and you couldn’t see major bouts without paying money to watch it on closed-circuit TV in a movie theater. I never did that. But I remember organizing a betting pool among my fellow ninth-graders in Middleborough for the first fight between Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971.

My most vivid Ali memory also did not involve seeing him actually fight. His epic battle with George Foreman in what is now Congo took place on the night that I attended my first Bruce Springsteen concert—October 30, 1974. Everyone was convinced that Foreman would crush the aging, smaller Ali. After three and a half thrilling, exhausting hours of the 25-year-old Bruce, the promoter came out at 12:30 a.m. to announce that Ali had won. Pandemonium ensued.

No one cares about boxing anymore, and I think Ali had a lot to do with that, too. When he was young, it seemed as though he never even got hit. In the latter stages of his career, unfortunately, his strategy—as in the Foreman fight—was to absorb a terrible beating, and then to come out swinging once his opponent was exhausted. It almost certainly led to his Parkinson’s, and it’s a big reason why boxing has moved off center stage and into the shadows.

You have to wonder if football will be next.

Firing the manager: An idea that never made much sense

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Grounds crew before the Red Sox’ 8-7 soggy win over the Yankees. Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy.

At the end of the Red Sox’ disastrous 2011 season, Terry Francona—the greatest manager in team history—was fired (and kicked hard on his way out). The excuse: Well, you can’t fire the players. In fact, that’s exactly what they needed to do, and they did it the following year.

So now we come to John Farrell. As Nick Cafardo points out in the Boston Globe, calls that Farrell has to go are being stilled for the moment, but you can be sure they’ll be back as soon as the Sox start losing games again.

I don’t get it. I’ve never gotten it. If you have a manager who has the trust of the front office, why wouldn’t you keep him for as long as he wants to manage—five or 10 years, maybe more? Yes, there are some genuinely bad managers who have to go (Grady Little, Bobby Valentine). Same with general managers (Ben Cherington). For the most part, though, if you’ve got a good manager or GM, keep him.

Some of Farrell’s in-game moves are mystifying, but the team plays hard for him and he handles the pitching staff well—as you would expect, given that he was a very good pitching coach. The Red Sox were wrong to get rid of Francona, who may have needed a season off the field but should have stayed with the team; they’d be wrong to get rid of Farrell.

Why #blacklivesmatter matters

A powerful conclusion to this New York Times editorial:

The “Black Lives Matter” movement focuses on the fact that black citizens have long been far more likely than whites to die at the hands of the police, and is of a piece with this history. Demonstrators who chant the phrase are making the same declaration that voting rights and civil rights activists made a half-century ago. They are not asserting that black lives are more precious than white lives. They are underlining an indisputable fact — that the lives of black citizens in this country historically have not mattered, and have been discounted and devalued. People who are unacquainted with this history are understandably uncomfortable with the language of the movement. But politicians who know better and seek to strip this issue of its racial content and context are acting in bad faith. They are trying to cover up an unpleasant truth and asking the country to collude with them.

Remembering the nine victims of the Charleston shootings

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Look at this image of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church‘s home page. Nothing has changed since the horrifying murders of nine people Wednesday evening. The site also includes this quote from Sister Jean German Ortiz, who, I assume, is or was a member of the church: “Jesus died a passionate death for us,  so our love for Him should be as passionate.”

They died passionately for our sins — we, the inheritors and conservators of a Confederate-flag-waving, gun-drenched culture that has only partly come to terms with our legacy of slavery and racism. The Washington Post has sketches of each of the nineSharonda Coleman-Singleton, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson. Sadly, with the possible exception of Rev. Pinckney, we’ll have an easier time remembering the name of the shooter, Dylann Storm Roof. There’s only one of him, and in any case evil holds our attention more easily than good.

I’m not sure why this terrible crime would spark any disagreements other than the inevitable disagreement over guns. But for some reason people are debating whether this is a “hate crime” or an act of “terrorism.” It strikes me that it’s obviously both — a home-grown act of terror committed by someone filled with hate.

But enough bloviating. Here is a short list of articles I’ve read that I hope will broaden our understanding.

I begin with our finest essayist, Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic, who has written an eloquent demand that South Carolina remove the Confederate flag immediately. He writes:

This moral truth [a reference to a speech by a Confederate politician] — “that the negro is not equal to the white man” — is exactly what animated Dylann Roof. More than any individual actor, in recent history, Roof honored his flag in exactly the manner it always demanded — with human sacrifice.

Too bad Gov. Charlie Baker’s initial reaction to a question about the Stars and Bars was so clueless. Dan Wasserman of The Boston Globe does a whole lot better.

The New York Times publishes a piece by Douglas R. Egerton, the biographer of Emanuel AME founder Denmark Vesey, on the history of the church — a history marred by numerous racist attacks, the most recent coming in 1963. Here’s Egerton:

For 198 years, angry whites have attacked Emanuel A.M.E. and its congregation, and when its leaders have fused faith with political activism, white vigilantes have used terror to silence its ministers and mute its message of progress and hope.

Egerton also links to a 2014 Times article on the unveiling of a statue of Vesey, who, along with 34 others, was executed following a failed slave rebellion. Incredibly, there were those who opposed the statue on the grounds that Vesey was a “terrorist.” Think about that if you hear anyone deny that Roof carried out an act of terrorism.

I’ll close with my friend Charlie Pierce, who posted a commentary at Esquire on Thursday that demonstrated tough, clear-eyed thinking at a moment when the rest of us were still trying to figure out what had just happened. Pierce writes:

What happened in a Charleston church on Wednesday night is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is “unspeakable.” We should speak of it often. We should speak of it loudly. We should speak of it as terrorism, which is what it was. We should speak of it as racial violence, which is what it was.

Please keep the nine victims and their families in your thoughts today.

The Tsarnaev jury and the death penalty

Clockwise from top left: Boston Marathon bombing  victims Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu and shooting victim Sean Collier.
Clockwise from top left: Boston Marathon bombing victims Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard and Lingzi Lu, and MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was murdered in the aftermath of the attack.

The jurors in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial had an unimaginably difficult job. They deserve our gratitude. The evidence and the sheer depravity of Tsarnaev’s crimes certainly support the death penalty, though I remain adamant in my opposition to it.

But let’s not forget that in a state without the death penalty, and in which polls showed a majority favored life in prison for Tsarnaev, prospective jurors who opposed capital punishment were barred from serving.

No, you don’t have to explain to me why. Allowing a death-penalty opponent onto the jury would have guaranteed a life sentence since there would be no possibility for a unanimous vote for death. But isn’t that just one more argument in favor of abolishing capital punishment?

Don’t take away Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s chance to repent

If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev doesn’t get the death penalty, he’ll be sentenced to a prison where he’s pretty much guaranteed to go insane, David Abel reports in The Boston Globe.

Tsarnaev deserves no luxuries and no special treatment. But he does deserve to be treated humanely, even though he treated his victims with wanton cruelty. Because that’s who we are — or should be.

We used to call prisons penitentiaries. Sometimes prisoners come to understand the horror of their crimes and undergo conversion experiences. That doesn’t mean Tsarnaev should ever be let out of prison — of course he shouldn’t. But we should not take away his chance to repent.