Starliners and COVID and Olympics, Oh My

Today’s column was originally supposed to be about either a successful, or unsuccessful launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule.

For those unfamiliar with the Starliner, it is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) which serves to shuttle astronauts back and forth between earth and low earth orbit.

The other player in the CCP game, SpX, has already flown an uncrewed, and three crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS), with a fourth crewed mission slated for September.

To date, Boeing has attempted one uncrewed mission, which did not really check all of the intended boxes.

After failing to stick the crucial steps of getting into the right orbit and making it to the ISS back in 2019, Boeing was set to make a second attempt to show that they have the right stuff in terms of flying a capsule that can perform as it is commanded. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Starliner is still very much on the ground in Florida and I was forced to find a new topic to write about.
Photo R. Anderson

After failing to stick the crucial steps of getting into the right orbit, and making it to the ISS and back in 2019, Boeing was set to make a second attempt to show that they have the right stuff in terms of flying a capsule that can perform as it is commanded.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Starliner is still very much on the ground in Florida with no real plan for when it will try to launch again atop a United Space Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket.

The fact that Boeing has yet to “light this candle” shows that failure to launch is more than just the title of a Matthew McConaughey movie, which led me to the need to come up with a Plan B column.

As someone who grew up near the Space Coast of Florida, I know that launch slips are a common occurrence. Space travel is hard. From weather, to tight launch windows, there are myriad things that can cause a launch to slip even without mis-configured hardware.

So, in hindsight I should have known better then to put all of my column eggs in the “Boeing will launch before Friday” basket.

I should have known better. Shame on me for believing.

Of course, the obvious fallback column topic would be to write about the meteoric rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, while focusing specifically on states that are spelled “Texas” and “Florida.”

Those two states have governors who have issued mandates banning mandates on things like mask wearing and generally acting like adults in the middle of a health crisis despite having a third of all new COVID-19 cases popping up within their borders.

In the typical “oh look at that shiny thing over there” playbook the governors of Florida and Texas would have you believe that the rise in cases is due to illegal immigrants and not lax guidelines and low vaccination rates among the citizens of those states.

To be clear, illegal immigrants are not responsible for all of the COVID-19 cases in Florida and Texas, but they make a convenient foil for the reality avoiding governors to point to.

In the area around the Gigaplex, the County Judge recently raised the COVID-19 threat level to the highest level on the map while urging all unvaccinated people to either get vaccinated, or stay home.

Of course, thanks to the aforementioned mandate outlawing mandates, the County Judge and other local officials are unable to decree that people wear masks, or do any of the other common sense steps that science says can stop the spread of a disease.

Hospitals in both Florida and Texas are running out of room to treat patients. In some cases, patients are being flown hundreds of miles away to get treatment since the local hospitals are full.

No, I am not going to write about those two governors and people like them who choose to stick their heads in the sand, or play the fiddle while proverbial Rome burns around them.

I am also not going to write about the closing ceremonies of the Pandemic Games in Tokyo. While some athletes achieved great feats in medal winning performances, one could argue that the greatest feat that the athletes should focus on is getting out of Tokyo without catching COVID-19.

By insisting on going through with the games in the middle of a pandemic the International Olympic Committee (IOC) showed their true motivations while making it clear that the show will go on no matter what.

Something tells me that when the Summer Olympic games return to Los Angeles in 2028 the IOC would be perfectly content to hold the games in the middle of a wild fire, earthquake, or for that matter even a sharknado in order to make sure they still made a profit.
Photo R. Anderson

Something tells me that when the Summer Olympic games return to Los Angeles in 2028 the IOC would be perfectly content to hold the games in the middle of a wild fire, earthquake or for that matter even a Sharknado.

After all, they need to make their millions of dollars at all costs.

To be clear, this is not a column about rockets stuck on the ground due to erroneous valve positions, or governors putting their citizens at undue risk as a result of questionable policy positions aimed at appeasing a very small minority of voters, or athletes competing in a world ravaged by a highly contagious variant to a disease that the world has battled for 18 months.

There will be other days to write about those things and more.

No, today’s column is all about Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

I have several Mr. Rogers themed t-shirts in my wardrobe. However, my favorite by far is this mashup of the X-Files and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Photo R. Anderson

When I was growing up, I loved watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on my local PBS station. I can still remember many of the episodes, and have been known to hum a song or two from the show from time to time.

One of my favorite parts of the show was when the Neighborhood Trolley traveled to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, to visit Purple Panda, King Friday XIII, Henrietta Pussycat and the rest of the puppets and live action characters that inhabited the wondrous land of dreams and endless possibilities.

As much as I wished I could stay in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, there was always that moment when the trolley would reappear and someone would say, “Oh hi, Trolley. Is it time to go back to reality now?”

Unfortunately, too many people seem stuck in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe unable, or unwilling to face the current realities of the world.

One of Mr. Rogers’ more famous quotes that seems as fitting today as the day he said it is, “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

The news is indeed failed with scary and sometimes unbelievable things. Thankfully there are still helpers trying to make it right. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of agents of destruction and mayhem tying the hands of the helpers.

Of course, there is a Mr. Rogers quote addressing that as well.

“Did you ever hear loud, scary sounds on television? Well, some television programs are loud and scary, with people shooting and hitting other people. You know, you can do something about that. When you see scary television, you can turn it off. And when you do turn it off, that will show that you’re the strongest of them all. It takes a very strong person to be able to turn off scary TV. Mmm-hmm. That’s one of the ways you’ll be able to tell that you’re really growing.”

Throughout his life, Fred Roger aka Mr. Rogers offered advice and comfort to children of all ages. One of his more famous quotes that seems as fitting today as the day he said it is, “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Photo R. Anderson

While I am sure Mr. Rogers was not directly addressing partisan divides and anti-science talking heads when he said these words, they sure seem to fit, and the principle applies.

Don’t give oxygen to the nonsense. Instead, follow actual facts over politicized fiction and mandates that make it harder for schools to protect children.

When you see someone on television, or the internet, spewing lies and conspiracies, turn them off.

Were he still alive today, one has to wonder what Mr. Rogers would think of the world of COVID-19 deniers enacting mandates that make it harder for schools to protect children and corrupt Olympic officials taking a virus be damned approach to protecting their profits.

Mr. Rogers famously testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communication on May 1, 1969, to defend public television from budget cuts. Something tells me that if he were alive today Mr. Rogers would be testifying to Congress and anyone else who would listen about the need to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.

I, and millions of other people, learned a lot from Mr. Rogers. For that I am truly grateful. Unfortunately, too many others stayed in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and became puppets performing for an audience of one.

I guess today’s column was about rockets, ill-conceived mandates putting children at risk, and international conglomerates putting profit over people after all.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the sudden urge to change into a red knit cardigan sweater.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

MLB Moving All-Star Game from Atlanta Creates Political Hot Potato

Major League Baseball (MLB) recently made the decision to move the July 13, 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia to a city to be named later.

The move was made in response to a new Georgia voting law that, depending on which side of the political fence one is on, either secures the elections in Georgia, or makes it harder for people to vote in Georgia. Critics of the new law call it a voter suppression measure and compare it to racist Jim Crow era laws. Proponents of the law note that they are just trying to make elections safer and more secure.

I will save the politics of the left versus right debate of the law for another day. I will say though that votes in Georgia for the 2020 election were counted four times and widespread voter fraud was not found. So, the new voting law might boil down to someone looking for a solution where a problem doesn’t exist, or it could scream of voter suppression and an attempt to silence a certain segment of the voting population in Georgia based on not liking the results of the last election.

Now that Major League Baseball set the ball in motion in terms of moving marquee events out of Atlanta in response to actions taken by the state legislative branch, time will tell if other events, like College Football’s Peach Bowl are moved out of Atlanta.
Photo R. Anderson

While some argue there are some good provisions in the new law, when it becomes criminal to offer someone waiting in line to vote a drink of water one has to question whether the legislation is really looking out for the welfare of the voters.

Either way, it is a political hot potato with passionate supporters on both sides that will likely ultimately be decided through litigation and perhaps a change in federal voting law. While the final fate of the voting process in Georgia is up in the air, MLB decided that in the current climate they did not want to be in Georgia for All-Star weekend.

MLB certainly has the power to decide where they want to play the All-Star Game. So, despite awarding the game to Atlanta back in 2019, MLB was completely within their rights as an organization to move the game to another city. However, much like the voting law has passionate backers and detractors, the move by MLB was also met with support by some, and condemnation by others.

Shortly after Major League Baseball announced that they were moving the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta, the Atlanta Braves made it clear to all who were listening that the decision to move the game was not made by them and that they did not agree with the move. Photo R. Anderson

Opponents of the game being moved cite that MLB caved to pressure from corporations and others in moving the game and missed an opportunity to draw attention to the very issue they are opposed to by taking their ball and going to another city.

In fact, the Atlanta Braves went on record as saying the decision to move the game was not theirs.

Wearing my cynical hat for a bit, the statement by the Braves about not making the decision to move the game sounds like an attempt by the team to distance themselves from the MLB decision in order to appease a certain subset of season ticket holders to avoid being a victim of “cancel culture.”

Had the game remained in Atlanta there likely would have been protests and other activities during All-Star Weekend that would have drawn attention to the issue of voting in Georgia and distracted from the true purpose of the All-Star weekend which is to create a bunch of for profit made for television events that give out bragging rights but not much else.

It also should be noted that had the All-Star Game been scheduled in Atlanta next year, or any other year for that matter, instead of this year it likely would not have been moved at all since the voting law would not have been as fresh in everyone’s mind. America is definitely a country of short attention spans and MLB just happened to roll the dice wrong and end up in Atlanta during a politically charged year.

So, faced with the possibly of protests, lost revenue from corporate sponsors, and the potential for players and at least one manager deciding to boycott the game, MLB did what many corporations do when faced with loud opposition from the people who write them big checks, they chose the road that they thought would best maintain their bottom line and standing within the community.

One should never underestimate the power of a sponsor threatening to withhold money when it comes to sports leagues and other entities dusting off their moral compasses, or at least fiscal compass during a variety of situations. I want to believe MLB did not let lost revenue factor into their decision but, if it walks and talks like sponsorship bucks, it usually is sponsorship driven.

Again, MLB was totally within their rights to move the game, but a case can definitely be made that keeping the game in Atlanta and using it as a platform for reform would have been a stronger statement. Lost in the debate about the game moving is the millions of dollars in local revenue that Georgia small businesses will lose since hotels, restaurants, and other establishments will no longer have the influx of people traveling to the All-Star Game.

Of course, it should be noted that we are still in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic so the idea of thousands of people traveling anywhere right now is likely keeping health officials and scientists up at night.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, Texas governor Greg Abbott declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark. When I saw that I laughed and laughed and laughed.

The governor grandstanding by refusing to throw out a pitch in front of his constituents based on something done 800 miles away in another state is a bit much. It should also be noted that Texas like many other states is trying to push through voter reform legislation which could make it harder for people to vote.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, the Texas governor declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark which replaced the open air sweat box that was Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Photo R. Anderson

So, with that context in mind one could see why the Texas governor would be so quick to side with the Georgia governor on the issue. Then again, this is the same man who often talks out of both sides of his mouth.

So, despite the Texas governor stating otherwise, perhaps his refusal to throw out the pitch in protest was really an invitation for MLB to move the All-Star Game to one of Texas’ two air-conditioned Ballparks.

While I really do not care where the All-Star Game is played this year, part of me really wants to see MLB call the governor’s bluff by offering to move the game to Texas so he has to go on record saying no to the millions of dollars in revenue that could go into the state economy.

Something tells me he will not still be vocally protesting the game leaving Georgia if those millions of dollars in revenue generated by the game come to Texas. But then again, the governor tends to change his mind faster than a Texas power plant goes dark in the middle of a freeze due to neglect.

My gut says the All-Star Game will get moved to Los Angeles, but it would definitely be interesting to see what would happen if MLB offered to come back to Texas.

The governors of Texas and Georgia are not alone in their anger towards MLB. Former President Donald Trump joined the conservative chorus of people seeking to punish MLB for its decision to move its All-Star Game out of Georgia by asking his red hat wearing faithful to boycott MLB.

Again, moving the game was totally within the foul poles of what MLB could do. By the same token, people certainly have the right to protest and/or boycott MLB for making the move.

Back when I was working on my Masters of Science in Sport Management, I studied many incidents where the worlds of sports and political protest collided. That is definitely a whole column series for another day.

While some argue that sports teams, league and athletes should just play the game and leave the politics out of it, professional and amateur athletes have long used their platforms to promote a political or social cause.

The invention and accessibility of social media platforms where athletes are less filtered through team media handlers to get their message out as created more opportunity for athletes from all sports and backgrounds to let their views be heard.

It was in part due to that chorus of athletes raising their voices in opposition to playing the All-Star Game in Atlanta which led to the game be relocated.

Of course, fans are free to agree or disagree with those views. The First Amendment guarantees people the right to state their opinion, but it does not guarantee the right that everyone will agree with it.

Time will tell where the 2021 MLB All-Star Game will take place. Time will also tell whether the action by MLB to move the game out of Atlanta to solve a short-term PR situation, will have long term impacts on the game, or if it will just be one of many blips in the history of the National Pastime.

One thing that is certain is in an ever-divided country, factions will continue to form and common ground will end up being not so common.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to warm up my throwing arm. I hear the Rangers suddenly have an opening for a ceremonial first pitch.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson