Tennis and Life – A Wonderful Story

Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay has written the finest story involving tennis you’re likely to read:

For 40 years, my father, Ward Gay, was a tennis coach, at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, Mass., the city where he grew up. When he started, rackets were wood. The No. 1 men’s player in the world was Ilie Nastase. My dad studied tennis bibles written by Rod Laver, Bud Collins and Harry Hopman, and taught himself the rest through years of little victories and mistakes.

He liked natural gut string, one-handed backhands, the serve-and-volley, the chip-and-charge. He was also a science teacher at the high school, and he enjoyed how tennis was a game that rewarded mental acuity as well as physical skill. His favorite tennis maxim was the well-known adage he borrowed and passed on to every player: You’re only as good as your second serve…

My dad admired the pristine grass at Wimbledon and the red clay at Roland Garros, but the kind of tennis he really adored was city tennis. Cracks in the hard court. Rusty chain-link fences. Holes in the nets. Trucks howling by on the street. Country clubs weren’t his thing.

Tennis was for everybody, he felt…

In early March, just days away from the first tennis practice of the season, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He resigned from coaching the team. He told me about it matter-of-factly, but stepping away after doing this for so long had to have been devastating. Spring afternoons on the hard court had been a ritual for him, a sanctuary…

Last Thursday, Aug. 21, in a Boston hospital that overlooked a pair of beautifully ragged tennis courts on the Charles River, my dad died. He was 70 years old.

The next day, my brother and I walked down the street to the courts we grew up on. We pulled out a couple of our father’s old rackets we’d uncovered in the garage, and hit like we used to hit when we were young. Dad had given us and so many others a sport we could play for the rest of our lives, but his reach was much more than that. We ran with our rackets back, ready for anything.

Don’t Cry for College Textbook Publishers

Anyone who’s attended college or has kids attending college will not likely shed a tear for the struggling textbook publishers out there. You’re not going to have warm, fuzzy feelings for any industry that causes you to spend the equivalent of a month’s rent, or more, on books that you know you’ll only use for four months and then not be able to re-sell because a new version is already in the works. And you have to do it twice a year for the four years you’re in college!

That’s why reading this story in the Wall Street Journal on the struggles of the textbook publishers brought on a wave of schadenfreude like none I’ve felt in years:

Some opt instead to download textbooks illegally. A report last month by the Book Industry Study Group, an industry trade group, found that 25% of students photocopied or scanned textbooks from other students, up from 17% in 2012. The number of students who acquired textbooks from a pirate website climbed to 19% from 11%.

Those trends come at a time of steadily rising textbook prices. The price of new printed textbooks has jumped an average of 6% a year over the past decade, triple the rate of overall inflation, government figures show, making textbooks among the fastest-growing consumer expenses in the U.S.

Rising prices and changing buying habits have taken a toll.

Sales of new printed textbooks made up 38% of McGraw-Hill Education’s higher-ed revenue in 2013, down from 71% in 2010, said Chief Executive and President David Levin.

This hits close to home because in our house we have three college students right now. Thankfully we’ve been able to control costs by renting books through the school bookstore or through Amazon, or buying used books when possible through Amazon. Every once in a while the book will only be available from the school, and generally those are the most expensive, but still we’re talking $100-150 per book versus the $250-350 list price for many of the books for which we found rental/used alternatives.

The cost is patently ridiculous when you consider what is freely available online. In fact we should find a way to give professors incentives to utilize the information in the public domain whenever possible. It’s surely more work for them, but imagine the savings it would provide their students and how much less debt most of those students will have when they graduate.

Who To Trust

One of the real problems we have in the Information Era is that so much information is just, well, wrong. Back in the pre-Internet dark ages we used to be able to easily identify the folks who distributed craziness as news, and just as importantly, the people who accepted that craziness at face value. We simply looked around us while in line at the grocery store and if we saw someone reading the National Enquirer, or one of the other tabloids, and he wasn’t laughing then we knew that was someone who shouldn’t be trusted to walk and chew gum simultaneously. Now things have gotten a little more complicated.

Case in point is how a blogger/nut-job could post a completely unfounded story related to the Ferguson, MO protests and in short order it morphed into a story on a national “news” network (Fox):

In short order Hoft’s story spread throughout the right-wing blogosphere. The right-wing media machine was cranking up. Early in the afternoon of Aug. 19, the right-wing libertarian site Before It’s News cited Mark Dice’s YouTube report, which in turn cited Hoft’s story…

Soon the story had been picked up by pretty much all of the right-wing noise machine, including Matt Drudge, Breitbart, Right Wing News, the Washington Times and the New York Post.

Now that the story had broken into the wild and had been reported by numerous sources — all citing Jim Hoft’s original report as well as each other — Fox News decided it had enough cover to report on Hoft’s bogus story.

They ran the story every half-hour with a flashing “ALERT ALERT” image at the bottom of the screen and cited , yep, Jim Hoft’s report.

Say what you will about the “mainstream media” at least back in the day there was an effort made to be a reputable news source and to prove to readers/viewers/listeners that the news being reported was accurate and had been confirmed by multiple primary sources. There was actually angst about using unnamed sources, and it was done only when absolutely necessary. Were the news outlets perfect? No, but for the most part you could expect that behind whatever editorial slant an outlet might have they were at least supported by verifiable facts. Unfortunately those days seem to be gone.

This is not just a national story. Right here in the Piedmont Triad there’s an increasing level of concern about one local newspaper’s lack of diligence in policing its Letters to the Editor for at least a modicum of accuracy, and quite frankly the quickening demise of local newspapers is more frightening than anything because they have traditionally been the only source of coverage of local governments. Without them who’s going to be the Fourth Estate?

All this brings to mind something my kids learned when they were doing research projects in school. Times had changed from when I was in school. In my day we had to go to the library to review books, encyclopedias, magazines and articles on microfiche (if you’re under the age of 35 look that up and be amazed) for our research. You could be pretty confident your sources were solid because a librarian had vetted those materials, but still we were taught to use multiple sources to support our thesis. Then the internet happened and all of the sudden kids had the ability to do research from the comfort of their own homes, but without the protection of a librarian vetting their sources. So guess what? A big part of their lesson was in learning how to identify good sources of information, and subsequent to that, verifying that information by finding multiple sources. I’m thinking that should become a required course of study in our society, because without it our populace will be led around by its noses by a bunch of charlatans. It’s already happening and it will only get worse.

 

Face of Poverty in the Piedmont Triad

This article in the Greensboro News & Record has a lot of disheartening statistics:

In the past 10 years, the state (North Carolina) has gone from the 26th-highest poverty rate in the country to the 11th. One in 4 children are living in poverty.

At the same time, 1 in 5 people in the city of Greensboro live in poverty — that’s considered to be having an annual income of less than $24,000 for a family of four…

Of the Second Harvest Food Bank’s 400 partner networks, 90 are in the greater Greensboro area, including the Greensboro Urban Ministry. Second Harvest is one of a handful of regional food banks in the state.

In 2009, the group distributed 7.9 million pounds of food. This past year, the group distributed 25 million pounds of food.

You might be tired of reading about the food drive to benefit Second Harvest at my day job, but when given the state of affairs around here it would be immoral not to remind everyone that there is a readily available way to help.

Body-Mounted Cameras and the Police

An article in the Wall Street Journal focused on the impact that wearing body cameras can have on police forces:

Sometimes, like the moments leading up to when a police officer decides to shoot someone, transparency is an unalloyed good. And especially lately, technology has progressed to a point that it makes this kind of transparency not just possible, but routine.

So it is in Rialto, Calif., where an entire police force is wearing so-called body-mounted cameras, no bigger than pagers, that record everything that transpires between officers and citizens. In the first year after the cameras’ introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%…

What happens when police wear cameras isn’t simply that tamper-proof recording devices provide an objective record of an encounter—though some of the reduction in complaints is apparently because of citizens declining to contest video evidence of their behavior—but a modification of the psychology of everyone involved.

The article goes on to point out that there are some issues that need to be resolved with body camera technology – privacy concerns for victims and witnesses to name one – but with the cost of the technology plummeting some experts think it’s only a matter of time before most police departments will be using them.

Hoops Tunes from the Early 80s

Many moons ago a bunch of Trouble Funk tracks were seared into my brain thanks to someone making a tape and playing it, along with Rick James, on a ginormous boombox while we were playing hoops. Other guys would bring AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, etc. so the music was eclectic to say the least.

I wasn’t a big fan of go-go, DC’s unique brand of funk, but after a while it didn’t drive me crazy either. Now it kind of bring’s back fond memories:

Gotta say, though, that I much preferred Rick James:

And more than anything I was a metal head so nothing beat a little Hells Bells: