Monday, August 31, 2015

Shooting the messenger

As we sweat the last few days of summer, the rhetoric and changing dynamics of the campaign for president has become far more interesting than I would have thought at this early stage of the game. On the Republican side, the plethora of candidates and the willingness of Donald Trump to say whatever is on his mind has created a circus-like atmosphere.

On the Democratic side of the scrum, a primary process that once appeared to be a formality for Hillary Clinton is growing more competitive as left-most Senator Bernie Saunders draws huge crowds and has been closing the gap in polls. While Saunders’ popularity has all but crushed Rhode Island’s own Lincoln Chafee’s plans to be relevant for once, it has also opened a door for Vice President Joe Biden. While Biden has his flaws (again, the tendency to say anything that springs to mind), he would also be the sentimental favorite of many traditional Democrats and a home for the anyone-but-Hillary crowd that pushed Obama to victory over her in 2008.

While voters usually don’t see the behind the scenes chaos at these campaigns, we can imagine the insanity. One of Trump’s advisors was recently fired (although he says he quit first) because he disagreed with the strategic direction of the campaign. He wanted the candidate to do a poll and stay on message while the candidate was intent on attacking the media and calling the moderator “a bimbo.” If he quit, good for him. If he was fired, also good for him, but I think the proverbial messenger got the axe.

Which brings me to the place I usually end up. WHAT is going on with the Red Sox? Last week they managed to fire the one person who has executed his job perfectly for 14 years with few errors, lots of homers and a ton of wins. For those of you living under a rock, NESN announced that Dave O’Brien (who is just fine) would be the play-by-play person for the Red Sox in 2016, taking the chair that Don Orsillo has occupied since 2001. Don has been “the guy” next to Jerry Remy for the best TV years of the franchise and is apparently getting blamed for a drop in NESN’s ratings. WOW. Is Wally going to get canned when the Monster Seats don’t sell out? Maybe they should fire the ticket takers when the attendance drops below 30,000.

While I can’t begin to understand NESN’s thinking, I can say that Don and Jerry have made an unbearable season worth watching and their banter has kept me entertained during some pretty boring stretches of baseball. If you haven’t seen Don and Jerry’s calling of the famous pizza throwing incident at Fenway, it’s worth watching for a good laugh and a good look at why he means so much to Boston fans.

Like Trump’s antics, the team’s bad moves are beginning to wear thin and no amount of promotions and saccharine ads will bring back a fan base if the team is seen as being disloyal to those who have served as its best messengers. I just hope that this doesn’t bring us the curse of the Orsillo — I want to see another World Series win in my lifetime.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Keeping a streak alive

Over the course of this miserable season there have been a few days where it seemed that the Red Sox might be able to put a run together after several well-played and well-pitched games. These elusive games are called “wins” and three (or more) in a row constitute a streak. Sadly, we’ve had too few streaks and too little success to make this season anything but a losing one.

Many Rhode Islanders have heard about a win streak of a different kind in the news recently. Rhode Island has some the highest vaccination rates of any state in the country — and that’s very good news. More than 82% of Rhode Island toddlers have received the measles, mumps and rubella series, the highest in the U.S. Rates for children in the same age group for varicella (chickenpox) and hepatitis B were both greater than 96%, also the country’s highest. For children entering school, rates for the vaccines against chicken pox, hepatitis B, tetanus, pertussis, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella were above 92%, well above the national averages. This is something to celebrate and a streak to sustain. Vaccines are the single most significant achievement in public health and are the sole reason why many of us have never seen so many of the dreadful diseases listed above.

The Rhode Island Department of Health recently recommended adding a requirement for HPV (human papillomavirus) to the vaccine schedule for children entering middle school. HPV is so common that almost every sexually active person will contract it at some time. Certain strains of HPV cause cancer, making this the first vaccine against cancer. Some Rhode Islanders are pushing back on the requirement but I am hopeful that science will prevail over anti-government paranoia and we can keep our streak alive. There will always be a small portion of the population that remains unvaccinated for religious reasons and those who can’t be immunized because of another medical condition, but for the rest of us, there’s no reason to skip this vaccine.

For full disclosure, I worked with the manufacturers of the HPV vaccine a decade ago as they were bringing the vaccine to market. I was proud to work on a cancer vaccine and was glad it would be available to my children (then just 1 and 3), so if I sound like I am a vaccine homer, I am. In the course of my work I spoke with parents whose children contracted a vaccine-preventable disease and their agony is far worse than the pain of a shot in the arm.

Some people have asked why is the vaccine requirement itself so important and why is it appropriate for children entering middle school. The requirement is critical to establish “herd immunity”, to prevent an outbreak and protect those who are unable to be vaccinated. While most middle school children are not sexually active, as children get into high school and beyond (when they are sexually active), regular doctor visits are fewer and further between, making middle school entry one of the last opportunities for a captive audience. If you don’t want to talk to your kids about sex when they get this vaccine, then don’t. Just let them know that you are protecting them and their friends against cancer later in life — and keeping a good win streak alive. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Just a game with no heroes

The 2015 season is very much over for the Red Sox. We have no pitching ace, the offense is spotty and last week when star closer Koji Uehara broke his wrist, the fat lady belted out an encore to make sure that her earlier song was not mistaken for a warm up ditty.

While seeing the team implode is unfortunate, baseball is just a game — and professional baseball is just a business. NESN can create all kinds of heartstring tugging commercials to keep us hooked but I suspect many other local fans are feeling as I am this week — not remotely interested in baseball and deeply saddened by the loss of a local hero.

I did not know Andrew McKenna. It seems odd in a small town with few military families, but from his record, it’s clear that he’s been serving our country in faraway hellholes for much of his career. A fellow Green Beret was quoted in the Army Times saying, "He's been in the military for 17 years, and there's not a day of the war that he missed, and at every point of his career, he volunteered to go further into harm's way. He's that guy who raises his hand and says, 'yeah, I'll go.'"

The word hero is thrown around far too much these days. I am sure I’ve said that David Ortiz was a “hero” in 2004. I was wrong. Heroes don’t play baseball. Heroes help other people by doing things that the rest of us can’t or won’t do. We have professional heroes in our communities like police and firefighters and others that rise to the occasion in a time of crisis. And then there are heroes among us like Andrew McKenna — they volunteer to serve in our military, take the most difficult assignments and do things that we don’t even want to know about in places that we don’t want them to be. They do their work day in and day out without recognition and with the knowledge that their sacrifices are barely understood or appreciated by the people they serve.

Living in our little corner of Rhode Island is a bit different of course. Our big 4th of July celebration brings smiles and tears every year while flags on every porch and our red white and blue stripe tell any visitor and remind any locals that we are proud Americans. I hope that these sights are daily reminders to the loved ones of Master Sergeant McKenna that we mourn their loss, appreciate his sacrifice and are eternally grateful to have had a real hero among us.