Small World: Two tales of winter

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

This past week witnessed two events that merit examination both from behind and from the front: the President’s State of the Union address and the Super Bowl. Let’s take the second first.

The most impressive feature of the game for me was the enormous bulk and evident great strength of the players. Surrounded by an audience screaming, in effect, for blood, they brought to mind the classical gladiators of the Roman Empire. Whatever happened to them? Did they kill each other off? Or did they get eliminated by one of those do-good emperors, like the one who brought in Christianity for the poor pagans? In those olden days the word of an authoritative leader could change the world — he or she could alter or abolish the deadly sport that fans relished.

Can the same sort of change be working its way to change modern American football? I am sure that all of you know moms or dads who will not allow their sons to play tackle. Too potentially damaging. The other night we all saw a Philadelphia player stunned when a Patriot banged him helmet to helmet. If that stunned player begins to show the effects of brain damage, look for Super Bowl LIII (or a bit later) to play two-hand touch. Today’s gladiators seem likely in time to go the way of yesterday’s.

The other feature of the Super Bowl game I wish to note is the enormous quantity of data and judgments that are available to the off-screen narrators. “Was it in Super Bowl XIX (or was it XXXIV?) the last time such a trick play worked?” the commentators will ask. Then they will show us (they say) the play-back proof that a foot was in or out of bounds, or the ball in or out of control when a catch was made or a touchdown scored. Underground somewhere in a dark room there are those who have all the answers, those who say they can assure balanced and fair play.

Which brings us back to the State of the Union address and the need for a fact-sensitive supervisor. I am as sympathetic as any American to the misery of some of our fellow citizens. And I am just as admiring as you are of the brave deeds of those who have acted to defend our lives and values. But every drama has its parameters and its purposes. We don’t tune in to the S-of-the-U for human-interest tales. We want to hear an analysis — even if one-sided — of pending policies and of proposed remedies for the maladies that hurt our society. Politics and policies we want, a not human-interest dramas.

It’s OK for the State of the Union to be biased and self-serving. The opposition party can deal with that in their fashion. Meanwhile the citizenry gains authoritative knowledge of what our leader thinks and where he/she is taking us. Again, we turn to classical reference to come to our aid: the Roman Empire had a hall full of representatives of the people (and themselves) who were prepared to deal with crowned leaders (sometimes with daggers) when they strayed outside the bounds of tradition and reason. I doubt that Brutus, Cassius, and the rest would have long tolerated an emperor who wasted their time with soap opera narratives and failed to discuss policy. They wouldn’t care much whether or not he appeared presidential.

These events I have described — fierce football and flaccid speechifying — cry out for the supervision only a mother can provide. While the country is focused on the unwanted harassments asserted by supposedly powerful men, we should be thinking about the power that might be exercised by the women among us.

In that connection, I commend to you a recent letter to The News from Reverend Plaisted praising the attentive and skilled care of the nurses who tended to him in the hospital recently. I, too, had that experience and would only add that we ought to reward these professionals in accord with their great contribution to our society. Just as they are rigorous in making us take our pills on time, I am sure they could equally discipline politicians who can’t seem to control the time they take and the ways in which they impinge on our lives.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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