Muhammad Ali and the real draft dodgers — our fathers

I was reading baseball posts the other day on azcentral.com, the digital version of the Arizona Republic newspaper.  The Diamondbacks lost a home series to the White Sox, and I was enjoying the banter of fans, their despair, their unrealistic expectations.  Then I ran across this post by someone using the handle, Rasputing:

“Once again the Arizona elitists require all of us to pay allegiance to our country’s greatest draft dodger, Muhammad Ali.  What do the rich and powerful care if we are a country at war.  Their sons and daughters don’t fight our wars anyway.”

Apparently Ali, the former heavyweight boxing champion, had attended Sunday’s game, and the stadium camera briefly homed in on him.  I wasn’t there, but I imagine he received a hearty applause.  He always does wherever he goes. 

The post generated a half-dozen or more responses, some pro and an overwhelming number against.   Strangely, it turned out to be the baseball game’s most popular topic on the message board.

“Your life must suck,” one poster responded.

Isn’t that something?  I thought.  A single event that happened in 1967, more than 44 years ago and mostly forgotten, triggering such anger.  And yet some Americans can not turn it loose.  They remember Ali as dodging the draft and refusing to fight in the Vietnam conflict.

For starters, Ali was not a draft dodger.  He was a conscientious objector for religious reasons.  Three years before, in 1964, shortly after winning the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston, the then-Cassius Clay announced he was now a Black Muslim and was changing his name to Muhammad Ali.  When called up for the draft in ’67, Ali claimed he was a minister for the Nation of Islam and his religion did not allow him to war in Vietnam. 

He did not help his cause by saying he had nothing against the U.S. enemy, the Vietcong, and bringing racism into the arena.  “No Vietcong ever called me nigger,”  Ali was quoted as saying.  But he was a black man and had come of age in the South.  Not long after winning a 1960 Olympics title for the U.S. boxing team, he was refused service at an all-white restaurant in his home town of Lousiville, KY.  He soon tossed his gold medal into the Ohio River, so the story goes.

After his refusal to be inducted into the Army, Ali was arrested, convicted, sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000.  He appealed the decision and never served time.  In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court over-turned the conviction. 

So here we have a man, Ali, who openly stood up to the system, was stripped of his boxing title and was not allowed to fight for almost four years, a situation that cost him millions of dollars.   He paid the price no matter how much anyone disbelieves the sincerity of his religious claims. 

But who were the real draft dodgers, evaders and resisters?  They were our fathers.  They were our uncles and brothers.  Even our sons.   Mostly all white men who feared the bullet, who didn’t want family and career disrupted. 

How so? 

Some were “Kennedy Husbands,” those who rushed to the altar for last-minute marriage when news that JFK’s policy of low draft status for married men was about to be rescinded.

They were the many who quickly joined the National Guard to avoid deployment in Vietnam.   One meeting a month, two weeks at summer camp, a little more income.  Out of harm’s way.  Let others do the fighting.

There were those like Bill Clinton, the former president, who was in school in England and joined the R.O.T.C.  There were others who suddenly grew interests in academia and attending college — so they could receive a draft deferment.  Some exaggerated physical and psychological disabilities and became undraftable.  There was pressure brought on draft boards by parents and their political allies.   All, not to mention 8,000 deserters during the Vietnam years.   But Muhammad Ali is the one most often fingered for guilt.

Ali, if you look at it under a certain light, was a hero of his time even beyond boxing.   He did not avoid the draft by hiding behind technicalities and lies.  He didn’t leave the country.  His motives, at least on the surface, were far more noble than most others who now, unlike Ali, can sit back in comfort and never have the word “draft dodger” thrown at them.  And yet in reality they were draft dodgers.  Legal draft dodgers. 

Do you know what your daddy’s draft status was in the Vietname era?   Really know?  There is something at work here with those who still rage about Ali and Vietnam.   They screamth too much.

It all smacks of hypocrisy and racism.

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Gannett layoff underwhelms Wall Street

Whatever Gannett’s strategy is in laying off a small portion of its newspaper work force yesterday, it didn’t play well on Wall Street.   The media company cut 2% of its employees but none from its flagship, USA Today.  The company blamed the country’s slow economic recovery.

Despite the layoffs, Gannett stock dropped 55 cents today in below-average trading to $13.61.  That amounted to a 3.9% loss on a day the major market indexes — Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 — were down no more than .67%.   Obviously the Gannett strategists were not looking for the usual short-term benefits of an upward bump in the stock price.  

“The bad old days are here again,” wrote Jon Friedman, the media eyeballer for MarketWatch, noting Gannet’s move  signaled more bad news for the industry.  “The media industry has been rendered punch drunk by now.  Its ancient business model is broken.  It is an industry bereft of original solutions and is left hoping against hope that the iPad will lift all boats.”

Gannett’s competitors did not suffer nearly as much today.  The New York Times Company lost 1.2% in its value, the Washington Post down 1%.  News Corp was slightly up .23%.  

Morningstar, a popular rating service, believes Gannett stock is over-valued as it is.   Its fair market value for GCI is $13 and even that is subject to high uncertainty.   Most investment services have the stock at “hold.”  A few other advise to avoid it altogether. 

It seems Gannett has no great plan for the future other than to cutback, cutback, cutback and hope the economy turns around soon.

Finally, driving again at night

Shortly after 9 last night, I drove Nebra up to a McDonald’s for an ice cream cone.  I was worried she would get motion sickness without a grip on the wheel.   For the last five months, she has been my chauffeur at night.   My driver’s license was restricted to daytime-only in early February.   I couldn’t pass the Arizona eye exam.  Before that, on January 22, I realized during a trip to Hawaii that my license had expired several months before and didn’t drive at all for almost two weeks.

Finally, yesterday afternoon, I sucked it up and went in for another eye team at an MVD office out on 51st Avenue.  It was the same place that flunked me before. 

This time I was slightly better prepared.  I’d had three eye surgeries in 42 days.   Two were for cataracts in each eye and the most recent one was for a macular hole in the right one.  I was fairly sure I could pass since I had tested out 20/15 with the left eye Barnet Dulaney Perkins where I had the surgeries.  Arizona requires only 20/40 vision to receive a license.

The office was busy as usual.  I saw only one other Caucasian, a matronly woman who appeared to be in her 60s.  The rest were minorities, mostly Hispanic, some blacks and a scattering of Asians.    The Hispanic woman in front of me was hoping to transfer her license from California without proof of a local address. 

I received the eye test before being given a number on the waiting list.  I stood before the eye chart near the front counter and pressed my head forward to switch on the light.  As it turned out it was a close call.   While my left eye and overall vision passed, the right eye again failed.   Thanks to the gods, I was allowed to fail one test but not two.   The right eye had been operated on three weeks ago for the mac hole and is not fully recovered.  The “wrinkle” in that eye prevented me from clearly reading the 20/40 line.   

So, for $12 and an hour and a half of my time, I’m back in business for night driving.  My license notes on the back side,   “Restrictions:  None.”    I had a new photo taken, this time with a smile.  I looked like the saddest sack in the world in the last photo, mirroring how I felt at the time, knowing I had months of exams and operations ahead with the uncertainty I would ever be able to drive in darkness again. 

You do not know how much liberty is taken from you with a daytime-only license.  It was not only dependence on someone to get you somewhere.   It limited what I could do in any given day.  For example, I like to do my gym workouts in the evening.  But since I couldn’t, I was forced to mince them in to the day.  My schedule got crowded, I got irritated and the gym workouts suffered.

The goal of the eye surgeries was very simple.  While, yes, I truly wanted better vision and to read without eye glasses, the most important thing was to drive again at night, whatever it took.   I wanted my independence back.

The trip to McDonald’s was uneventful.  I was elated, and the best I could tell Nebra was too busy enjoying her dessert to worry much about whether I’d drive us into a light pole or a canal.

Summer Solstice, 2011

Looking south at the precise moment of Solstice

Summer arrived in Phoenix at 10:16 a.m.   The weather at my house in the central city:  98 degrees, under a clear sky with the slightest of breezes that barely move outer tree branches.   Forecasters predict a high of 113 later today,  the highest temperature of the year to date.  Phoenix has enjoyed mild temperatures this spring, although 100-degree days have piled up in the last few weeks.

This is the longest day of the year.  And, for me, one of mixed emotions.  Symbolically , it is the time the sun heads south, the light starting to go way, a decline of life.  More real, the solstice is a sign the desert heat will not last forever, that in three or four months we can turn off the a/c and enjoy being outside again.  The Winter Solstice, in December, is a happy time, and Nebra and I hope to celebrate the return of the light with our traditional supper, maybe with friends this year.

Another layoff by Gannett: 30 employees axed at Republic

The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, is undergoing another layoff today as part of a nationwide cutback by its parent company, Gannett.   The Republic’s publisher and CEO John Zidich forwarded by email a letter from Gannett’s Bob Dickey to employees at 9:02 this morning, saying the layoffs would be made by the end of the day.

In a late afternoon conference call from editors, employees were told 30 positions were eliminated throughout the newspaper, effective July 31.  While editors did not break the firings down by department,  it is believed at least nine of the layoffs came from the news room:  five in features, one in business and three in the southeast Valley bureau.   The departing employees are to receive one week’s pay for every two years worked, a less generous payout than some of the paper’s earlier layoffs. 

Gannett is cutting 700 jobs overall, or about 2 percent of its entire work force, Dickey’s letter said. 

Gannett’s other local property, television station KPNX (Ch. 12), was not affected.  Dickey’s letter refers to the cuts coming from the company’s U S Community Publishing division which likely only includes newspapers.  The print media have been in decline for years.

The news apparently caught many employees by surprise.  The rumors that normally precede such moves did not occur this time. 

In addition to job cuts, Dickey said there would be more furloughs ahead for those on “corporate payroll who make over a certain salary.”   Corporate payroll furloughs will not affect the majority of staffers, one reporter said.  One round of furloughs already took place this spring.

Dickey pointed to the slow economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis that led to Gannett’s decision. 

“While we are seeing improved circulation results and audience growth,” Dickey wrote, “weakness in the real estate sector, slow job creation and now softer auto ad demand continue to challenge revenue growth. . . . ”

“National advertising remains soft and with many of our local advertisers reducing their overall budgets,” the letter said, cutbacks are necessary.

Gannett stock concluded the day at $14.15 in below-average trading.  That was up 40 cents, or less than 3 percent on an upswing day for the markets.  News of the layoffs reached the Street late and could have more of an impact tomorrow.  The company posted lower than expected earnings in the first quarter, down 16.3% from a year ago.

The Dbacks: What’s reality?

From mid-May through early June the Arizona Diamondbacks played like the Yankees.  They were the hottest team in baseball.  They won 18 of 22 games and vaulted into first place in the National League West.   The impressive 3-week upswing seemed to fly in the blushing faces of the game’s wise men.  They predicted another poor season, only a slightly better finish than last year when the team continued its long slide by stumbling to one of the worst records in Major League Baseball.  

So is it time to begin to unroll the red carpet and dust off the crown for a pennant run?

Contrary to the Dbacks’ small cadre of wild-eye fans, I think not. 

During those three weeks of glory, the Dbacks played eight one-run games — and won them all!  In addition, the Dbacks scored two runs or less in five of those games and, thanks to unbelievable pitching, they came out on top in four of them.   It’s enough luck to make one believe in tooth fairies until you look at their opponents.  Six of the eight had losing records and four were cellar-dwellers (Houston, San Diego, Minnesota and Washington).  

Currently, the Dbacks are in a bit of a funk.  They have lost two in a row to the usually low-flying Pirates and three in a row overall. 

While the new general manager, Kevin Towers, has started to reshape this low-budget organization the right way, with good pitching, this team has far too many holes to fill in a single season. 

Among the eight positions, only three are clearly manned by players capable of starting on pennant contenders:  Shortstop Stephen Drew, center fielder Chris Young and right fielder Justin Upton.   The need for high-caliber players at first base and third is obvious.  And despite leading the NL in home runs, the hitting is streaky and often doesn’t materialize with runners in scoring position. 

There will likely be enormous pressure on the pitching staff’s aces, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, if the Dbacks continue to stay in contention.   The other starters are suspect.  That includes Josh Collmenter whose unusual overhead delivery has reaped a 4-1 record and 1.25 ERA.   Zach Duke, who came to Arizona last winter from Pittsburgh, could be the key for the Dbacks’ hopes for contention in the West.  How well he does long-term after returning from hand surgery remains to be seen.  The bullpen behind closer J. J. Putz has done a decent job so far.

So what’s reality here?  This will likely be an inconsistent team the rest of the season unless changes are made in the coming weeks.  As is, I see a team that may win half its games and finish 10-15 games behind the pennant-winner.   That’s best-case scenario.   A far cry, for sure, from last season.  The focus and hard work of manager Kirk Gibson deserve’s a lion’s share of the credit.  He has his team playing about the best it can.

But, in final analysis, the ony thing the May-June winning binge did was to delay by a few weeks the inevitable changes that must occur.  That is not to say those changes will occur.

The Weiner affair

What is the most disappointing thing about Anthony Weiner, the Congressman who sent a lewd photograph of himself to a woman he did not know via the Internet?  Is it the act itself?  Or is it the panicked attempt to cover up the problem once it fell into the public domain?  Or is it something else?

Exposing one’s sexual organ on the Internet is commonplace these days.  There is a growing list of celebrities, politicians, sports stars and others who have been caught doing it.  Our teenage sons and daughters have done it for years by  mobile phone and call it “sexting.”   If those photos become public, it can be embarrassing and humiliating.   But in the scheme of troubling issues on this planet, it is merely a blip.  Europe thinks we’re crazy for our many sexual hangups and puritanism.

You would think too that Weiner had plenty of examples going back decades showing the many failures of attempted coverups and the harsher outcomes they often bring.    In fact as he stepped before the media last week to lie, distort and hedge,  Weiner had two prime examples that should have discouraged his deceitful path. 

The politician John Edwards was in the news for trying to coverup his “love child” with a former campaign worker.  While exposure of the affair would have ruined his political career, the attempt at coverup leaves criminal charges hanging over his head. 

And then there was the case of Jim Tressel, the Ohio State football coach who lied about his role in NCAA violations.  If he had only admitted it, Tressel likely would’ve received a slap on the wrist.  Instead he was forced to resign a job that had taken him to the pinnacle of his career.  

Perhaps the biggest lesson from the Weiner affair involves crisis management.  Why do we as individuals and as a nation wait until the last possible moment to fix a problem?

With the nation, think global warming and greenhouse gases. 

With Weiner, well, it’s difficult to believe that his sexual proclivities popped up only three years ago.   Three decades ago is more like it.  To take the chances he did — exposing himself on the Internet to strangers — suggest sexual addiction, that the risk factor heightened the arousal and perhaps that he wanted to get caught.  

He’s a smart man.  He should have figured it out years ago and perhaps got help.  But he didn’t.  That’s disappointing as well.