Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Now Playing Center Field--Us

A good story about Leo Durocher is making the circuit these days. It’s told that when Durocher was the player manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers he put a rookie in center field. In two innings this rookie had misplayed three balls. Durocher, not known for his even temperament, reamed out the rookie, benched him, and went into centerfield to play the position himself. He proceeded to make two errors. When he came back into the dugout he threw his glove at the rookie in disgust, yelling at him, “You’ve screwed up centerfield so bad no one can play it.”

Comparisons between Bush and Obama will be endless. And voters have benched the Republicans who “screwed up centerfield.” But Obama, the Congress and the people can’t and won’t sit by and lament the state of the field, domestic and foreign, left after eight years of Bush. These fields have to be rebuilt, and rebuilt in radical ways.

Here’s part of Obama’s start on this difficult but absolutely necessary rebuilding job.


Go here for full story

January 22, 2009
On Day One, Obama Sets a New Tone

WASHINGTON — President Obama moved swiftly on Wednesday to impose new rules on government transparency and ethics, using his first full day in office to freeze the salaries of his senior aides, mandate new limits on lobbyists and demand that the government disclose more information.

Mr. Obama called the moves, which overturned two policies of his predecessor, “a clean break from business as usual.” Coupled with Tuesday’s Inaugural Address, which repudiated the Bush administration’s decisions on everything from science policy to fighting terrorism, the actions were another sign of the new president’s effort to emphasize an across-the-board shift in priorities, values and tone.

“For a long time now there’s been too much secrecy in this city,” Mr. Obama said at a swearing-in ceremony for senior officials at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House. He added, “Transparency and rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

Go here for full story

January 22, 2009
News Analysis
Scientists Welcome Obama’s Words

WASHINGTON — When he vowed in his Inaugural Address to “restore science to its rightful place,” President Obama signaled an end to eight years of stark tension between science and government.

But many of the Bush administration’s restrictions on science, like those governing stem cell research, will take time to be removed. And whether the Obama administration entirely reverses its predecessor’s strict controls over the government’s main scientific agencies remains to be seen.

Still, many scientists were exuberant. Staff members throughout the government’s scientific agencies held inaugural parties on Tuesday, and many reported being teary-eyed with joy.

“If you look at the science world, you see a lot of happy faces,” said Frank Press, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences and former science adviser to President Jimmy Carter. “It’s not just getting money. It’s his recognition of what science can do to bring this country back in an innovative way.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Time to Fold Up the Tent

Mark Twain was a master at puncturing the self-delusions of Americans. He once noted the appearance of a touring baseball team playing a series of games near the sea kissed beaches of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). He called this an exercise about as incongruous as “interrupting a funeral with a circus.”

Distorting Twain, but holding on to his circus and funeral allusion, think of how the Big Bucks-Big Programs of College Sports, Inc. intrude into the life of universities. Each year more and more dollars are lavished on three ring performances attended by fewer and fewer supporters. As stadium seats yawn empty, the fabled “roar of the crowd” is turning into the low murmurs heard at funerals. Increasingly disappointment turns into discontent and the murmuring becomes muttering. It’s all taking on a tone of alarm. It’s about time.

Last year the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) conducted an exhaustive study of college sports circus revenues and expenses. The report put hard numbers to a long known but undocumented truth. It revealed that the vast majority (95 per cent!) of college athletic programs lose money for their schools.

Slogging through university and athletic department accounts, the NCAA’s "2004‑06 NCAA Revenue and Expenses of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics Program Report" showed only 17 of 300 programs managed to make money or pay their own way by breaking even. And remember, 2004-06 were the “good ol’ days” in terms of the economy.

Despite these ever growing bottom line defeats, college teams hold on to dwindling numbers of die-hard boosters. See the Tribune-Star Editorial of Dec. 20, 2008, “Don’t give up on ISU’s football team” for an outstanding example of the type.

This editorial holds out gauzy dreams (“community” and “loyal bonds”) while clouding over dollars and cents realities. But no one should forget that the pursuit of these dreamy hopes come with a serious pay now price tag. We are spending vast sums in the subprime College Sports, Inc. bubble and the word is out: Pailouts Are Us!

Who pays? Students cough up fees to keep the circus calliope whistling, or at least wheezing; and tax dollars in the general funds of universities serve as the much used safety net when it comes time to make up for ticket booth deficits.

The Trib-Star, ISU Faculty Senate, President Bradley, and the community need to examine how long students and taxpayers should be expected to play the role of water boys sitting at the end of the bench, hopping up each year to carry pails of moola to a pachyderm-sized intercollegiate athletic program. Research on the amounts in the pails of cash supplied to this insatiable white elephant enterprise need to be made available to all.

It goes without saying that hard questions are not asked in gatherings where fan groupthink about Big Buck-Big Program college sports prevails. Probing questions need to be asked in the university setting where the search for truth guides and motivates. Always remembering, it’s not answers that embarrass so much as the failure to ask questions demanding answers.

P. T. Barnum, the king of circus hoop-la and hype, once said, “Every crowd has a silver lining.”
But the sports circus crowds are now thinned out, worn out.

If Barnum were in the college sports biz today, he would take note of the ever-expanding menu of games available on satellite and cable TV at home and in sports bars. He would coolly observe the ever-deepening dips in student attendance at games.

With these funereal facts staring him in the face, with a heavy heart filled with memories of times past, Barnum would take down the bright bunting and put up black crepe. He would fold up his circus tent and move on–satisfied in knowing that he no longer was losing money feeding a lonely elephant.

[This commentary appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Jan. 11, 2009]