Big Government Makes Killers

“We have got to get the government off our backs.” “Government is too big.” “Big government destroys our freedoms.” With words of varying civility, this is a common chant. The belief assumes that in earlier days we had a small government; in earlier days we had more liberty. This was not always true.

For example, Jim Crow laws legislated social relationships and mandated increased public and private expenditures by requiring duplicate facilities. Yet those who yearn for the age of small government seldom mention this epitome of big government or how long it endured.

Because of my northern, small-town roots, I was not directly affected by Jim Crow, but I was by another, now defunct, big government program—the military draft. To someone my age, the draft needs no explanation, but I found that many of my students, a generation or two younger than I am, not only did not know that it existed, but could not believe that it ever was the law of the land. But, yes, men (only men, not women) could be required to join the armed services. Put in slightly different terms, the government could force men from their homes and jobs and families for years and place them in a position where there was the possibility that they would have to kill or be killed. Was any government power ever larger?

Even without being drafted, the draft affected men’s behavior, as I learned early. In sixth grade, Glen and I hung out at George’s service station. A couple of high school boys did some work there. One day they discussed what they would do after high school and whether they should get some vocational training. Gary said, “No. I’m just going to get any job I can and wait to get drafted.” In short, he was going to wait until after his forced military service to figure out the course of his life.

The draft led many to enlist. Perhaps part of the motivation for enlisting was public service and patriotism, but part was that an enlistee, unlike a draftee, could choose the branch of the armed services he would go into, and the college-graduate enlistee could be an officer while the draftee was a private. I have many friends of my age, often graduates of the country’s most selective universities, who were officers in the armed services while the draft existed. I wonder if I come of age when the draft was abolished, would I know as many veterans as I do.

The draft affected education and job choices. College males got deferments; that is, they would not be drafted while in school. And for a long time, deferments were also given for graduate school. In my generation, only those from 18 to 26 were drafted. Back then, I never heard of a “gap year” before college or graduate school. We knew that such a time off from school might find us not backpacking in Europe, but backpacking in Vietnam. One of the reasons so many of my generation may have gone to law or business school is the draft deferment it offered. (Not so for medical school. Doctors got drafted at 26 and beyond because not enough doctors enlisted. (Go watch M*A*S*H).

If, however, you finished all this education by 24 or 25 you still had to make it until 26. Ah, but for some jobs, you also got a deferment. Public school teacher was one such job. Teach until 26, and then start your real career. Many of my generation had a brief stint as an eighth grade teacher.

The draft was not only big government because it could intrude into every corner of a life, it was also big because it produced a huge bureaucracy. Nearly every county in the country had a selective service (the official name for the draft) office with one or more paid workers as well as volunteer (I think) boards. (Does anyone know who came up with “selective service”?) And, of course, regional and national offices. Paperwork galore.

Both aspects of the big government came together for me in my second year of law school. For reasons I supported, as I began my legal studies during the height (or shall we say, depth) of the Vietnam War, deferments for graduate school ended. And thus, one day during a break in my classes, I found the missive that had what was then the famous salutation, “Greetings.” I was being drafted pending a physical, for which I had to return to my home county.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t thought about being in the army before, but the draft notice certainly, how shall we say, focused my attention on an impending military life. It was more than a little hard to concentrate on the law of corporations with the army looming. Part of the obsessive thoughts that followed the draft notice were about the war that the U.S. was then bogged down in, but more of my thoughts just went to basic training, which I dreaded for good reason.

I had partially dislocated my shoulder years before, and I had done it many times since—putting on a coat, turning over in my sleep, placing a pizza in a car’s back seat, playing volleyball, basketball, softball. I knew it would partially dislocate any time I really threw a ball hard overhand. It hurt like hell, but when it happened, I could grab the right elbow with my left hand, pull the arm, and seat the ball of the arm back in its socket. This was a condition I knew toowell, but it was not one that had been certified by a doctor. I had gone to the college infirmary the day after it first happened, but by then the joint appeared to be back together properly. Nothing looked wrong to that general practitioner.

But now I started to fixate on the images of army training where recruits had to climb ropes and scale walls and throw decoy hand grenades. I knew that the shoulder would come apart, and all I could picture was the drill sergeant yelling at what he thought was the Ivy League malingerer writhing on the ground. I could not imagine how I was going to get through those first six army weeks. I decided I should see another doctor. I went to a local orthopedist and told him that if I threw a ball hard I would dislocate the shoulder. He said, “Make the motion.” I told him what I already knew. With simulated throwing, I instinctively held back, and it would not happen. He said, “Try anyway.” Nothing happened, and I was sent on my way, with the doctor’s glance saying, “Hippie draft dodger.” (Yes, I did have both long hair and mutton chops.)

I reported for my army physical. I told the doctor my situation. He, too, told me to simulate throwing. Nothing happened. I was certified physically fit to be trained to kill.

A few months later, I was ordered to another physical in Chicago. After spending twelve hours in an atmosphere that only the finest novelist could capture (one potential draftee had inked antiwar slogans all over his body), I saw the doctor. I told him my situation. He looked at a form and said, “You already a physical in Milwaukee.” He asked, “What are you doing here?” I replied, “I was ordered here.” He said, “I am not going to waste my time giving another physical to someone who has already had one.”

I had gotten the induction date changed from its original fall date until after the school year ended. Friends urged me to go to Canada. Friends urged me to go to jail. I felt too much an American to leave the country, and I never considered those escape routes.

Somehow, however, through the protest grapevine I was told about a doctor in Chicago who had antiwar views. About a week before I was to go into the army, I had an appointment with him. I told him the situation. He said, “If there really is that problem, I will get you reclassified, but I will not lie.” I told him simulated throwing would not do it. But I came prepared with my baseball. With the doctor agreeing, I walked the three blocks to Grant Park and found a wall to throw the ball against.  I had to screw up my courage with a few easy tosses and then I finally threw as hard as I could. Pain in the shoulder; white flashes before my eyes; arm immobile, but for the first time I did not do what had become instinctive. I did not pull the arm back in place. Feeling the pain every step of the way, I went back to the doctor, up an elevator, and to an x-ray room with my hand stuck skyward. Blissfully, they quickly took the pictures, and I could pull the arm back together before the vomiting started.

When the doctor looked at the x-rays, he said, “You’re right. You have a problem. I’ll contact the army.” Then with a smile, he uttered words that only someone of my generation can truly appreciate, “You can have that fixed.” He waited a beat: “But there is no reason to until you are 26.”

The draft gave men of my generation contact with big government’s bureaucracy and its control of lives. It certainly affected me. While obsessing over what the army had in store for me, I had more and more difficulty paying attention to my coursework. I dropped from near the top of my class. A job after the second year of law school was considered an important step for most of us starting a legal career, but I never sought such a job since I was supposed to be inducted on July 1. But, of course, compared to many this was nothing. I did not spend two years in the army. I did not die in combat. I did not have to kill Vietnamese.

When you want to complain that our government is so big today that it destroys the freedoms of Americans, go to the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington. Look at the names on Maya Lin’s creation and ask yourself, “How many of these were draftees? How many enlisted because they expected to be drafted anyway?” And then reflect on the big government of today and yesterday.

 

Student Debt: Yours, Mine, and Ours (concluded)

          I know how concern about student debt affects life decisions. It had determined my law school choice and how I lived, which was frugally, trying to avoid any further loans. Even so, the issue of student debt was thrust at me earlier than I had expected. During my second law school year, I got a draft notice. I was able to push back the induction date until I had completed the school year. In that era of the Vietnam War, I had many concerns about going into the military. Among the minor ones was loan repayments.

          The undergraduate payments would be deferred if I remained in law school, and the school told me that it would also wait to get its money back until after the army, willing to be stiffed if I became a stiff in a rice paddy. The law school, however, was not so kind and told me that once I left their institution, no matter what the reason, I would have to start paying back my debt. I was both pissed and amused. My memory is that I was to get paid $110 a month as a private, but $40 a month would have to go to the law school. As it turned out, I did not have to find out how I might fare on $70 a month. As I have related elsewhere on the blog, I eventually got a medical deferment and was not inducted. (See post of March 15, 2017, “Big Government Makes Killers” Search Results for “”Big Government”” – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog))

          When I finished law school, though, I went into low-paying positions—first a civil liberties fellowship and then into the public defender’s office. Nevertheless, I had to start repaying the student loans. I owed $80 a month, which might not sound like much, but it was almost 20% of my monthly take-home during the fellowship and remained a heavy burden when I joined the Legal Aid Society.

          Sometimes the spouse and I discuss when it was that we first felt financially secure, and we both agree it was not until we had enough money to know we could make it to end of the month and pay the rent. We scrimped. One time, invited by some friends for dinner, we debated whether the free dinner was worth the four subway fares it would take to get there and back. Eventually, we attained what we considered financial independence, the result of a pay raise and the end of one of my loans. The college debt was less than the law school one, so we paid it off sooner. The removal of $40 from the recurring debit side of the ledger was a big event and a reason we did not have to worry about money every single moment. A few years later, the law school obligation was retired, and the disappearance of those monthly $40 payments almost made us feel we were middle class.

          When I no longer had student debt, I gave the topic little thought for a long time, even when I went into law school teaching. But as my academic career continued, I began to consider the financing of higher education more. The law school in which I taught was a private, tuition-dependent institution. As the costs of the school soared, I realized that most of the students could afford it only if they took out loans. I started asking students about their debt. The figures were astounding. Fifteen years ago, it went from $90,000 to over $200,000.

          I realized that I had little idea about their ability to service such loans because I knew little about the career paths of our typical graduates. Like many academics, I might hear about the outstanding successes but knew little about the average graduate.

          There was little data about our grads, but there were good studies of the legal profession as a whole. The initial salaries of law school graduates did not fall into a single bell-shaped curve as it did in other professions. Instead, starting pay was grouped into two bell-shaped curves that were far apart. The modal point for one group was $160,000 and the rest of the beginning attorneys were grouped around $60,000. The high-earning graduates were corporate attorneys going into large law firms; everyone else fell into the lower bracket. The corporate jobs were overwhelmingly staffed from the elite law schools, and my school certainly did not fall into that category. Nineteen out of twenty of our grads were headed to that lower range. Of course, they could expect a higher income as they became more experienced, but the sociologists of the profession also showed that few of those in the lower bell curve would ever jump into that higher group. Starting with lower pay, our grads would forever have incomes less than those other attorneys.

           I was in the teaching business for those who would not get the high-paying jobs. The corporate law firms were not going to have problems hiring smart, well-trained lawyers, but I was especially interested in a better criminal justice system, and I wanted a hand in preparing competent prosecutors and defenders where starting jobs were at best at the $60,000 point. So I compared the starting criminal justice salaries with what I earned in my first positions some thirty years before. To my surprise the money I was paid was, in inflation-adjusted dollars, more than the comparable attorneys were earning today. Starting salaries in many of the “do-good” and government legal jobs in constant dollars have been dropping. I had not found it easy to pay off my relatively modest debt. How were these graduates going to pay off so much more with less pay?

          I did not have the answer, but I did have some idea as to why present student debt was so large. The costs of higher education have increased at a much greater rate than inflation. For example, in the year I graduated from college, in-state tuition at my home state’s flagship university was around $350. My first two summers after high school I worked at minimum-wage jobs that paid me $50 a week. Living at home, I could have saved enough for the tuition, and working ten hours a week during the school year could have paid for the rest of college expenses. In today’s dollars, that $350 tuition would now be about $3,000, and a minimum-wage summer job could still cover tuition. However, today the in-state tuition at the University of Wisconsin is actually about $11,000, much higher than inflation would indicate. A summer job for ten weeks at even $15 an hour will cover only about half the tuition. And the out-of-state tuition, which more closely mirrors some private schools, was about $9,000 back in my day. Now that tuition is about $39,000, and no normal student jobs are going to pay that. Thus, increased student debt.

          There are now important debates about whether student debt should be forgiven. But along with those considerations, there should also be an examination of why the cost of college and graduate school has soared well beyond inflationary increases. Even if all the present student debt magically disappeared, as long as students have to pay the over-inflated costs of university systems, the student debt problem will remain.

The Future of America–Tennis Edition

          President Trump imposed tariffs on specialty steel products. A recent news story indicated that this action had benefited a Pennsylvania mill, which had added thirty or so workers and raised the question of whether President Biden would continue the tariffs. Meanwhile, the protection measures had increased the price of the steel and made it harder to get for American manufacturers, and this may decrease employment at some companies. I have no more than an Economics 101 understanding of macroeconomics, but all this made me think back to lectures on free trade that indicated such trade was good and that it increased wealth across the globe.

Assume you and I both raise cotton and make farm implements, but I am not in a good cotton-growing region and you are. You will grow more cotton than I will for the same effort. If you give up the tool business and devote yourself to the bolls, you could produce more cotton than you and I could together. I can devote myself to the hoe business, and we can both trade the fruits of our labor. The world is richer. It has both more cotton and at least the same number of hoes than without the trade.

That, of course, is the basic idea behind free trade. If each country does what it does best, and we can freely trade our outputs, then total productivity increases. Moreover, if the supply of cotton increases, then cotton should cost less, and those who purchase cotton have money left over to buy other things, increasing demand for more goods, benefiting the makers of other products as well.

          Cotton can be grown in some places more efficiently than in others because of natural conditions, but different factors are at work for the efficient production of cotton fabric, if by efficient we mean cost per unit of cloth. Manmade factors now become crucial. Local wages, the costs of safety measures and pollution controls, local electricity costs and so on can determine efficiency. Although other factors will come into play, whoever pays workers the lowest wage will most efficiently produce cotton cloth. Since the wages in Bangladesh are less than at North Carolina mills, the cost of products from Bangladesh will be less than products from North Carolina. We consumers benefit. I may pay a half dollar less when I buy, in a somewhat ludicrous attempt to be cool, those patterned socks made in Bangladesh compared to those made down South. With fewer people buying their product, North Carolina workers will lose their jobs. Even so, if we add up all those fifty-cent consumer savings, it may be a greater amount than the monetary losses suffered by the workers. Seen as a whole, American society is better off. But, then again, I don’t want to be the one to tell those who lost their jobs, “Buck up. Your loss was worth it for the rest of us.” With free trade, we often get small winners, the consumers, and big losers, the laid-off workers.

          Our free trade conversations now seem to center on those who have been harmed with little discussion of the benefits. To save the North Carolina cotton mills, we could put a tariff on those Bangladeshi socks, but while the tariff may be imposed on the foreign company, it really means that consumers will be charged more for the socks. If the tariff is high enough, the North Carolina mill will be competitive and will not have to shut down. Jobs are saved. But, of course, now consumers pay more for the product and have less disposable income for other stuff. If the country overall was better off economically when the foreign socks came in without a tariff, keeping them out with a tariff must mean overall the country is now worse off. 

          Besides a tariff or its equivalent, we should be discussing other ways to ameliorate the problems of those who have been the big losers to free trade. We should be thinking of a social net—health care, training, relocation assistance, infrastructure jobs, education incentives–if not generally, at least for those whose jobs have moved abroad. But this discussion is generally off the table. Such a social net is “Big Government,” and, goodness knows, we can’t have that. Meanwhile, a tariff–for reasons that have a mystifying logic–is somehow not considered to be Big Government even though it, in effect, is a widespread tax on consumers, a tax, like most consumer taxes, that is regressive leading to more income inequality.

          A discussion of how to help workers who lose their jobs because of systemic societal changes would be valuable since it would apply to more than just those workers who have lost out to free trade. So, for example, coal miners face unemployment not because of NAFTA or other such trade agreements. President Trump had suggested that declining mining jobs would come back once those Big Government regulations were rescinded. Perhaps some work would, but, of course, just as tariffs impose costs on the larger society, the deregulatory approach also imposes widespread costs. Many of those “regulations” are protections against industrial accidents and water and air pollution that impose costs not only on hurt individuals but on society in general. However, the removal of such protections is not going to bring back many of the mining jobs. Better technology has made competitors to coal more efficient, and better technology has led to the more efficient extraction of coal. Fewer miners are needed to mine the same amount of coal as were needed a generation ago, and natural gas competes better against coal than it did in the past. No matter what, all the coal mining jobs are not coming back.

          The coal industry is in illustration of an important fact: many jobs are not lost because of free trade or government over-regulation, but because of new technologies. Most of us do not see the dramatic effects of technology on employment, but in a minor way it was on display for millions in the recently completed U.S. Open tennis tournament. This sport has employed many officials for each match. In addition to the chair umpire, four officials make calls on the sidelines, one or two for the center lines, two for the baselines, two for the service lines, and one for calling lets when a serve clips the net…or, at least, it did. Through the years, an electronic device has replaced the human for let calls, and electronics were used when a player challenged a human’s line call. The Open, however, went further and dispensed with all human officials except for the chair umpire. All the in and out calls were determined not by people but by an electronic sensor and an electronic voice that sounded more human than Siri’s. This won’t make a huge difference in our employment statistics; the tournament lasts only two weeks. But a great many line callers lost their jobs.

          I may not have thought of technology changing employment in tennis tournaments until recently, but the fact that technology affects jobs in all parts of our economy has been apparent for quite some time. Another minor example, this time as-seen-on-TV: In a segment of the show This Old House, plans were shown for a house with intricate, curved, intersecting roof beams. The viewers were taken not to an old-fashioned woodworking shop, but to a modern factory that had Computer Numeric Control machines. The CNC devices, after some programming, quickly cut the beams and fabricated the complex joints. Norm, a carpenter on This Old House, was duly impressed and noted that it would have taken him days to produce one such beam, while one person operating a CNC machine for a few hours could make all of them. This technology may have had the benefit of making the costs lower for spectacular building designs, but, of course, fewer people with old-fashioned skills will be employed in the fashioning of some roof beams.

          Jobs are lost for many reasons, including international trade deals and technological advances. At least some of the time, I benefit because of lower costs. I have done nothing to deserve the benefit of free trade’s lower sock prices or roof beams made cheaper by technology. (On the other hand, the elimination of all those tennis lines people did not seem to translate into lower ticket prices. If the costs of the tournament were less, where did that money go?) And, of course, the mill worker, the carpenter, and the tennis line callers have done nothing to deserve a job loss. And this should lead to the societal question we don’t much discuss: Should I surrender at least part of my undeserved benefit to help those who got the punch in the gut?

What We Didn’t Learn from 9/11 (concluded)

The political and policy discussions after 9/11 immediately centered on security. We needed a larger military, more intelligence, more monitoring of potentially dangerous people, stricter border controls. We needed to kill bin Laden. We need to wipe out al Qaeda. These thoughts were understandable even if many of the actual responses were not justified or wasteful or simply wrong. We had little discussion, however, of what should have been evident from 9/11—the importance of a strong, efficient, creative government in non-militaristic area

On September 11, 2001, my office was eight blocks from the Twin Towers. I had come to work at eight to prepare to teach a law school class later in the morning. I took a break to go to the bank and heard the first plane go over my head and crash. I saw the hole on the upper floors of the Tower. Mesmerized, I realized that I was watching people dying. I decided that I wanted to see what the Tower looked like from the other side. As I got two blocks from the World Trade Center, the second plane hit the far side of the other Tower and flames shot out in my direction. I walked back to my office amidst crying and wailing people. I called the spouse to tell her I was ok, but the call got cut off when the first Tower fell. I decided it was time to get out of lower Manhattan.

I had driven to work. My usual routes home to Brooklyn were over the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridges, both a few blocks from my office, but I knew they were closed. Picking up and dropping off people along the way, I drove to the next bridge over the East River. I was in line to cross the Williamsburg Bridge, with but two cars in front of me to get on the span, when traffic officials signaled that the structure was now closed. I went to the next crossing; got in line; and had it close just in front of me. And the next. There was no way to drive to Brooklyn. I turned around and headed south. I parked my car on a Chinatown street and walked with hordes of others over the Manhattan Bridge roadway to Brooklyn. (The mind operates on curious levels. Although I had driven over that span many times, I found myself thinking in the midst of the horror and shock of that day about the only other time I had crossed it on foot. In those days, no walkway on the Manhattan Bridge was open to pedestrians, but I once ran in a “Courthouse to Courthouse” race. It started by the Manhattan federal courts, went over the Manhattan Bridge, which had been closed to vehicles for the event, wound on local streets to a Brooklyn courthouse, and then reversed course to Manhattan. It was not a long race, but a tough one, all uphill or downhill. Now, on 9/11, it was not an organized run of a few hundred, but a solemn trudge by the tens of thousands, as if we were extras in a Biblical epic, except this was all too real.)

 In mid-afternoon, a news report stated that some East River bridges were again open. I walked a mile from home to the Manhattan Bridge where one bus stood to ferry passengers over the river. I got to my car and quickly doubted the accuracy of the news report since I kept finding bridges closed. About to give up again, I found I could cross the Tri-Borough Bridge into Queens, which, of course, abuts Brooklyn, but then I found my usual way home from that Bridge was closed. Normally I would merge off the Bridge on to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but traffic officials were blocking the entrance to the expressway. An officer told me that I would have to take local streets. I prided myself on knowing my way around much of New York City, but Queens was always mysterious. I literally drove in circles, seeing one particular building at least three times. Finally, I came upon a familiar intersection because it was one I sometimes passed when I took the NBP to tennis on Roosevelt Island. I finally knew a route home. In my wanderings, which were less than twelve hours after the first attack, I passed many entrances to elevated roadways. Every one of them was blocked, I presume out of security concerns, by government officials.  I can’t imagine how many such entrances there are in New York City, but I thought what an amazing logistical feat it was to have closed every one of them in such short order. It took a good government, a strong government, a large government (which in New York City was largely a unionized government) to accomplish this. We pay a lot of taxes in New York, but it seemed more than worth it on the night of 9/11 for the response that I saw.

Of course, this was one of the many feats, and one of the more minor ones, that New York City quickly accomplished in response to the terror. When I had gone to my car, I could see that Manhattan south of Canal Street had been effectively cordoned off—once again, a remarkable logistical feat. And in the coming days, I would learn about the efforts and coordination of emergency medical personnel and school guards and sanitation workers and firefighters and housing officials and welfare workers and much more. Volunteers stepped forward as New Yorkers pulled together, but New York would not have recovered as well as it did without the effective performance at all levels of government. And this was not the work of bureaucratic drudges. The situation required new coordination among different government branches. It required creativity. It required dedicated service.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani got lots of praise because New York performed so well after 9/11, but a salient fact was overlooked. The City government as a whole performed marvelously. Plans had been drawn for emergencies, and they went into effect. And what put them into effect was Big Government. Liberals and conservatives both praised Rudy, but the importance of all levels of governments should also have been stressed. Would other cities where the mantra is against government have performed as well? We, luckily, do not know, but a story that should have come out of that tragedy was not just the performance of an individual, but how important a strong, dedicated, and creative government can be. If that strong, dedicated, and creative government had not been there, Giuliani would not have been effective and not have been a hero. In those unusual times when New York City was generally admired (Do you remember that accurate Onion headline: “Rest of Country Temporarily Feels Deep Affection for New York”?), besides the discussions about national security, lessons should have been given about the worth of the kind of government conservatives rail against. Reagan’s anti-government rhetoric was not heard in those days. It had been proved false.

Demise of America–Tennis Edition (concluded)

I expect when I go the U.S. Open in a few days the experience will be similar to previous visits: I will get lost coming out of the parking lot and I will wonder where we are going to find dinner in Queens. But one thing will have changed since we first started going to this tennis tournament—the role of the ball people. Each tennis match has six ball people: two stationed behind each base line and two at the net. Their basic job is to scoop up the loose balls when not in play and get them to end of the court where the server is.

 When I started watching tennis, the American ball kids threw the balls. Those at the net only had to toss them from mid-court to the back wall, but those behind the baselines threw the entire length of the playing surface. To be a ball person, one had to be able to throw the ball, and I thought that was right because, in my opinion, real American athletes should be able to throw. In contrast, ball people at tournaments in other countries rolled the ball as if they were involved in some sort of kiddy bowling game. The ball kids beyond the baselines would bend down and roll the balls to the net boys and girls, who would then collect them and turn and roll them to the kids who were going to supply the servers. Of course, I thought, those Italian, French, English, and even Australian people had to do this because they could not throw. That thought made me proud to be an American where we can do so many things.

 The NBP has always been able to throw well and knows and played tennis. A natural to be a ball person at the U.S. Open, I thought. So one year I took the NBP to the ball-person tryouts at the National Tennis Center about six weeks before the Open. I had brought a ball for the NBP to warm up with, and we found a vacant court on which to practice. I had injured my shoulder long before and could not throw well, but I could get the ball back well enough for the NBP to be ready for the tryout. (I have written about how my damaged shoulder affected various aspects of my life, including not being drafted in the Vietnam war era, sexist health insurance, and having the shoulder replaced with an artificial joint. See For Preexisting Conditions, Spouse Means Wife – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog); Dominance – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog); Big Government Makes Killers – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog); When Government was BIG – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog)

The person in charge of the tryouts explained that people who could only throw from the net to the baseline and not the full extent of the tennis court might still be hired, but their odds were lessened since they would have to be stationed at center court instead of being able to fill any of the six ball person positions. The NBP did well and was better by far than most of the tryouts. Part of the reason was that the progeny was a gifted athlete, but also because many of the kids could barely throw. I had expected that many of the girls might not be able to loft the ball from one end to the other, but I was surprised at how few of the boys could. When I was growing up, almost all the boys I knew could throw reasonably well, but perhaps my memories were distorted. I hung out primarily with guys who played sports; maybe there were lots of boys I did not know who could not throw a ball sixty or seventy feet, but I still think they were not the majority. At the U.S. Open tryouts, however, it seemed that maybe only a quarter of the male teens could throw adequately.

 The NBP was going to be a shoo-in to be a ball person, and I already was trying to figure out transportation and other logistics, but then I started to feel some guilt. Unlike the progeny and me, many of those seeking the position seemed to be from the less affluent classes, and probably the weeks-long pay could be important to them and their families. Was it right that the NBP took a position that otherwise would have gone to one of them?

 At the time the NBP was identified as a girl, and as a ball girl she was going to have to wear a tennis skirt designed by one of the sponsors—Ralph Lauren or Puma or Adidas. And here I failed as a father. Even then, I should have known that skirt-wearing was a problem. The NBP, although not then openly identifying as non-binary, fiercely resisted skirts or other “girls” clothes. I should have gone to those in charge and at least asked if the NBP could wear shorts, but I did not think of it. A few weeks later, the NBP got a notice of the final tryouts but declined the invitation.

Somewhere between those tryouts twenty-five years ago and today, however, the role of the ball kids at the U.S. Open changed. They no longer throw the tennis balls, but as in Europe, awkwardly roll the balls as if they were in some sort of hurried, miniaturized lawn bowling event. They no longer seem American but Frenchified, fussy, foreign. I don’t know precisely when the change came or why. Of course it could be that wild throws might endanger spectators and it’s the fault of the insurance companies. But I believe that at least part of the reason is that fewer and fewer American kids can throw a ball as well as American kids ought to be able to do. Abilities have changed, and, apparently, so must American standards.

 Alas. I mourn the result.

(I urge you to read the guest post from the NBP on September 1 where he narrates some of his tennis experiences including the U.S. Open tryouts. I hope that I will not be blamed too much, even though I feel as if I could have been a better father.)

Snippets

I was waiting for an angiogram in a room divided into cubicles by curtains. I could hear the guy next to me chattering, not to me, but to the nurse, who was taking his history. When the guy learned that the nurse was a Filipino, he became more voluble because his sister-in-law was a nurse born in the Philippines. I and anyone else in the room learned how his sister-in-law had worked in New York City at Bellevue Hospital but that she now worked at Stony Brook Hospital on Long Island. She had married into an Italian-American family, and she loved cooking Italian food. He exclaimed proudly, “You wouldn’t believe the spread she puts out on New Year’s Eve. We all go to her house. The food is so beautiful, and she makes so many dishes.” When he went off for his procedure, I was left in relative silence for an hour or more before I was wheeled off, but my neighbor-patient’s comments continued to ring in my ear. They made me feel better about America.

          New York City, along with several other jurisdictions, was named an “anarchistic jurisdiction” by the Trump administration in an effort to withhold federal funds. But I also hear from conservatives that NYC has confiscatory taxes to support its oppressively big government.  Anarchy, big government . . . if words have meanings, both terms can’t apply. Pick one epithet, not both.

          The controversy over the elevation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court brought about hopes and concerns about the future of Roe v. Wade as well as the future of same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights. The future of the Affordable Care Act also hangs in the balance. This has given me pause. I know that the Supreme Court will be considering a case about the ACA, but even though I have some understanding of constitutional law, I do not know the reasons that suggest that Obamacare is unconstitutional? Do you? I don’t believe many people do, but I know that many desire its end. Why? Nearly all the complaints lodged against the healthcare law are not true. (You can check them out! Go online.) I assume that nearly all of the Republican and conservative elites know that the attacks on the ACA are canards, but they still act as if the foundations of society are crumbling because of the law. Why the adamant opposition? A recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office may reveal why the Republican establishment wants the end of the Affordable Care Act. Tax increases designed to fund Obamacare are concentrated on the top one percent, but its benefits are spread widely among the bottom 40% of income earners. Thus, the ACA produced an income increase of 3.6% in the bottom income quintile and a 3.2% income increase in next higher income quintile. The middle quintile saw a 0.5% income increase with minor income increases up the income scale until we get to the top 1% where there was an income drop of 1.2%. Perhaps, such income redistribution above all else, explains why Paul Ryan, Trump, Mitch McConnell, and others wish to rid our country of that pernicious Affordable Care Act.

Real Americans I know have taken their six-year-old trick-or-treating. Real Americans I know have at least tried to carve a Jack-O-Lantern with their kids. And Donald J. Trump?

When the Government Was BIG (concluded)

I had partially dislocated my shoulder years before I had received a draft notice during the height of the Vietnam War. The dislocation was not a one-off, but something I had done many times since—putting on a coat, turning over in my sleep, placing a pizza in a car’s back seat, playing volleyball, basketball, softball. I knew it would partially dislocate any time I really threw a ball hard. It hurt like hell, but when it happened, I could grab the right elbow with my left hand, pull the arm, and seat the ball of the arm back into its socket. This was a condition I knew too well, but it was not one that had been certified by a doctor. I had gone to the college infirmary the day after it first happened, but by then the joint appeared to be back together properly. Nothing looked wrong to that general practitioner.

But now I started to fixate on the images of army training where recruits had to climb ropes and scale walls and throw decoy hand grenades. I knew that the shoulder would come apart, and all I could picture was the drill sergeant yelling at what he thought was the Ivy League malingerer writhing on the ground. I could not imagine how I was going to get through those first six army weeks. I decided I should see another doctor. I went to a local orthopedist and told him that if I threw a ball hard, I would dislocate the shoulder. He said, “Make the motion.” I told him what I already knew. With simulated throwing, I instinctively held back, and it would not happen. He said, “Try anyway.” Nothing happened, and I was sent on my way, with the “patriotic” doctor’s glance saying, “Hippie draft dodger.” (Yes, I did have both long hair and mutton chops.)

I reported for my army physical. I told the doctor my situation. He, too, told me to simulate throwing. Nothing happened. I was certified physically fit to be trained to kill.

A few months later, I was ordered to another physical in Chicago. After spending twelve hours in an atmosphere that only the finest novelist could capture (one potential draftee had inked antiwar slogans all over his body), I saw the doctor. I told him my situation. He looked at a form and said, “You already had a physical in Milwaukee.” He asked, “What are you doing here?” I replied, “I was ordered here.” He said, “I am not going to waste my time giving another physical to someone who has already had one.”

I had gotten the induction date changed from its original fall date until after the school year ended. During that hiatus, friends urged me to go to Canada. Friends urged me to go to jail. I felt too much an American to leave the country, and I never considered those escape routes.

Somehow, however, through the protest grapevine I was told about a doctor in Chicago who had antiwar views. A week before I was to go into the army, I saw him. I told him the situation. He said, “If there really is that problem, I will get you reclassified, but I will not lie.” I told him simulated throwing would not do it. But I came prepared with my baseball. With the doctor agreeing, I walked the three blocks to Grant Park and found a wall to throw the ball against.  I had to screw up my courage with a few easy tosses and then I finally threw as hard as I could. Pain in the shoulder; white flashes before my eyes; arm immobile, but for the first time I did not do what had become instinctive. I did not pull the arm back into place. Feeling the pain every step of the way, I went back to the doctor, up an elevator, and to an x-ray room with my hand stuck skyward. Blissfully, they quickly took the pictures, and I pulled the joint back together before the vomiting started.

When the doctor looked at the x-rays, he said, “You’re right. You have a problem. I’ll contact the army.” Then with a smile, he uttered words that only someone of my generation can truly appreciate, “You can have that fixed.” He waited a beat: “But there is no reason to until you are twenty-six.”

The draft gave men of my generation contact with big government’s bureaucracy and its control of lives. Even though I was not inducted, it still greatly affected me. While obsessing over what the army had in store for me, I had more and more difficulty paying attention to my second-year law-school coursework. I dropped from near the top of my class. A job after the second year of law school was considered an important step for most of us starting a legal career, but I never sought such a job because my induction date was July 1. But, of course, compared to many this was nothing. I did not spend two years in the army. I did not die in combat. I did not have to kill Vietnamese.

When you want to complain that our government is so big today (and only getting bigger) that it destroys the freedoms of Americans, go to the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington. Look at the names on Maya Lin’s creation and ask yourself, “How many of these were draftees? How many enlisted because they expected to be drafted anyway?” And then reflect on the big government of today and yesterday.

When Government was BIG

          FDR had been dead for fifteen years, but my social studies teacher remained fixated on him. She would slip comments into class discussions that derided him and the big government of the New Deal. One day she said, “Whenever the government starts a program, the program never disappears. It just gets bigger and bigger.” I knew little about the New Deal then and was not interested in defending it or other government initiatives. Instead, I was a general wiseass, and my mind instinctively searched for counterexamples. I raised my hand and when she called on me, said, “What about prohibition? That was a huge government program, and we no longer have it.” She turned her back on me and did not call on me again for a week. I was not unhappy with that outcome.

She was from that American school of get-the-government-off-my-back, a strain of bitching that always seems to be with us. The examples seem ubiquitous, and we see it now with people denouncing required face masks as socialism. Underlying such complaints is that in the good old days, government was smaller, and Americans had more freedom. Of course, as with prohibition this has not always been true. Big government programs of the past are not all still with us now. Slavery and the many tentacles of the Jim Crow laws that existed in the lifetimes of many of us required a strong government for example, but those “programs” no longer are with us.

Because of my northern roots in a white small town, I was not directly affected by Jim Crow (nor was I directly affected by the myriad laws and government actions and policies that discriminated against women), but I, as were almost all Americans of a certain age, was affected by another, now defunct, freedom-restricting, big government program—the military draft. To someone my age, the draft needs no explanation, but many of my students, a generation or two younger than I am, not only did not know that it existed, but could not believe that it ever was the law of the land. But, yes, men (only men, not women) could be required to join the armed services. Put in slightly different terms, the government could force men from their homes and jobs and families, control their lives for years, and place them in a position where there was the possibility that they would have to kill or be killed. This was big government writ large.

Its reach was so pervasive that it routinely affected people’s behavior even before a military induction. I learned this early. In sixth grade, Glen and I hung out at George’s service station. A couple of high school boys did some work there. One day they discussed what they would do after high school and whether they should get some vocational training. Gary said, “No. I’m just going to get any job I can and wait to get drafted.” He was going to put his life on hold until after his forced military service.

The draft led many to enlist. Perhaps part of the motivation was public service and patriotism, but a self-interest was also at work. An enlistee, unlike a draftee, could choose the branch of the armed services he would go into, and the college-graduate enlistee could be an officer while the draftee was a private. In a personal cost-benefit analysis, many concluded it was better to enlist than wait to be drafted. I have many friends of my age, often graduates of the country’s most selective universities, who were officers in the armed services while the draft existed. There are fewer similar people today who are veterans.

The draft affected education and job choices. College males got deferments; that is, they would not be drafted while in school. And for a long time, deferments were also given for graduate school. In my generation, only those from 18 to 26 were drafted. Back then, I never heard of a “gap year” before college or graduate school. We knew that such a time off from school might find us not in Europe with a knapsack and a rail pass but backpacking in Vietnam using military transport. One of the reasons so many of my generation may have gone to law or business school is the draft deferment it offered. (Not so for medical school. Doctors got drafted at 26 and beyond because not enough doctors enlisted. Go watch M*A*S*H).

If, however, you finished all this education by the ages of twenty-four or twenty-five, you still had to make it until twenty-six not to be drafted. Ah, but for some jobs, you also got a deferment. Public school teaching was one. Teach until twenty-six, and then start your real career. Many of my generation had a brief stint as a middle-school teacher.

The draft was not only big government because it could intrude into every corner of a life, it was also big because it produced a huge bureaucracy. Nearly every county in the country had a selective service (the official name for the draft) office with one or more paid workers as well as volunteer (I think) boards. (Does anyone know who came up with “selective service”?) And, of course, regional and national offices. Paperwork galore.

Both aspects of the big government came together for me in my second year of law school. As I began my legal studies during the height (or shall we say, depth) of the Vietnam War, deferments for graduate school ended. And thus, one day during a break in my classes, I found the missive in my mail with what was then the famous salutation, “Greetings.” I was being drafted pending a physical, for which I had to return to my home county.

It wasn’t as though I hadn’t thought about being in the army before—all males of my generation did–but the draft notice certainly, how shall we say, focused my attention on an impending military life. It was more than a little hard to concentrate on the law of corporations or the tax code with the army looming. Part of my thoughts that followed the draft notice were about the war that the U.S. was then bogged down in, but many of my thoughts just went to basic training, which I dreaded for good reason.

(continued September 14)

Snippets

I have a book in my hand. It seems permanent, not so much the physical object, but the content. And, of course, to some extent that is true. I have read books that were published a century, two centuries ago, but most books, even well-received ones, are quickly forgotten. Whenever I get a book out of the library, I look at the return dates stamped in the book. Most of the older ones have not been checked out in years. A physical book may still be on somebody’s shelves, but does it really exist if it is not read?

Often when a football player injures one leg, people from the sideline help him to stand up, and the player then puts his arm around one of those helpers and  limps off the field. The helping person is often, not surprisingly, much smaller than the player, and the player often can’t put much weight on the helper, and the two often have trouble syncing their walk. Instead, the teams ought to keep canes on the sidelines. The player would be able to get off the field better with a cane than with his arm around another. But I guess the cane would undercut the image of manly youthfulness, or is it youthful manliness?

At a dinner party, a guest mispronounced a word. Other people at the table, either out of ignorance or out of politeness, pronounced the word in the same wrong way. I avoided using the word. What should one do in such a circumstance?

A friend who is an architect was showing me the wonderful additions he had recently done to his house. I asked, “Are you through?” He replied, “An architect never says it is done because then it can be judged.”

Was the philosopher (or was it a comedian?) right when he said, “If you want to prepare your child for real life, give her a Where’s Waldo book without any Waldos.”

Why is it when you sleep fitfully all night that you are sound asleep when it is time to get up?

A play idea for the Beckett or Sartre in you: Imagine that redwoods are sentient and can communicate. Setting: A redwood grove with three or four trees. What would be the conversations over the thousand years that the redwoods were next to each other unable to be alone or find other company? And then what happens when one of the trees finally dies?

You are Jewish if your mother is Jewish, I am told. But what if your mother converts to Judaism after you were born?

The person I took to be a conservative was railing against the big government program of food stamps. Her clinching argument was that someone she knew should have been on food stamps but did not qualify.

What did couples differ over before they could argue about how best to load a dishwasher?

George and Gay Pride (concluded)

I had a fair number of dinners with his gay friends after George told me that he was gay. They were perfectly nice, but it was all somewhat sad.  George was not part of a chic or sophisticated gay life. The talk was basically about drugs and who was hot (which required being young), but undertones of fear often came through. They lived in the shadows, in compartments. I heard even fifty-year-olds voicing a concern that their parents would find out about their lives.

George, I was convinced, wanted something more than he was getting out of this gay life. In the straight world, he did not acknowledge all of his life. In his gay compartment, however, it was almost all talk of sex and drugs while he also wished to talk about politics or baseball or TV or movies. That, however, was not his group, and George was compartmentalized, too. In a world where few could openly acknowledge they were gay, he seemed to have no way to meet new gay friends that had wider interests.

When I left the job, I did not see George regularly. Ours was the kind of friendship that needed the shared stimulus of work to continue our closeness. We still did have an occasional dinner, but our conversations now were often about a darker world enveloping George and his friends. The AIDS epidemic had hit. As we walked down the Village streets, he would see someone and say, “His lover died last month.” “His lover died six months ago.”  George had been to several dozen funerals in the last year. He told me about the AIDS death of former colleagues of ours, people whose sexuality I had never thought about. Not surprisingly, a depression hung over George and his friends.

And then George got the disease. We had dinners a few times after that. He was quite accepting even though he knew he was dying, and with the hospital bedsides he had attended, he was aware how awful the death from AIDS was. Even so, he did not seem to be sorry for himself. He almost seemed grateful for what awaited him. As death approached, George’s one true concern was that he had had unprotected sex with someone, and he kept trying to convince himself that it had happened before he had been diagnosed.

George accepted that he was gay. He knew that is who he was. He knew it was not something he had chosen, but growing up when he did, he also seemed to accept a certain self-hatred because of who he was. As death approached, he wanted that self-hatred over. Stonewall had happened, but the gay pride movement had barely started, and George was not part of it.

Much has changed in the decades since George told me that he was gay. Some of it has been personal. Other men have come out to me as gay. I have looked back and realized that friends I had were gay. But society has also made changes. As more and more people lived openly as gay or lesbian, more and more of the rest of us realized those we love and respect include non-straight people. Many of us have become more accepting and less fearful of those whose sexualities differ from the majority in the country.

Laws have also changed. Gay sex is no longer a crime. (Those who rail against big government, of course, should applaud this change. What could be more the sign of Big Brother than mandating what you can’t do between consenting adults in private?) Same-sex couples can get married and more often are treated similarly to heterosexual couples. I think back to George’s time when I knew a same-sex couple who had been together for over twenty years, longer than many marriages I knew. One got injured. His partner was not allowed in the hospital room because he was not a “relative.”

Of course, the world has not shed all its prejudices about gays and lesbians. Regular reports reveal attacks on people around the country because of their sexuality. Some “Christian” ministers call for the execution of gays, and more subtle discrimination, from churches to jobs to friendships, still abound. And, of course, many foreign countries have not come even as far as we have.

Even so, I wish that George had lived into a time when he would have seen some of these positive changes. I don’t how, if at all, the possibility of marriage would have affected his long-term relationship that fell apart, but I do know that I would have loved to hear George’s descriptions of his participation in a Gay Pride parade. I would have loved it for George not only to acknowledge his sexuality but to have had the chance to celebrate being gay.