I DO NOT CARE

I don’t care.  Really. I just don’t give a rat’s ass about a lot of things these days.  I suppose it is a function of age, a function of being increasingly aware that I am closer to the end of my life than I am to its beginning.

I don’t care about my looks.  It’s not that I am deliberately setting out to scare little kids with my days-old beard and my near-scull-close haircut.  I just don’t want to waste the time needed to shave each morning, the time required to shampoo, dry and comb my hair.  It’s too much bother for me.  I have better things to do with that time.

I don’t care if I never have to drive an automobile ever again.  Really, I’d be content to spend the rest of my life moving about on my own two feet, my recumbent bicycle or the back of a friendly horse.  Polo ponies are particular favorites in that last category.  Working out on a polo field with my late friend Henry Trione was the most fun I’ve ever had on horseback, and I’ve also spent some time on a cutting horse (thank you Janet Trefethen).

I don’t care much about clothing choices.  Most of my life is contentedly lived in sweat pants and a tee shirt (or shorts and a tee).  I have two pair of “dress blue jeans” and am now on a self-tied bow tie kick but, other than that, I don’t go out of my way much to impress anyone.  I’m okay with me, and that’s pretty much the end of it.

I don’t care about insignificant things at all.  Don’t waste my time.  You see, I don’t have all that much of it left, and I’d like to spend that time actively engaging with my family, my friends, and the intellectual and spiritual pursuits that make their way into the blog posts I am deliriously happy to share with you.

Yes, there are things that I do care about.  It is very painful for me to follow stories of the willful meanness that continues to insinuate itself into our world.  I cry inside when I read of people intentionally trying to deny girls the right to educate themselves.  My blood curdles when I hear of societies persecuting societal differences, be they of gender, of sexuality, of religion (or lack thereof), or of color.

I shudder at the plight of the dispossessed and the displaced, be they in Europe or right here in the Western hemisphere.  Human lives should not be at risk for simply existing, anywhere.  There are the genocides of southeast Asia and the religious wars of, well, pretty much everywhere it seems.

Top all that off with our wonton ignorance of the climate calamity that is increasingly announcing itself with hurricane horrors and the one-by-one displacement of polar bears from their ice floe havens.  What are we thinking?  Why are we not thinking?  I don’t get it.

And then there are those who believe that guns are more valuable than human beings.  Really?  When did we get to that nadir of civilization?  Scrapping the Second Amendment isn’t the answer.  Making it work the way it was intended is.  Well-regulated militias, yes.  Everyone armed with assault rifles, no.  How hard is that?

So, it seems that I do care.  More than a little.  But it’s the big things that I care about, not the small stuff.  You remember the book title, right?  Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.  (It’s All Small Stuff.)  Yep, that about sums it up.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

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MEASURING UP

I was playing with the idea of how our present president might measure up against Jesus, the Buddha, or such historical stalwarts as Gandhi or Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. or Bishop Tutu.  Naturally, he falls short, as most all of us would.

What if we measured him against someone historically closer to him?  Say, a member of the U.S. Senate?  I’m thinking of a female member of that august body, a person who served in the military, as a helicopter pilot, retiring as a lieutenant colonel and then, just to top it all off, recently gave birth to a child.  All things our Commander-in-Chef is either incapable of or simply would not do.

Her name is Tammy Duckworth, and her story is inspiring.  This is real leadership we’re talking about.  None of the “fake” stuff.  None of the lurid stuff.  None of the demeaning stuff we’ve had to suffer from “him.”

Let me tell you just a little about Tammy Duckworth.  She was born fifty years ago in Bangkok, Thailand.  Her father was an American U.S. Army vet who traced his family’s military service back to the Revolutionary War.  Her mother is Thai of Chinese descent.  The family moved to Hawaii, where Duckworth finished high school and earned a Bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Hawaii.  She took a Master’s in international affairs from George Washington University and added a Ph.D. in Human Services at Capella University.

From 1992-2014 she served as a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army, serving in Iraq, where she was shot down and suffered major injuries.  She lost both legs and her right arm was partially disabled.  She proudly wears the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, and has numerous other decorations.

She did not settle.  She went to work for Veterans Affairs, then ran for and served in the Illinois state legislature.  She served her state in the House of Representatives and is now the junior Senator.  Her husband is a fellow Iraq war vet.  The couple has two children.  (The second was born earlier this month.  Duckworth is the first Senator to give birth while serving a term of office.)

Ms. Duckworth is gun owner who supports reforms in our laws, including universal background checks and a ban on open state-to-state sales.  After the Las Vegas shooting she said, “Such senseless and horrifying acts of violence have no place in America or any other nation.”  She is pro-choice on abortion rights and supports the Affordable Care Act.

Duckworth was one of those Senator Bob Dole, the former presidential candidate, dedicated his autobiography One Soldier’s Story to.  I can tell you without reservation that I am going to follow her life and her career with great and enduring attention.  And I’ll wager any amount you like that she lives a more productive, more useful life than the present lessee of the White House.  She might even end up there, one day, herself.  She’ll get my vote.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

RACISM . . . AGAIN

The NFL has proven itself racist.  Again.

On Thursday, the Seattle Seahawks rescinded an offer to meet with former Forty-niner quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  They had offered him a tryout . . . under the stipulation that he agree not to kneel for the National Anthem.  To his enduring credit, the blacklisted quarterback declined to waive his right to protest inequality and oppression.

Never mind that Kaepernick would be a good fit for the Seahawk’s offensive system.  Never mind that Seattle is, for the most part, and open and liberal part of the country and that the team itself usually reflects those enlightened views.  For some reason the team’s management froze when it came to upholding a citizen’s hard-won rights.

The Black community has a long-held axiom: “We know what they think of us.”  The same, sadly, can be said for other oft-benighted communities.  The Jews, the Irish, the Chinese, Native Americans, the transgendered, gays . . . women.  My goodness, that almost sounds like all of us.

But it isn’t, and that is the problem.  We need to treat all of us like all of us.  Because if we do not, then the day will come when everyone is vulnerable to the arbitrary, the angry, the belittling, the bullying.  And when that day comes it will be too late.  All the signs were there, but we did not read them accurately or in a timely fashion.

When the bell tolls, it tolls not just for thee.  It tolls for me, too.  Think about that.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

BASEBALL IS IN THE AIR

I know, taxes are due in a few days.  All the more reason to celebrate the fact that it is baseball season once again.  Pitchers are hurling red-laced white spheroids homeward and hitters are swinging for the fences so hard that strikeouts are bound to be up, once again.

I saw a clip on social media of actor/director Ron Howard in a television interview expressing his embarrassment upon discovering that his baseball hero, Sandy Koufax, earned less money in 1966—the year Koufax and Don Drysdale held out together for a higher salary (somewhere above $100,000 each, if memory serves)—than he, Ron Howard, as an eleven-year-old on the Andy Griffith Show, earned that year.  Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

In similar vein, Babe Ruth was the first baseball player to crack the $100,000 barrier.  I believe it was in 1929.  When reporters chided him for making more than President Herbert Hoover, The Babe replied, “I had a better year!”  Which was true.

So, this delightfully bedeviling, bewildering game is now back at the center of our attention as an elemental, even primal bit of sport.  It is as visceral as two cavemen—one with a rock, one with a wooden club—sizing each other up and saying, “Let’s see who’s better!”

That’s what the game comes down to, at it’s core, doesn’t it?  One player against another.  Basic combat, mano y mano.  Don’t mistranslate that.  It’s not “man-to-man” combat.  It’s “hand-to-hand” combat.  Up close and personal.

We lost Rusty Staub a couple of weeks ago.  He was dubbed “Le Grand Orange” for his flaming carrot-red hair, when he played in Montreal.  Rusty was quite the fan favorite, and is the only player in baseball history to have 500 or more hits for four different teams.  I got know him a little when his love of food connected him to the wine business.  He was open and wondrously generous and easy to chat with, a good fellow on and off the field.

Cannot talk about baseball without mentioning my favorite Yogi Berra story.  Seems that when he was in high school he did not do well on an exam, and his teacher—rather rudely—said, “Don’t you know anything?”  To which Yogi replied, “I don’t even suspect anything!”  That’s our guy.  (Another professional catcher—and later an excellent announcer—was Joe Garagiola.  Joe used to bemoan the fact that he, as a Major League catcher, wasn’t even the best catcher on the block where he grew up, in the Hill section of St. Louis.  His neighbors, across the street, were the Berra family!)

A few funnies.  The famed batting coach, Charlie Lau, once explained that there were two theories on hitting the knuckleball . . . but that neither one of them worked.

Then there was newspaper columnist Dave Barry, who observed, “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there is a man on base!”

Never forget that, when you come up against a rhinoceros with three balls, the correct response is to walk him and pitch to the giraffe.  Bigger strike zone, less power.  Common sense, if you think about it.  (I told that joke to former Giant Jeffrey Leonard when he was managing the Sonoma County Crushers.  I was there for open tryouts one weekend—at fifty-plus with a bunch of twenty-year-olds—and he said, “Every manager should know that!”)

I leave you this fine day with the words of Bill Veeck (pronounced akin to “wreck”), who expanded the “fun” quotient of baseball when he owned the Chicago White Sox: “If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off!”

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

QUICKSAND

Things Swedish have currently been on my radar.  For one, we have an engagingly delightful 19-year-old Swedish exchange student living with us for five weeks.  The other is a long-time favorite author of mine, whose final book couples his own approaching death with our head-in-the-sand approach toward discarding nuclear waste.

The author is Henning Mankell, whose bumbling, opera-loving detective Kurt Wallander became an immensely popular phenomenon.  But Mankell’s other works—plays and novels—probe deeper thoughts.  His last book, Quicksand, asks disturbing questions about ourselves and our tendency to look the other way when hard questions present themselves.

The waste disposal problem wends its way through the slim volume.  “Civilizations have always left rubbish behind,” he writes.  “When a culture or an empire collapses, nobody tends to think about clearing up the mess they leave behind.  However, neither the Egypt of the Pharaohs nor the Holy Roman Empire left behind dangerous or deadly rubbish.  But we are going to do so.”

Mankell sets up the obvious contrast between the simple decay of the human body into nutrients that will eventually enrich the soil and the deadly nuclear wastes we are burying in the ground, where they will eventually come back to haunt mankind, be that in mere decades or more remote millennia.  His point is this: What sort of creature intentionally poisons its own future?

Part of his analogy includes our increasing inability to face death head on.  He says that people in Sweden can live their whole lives without ever seeing a dead person “apart from on a flickering television screen or in a cinema.  If we hide death away, life becomes incomprehensible.  I’m not suggesting that pre-school children should be dragged off to mortuaries on study visits, but how can we get young people to respect life if death has been relegated to hospitals and funeral parlours?  The fact that death has disappeared in a country like Sweden is a gross cultural lapse that doesn’t bode well for the future.”

Thoughtful as he is, it is no surprise that Mankell has a few words to say about our understanding of “civilized.”  Too often, he argues, that concept has been employed as a bludgeon, as an excuse for aggression.  He points to European expansion that brought three powerful facets into play:  cannons, the cross and cashbooks.  “The secret weapon of colonialism was lying,” he writes.  He points to the 19th century takeover of Africa by Europeans, but what our Native Americans suffered from the same folk was little better.

Mankell closes his morality play on a couple of positive notes.  His final mantra is this: “Nothing is ever too late.  Everything is still possible.”  Which I take to be a sly comment on the lasting effects of climate change and our present inability to implement even the most rudimentary countermeasures.

His final comment reaffirms my belief in the ultimate positivity of life: “Our real family is endless, even if we don’t know who some of them were when we met them for an extremely brief moment.”  So, say hello to the person sitting next to you on the bus, in the theater, in the supermarket.  He may not be your brother.  She may not be your cousin.  But there is a relationship, no matter how far removed.  So, find out what that connection is.  You will be enriched for the experience.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

REQUIRES STIMULATION

As of this morning, I have inhabited a small place on the planet for seventy-two years.  I don’t feel “old,” exactly.  But I am no longer young, either.  For my money, I just “am.”  Which makes sense, to my way of thinking, because the only real living can be done in what I call “the eternal now.”

Living in the past is, occasionally, soothing, but it doesn’t really move things forward.  And you cannot, really, live in the future, though it’s useful to plan ahead, to have a contingency plan or two on tap to save your backside when things turn sideways, as they are perversely wont to do.

I am in full possession of the attention-deficit thing.  I am also an Aries, with a full compliment of its fiery attributes.  When you add in the “half Portuguese” component, well, we’re talking someone who thrives on stimulation.

For me, different isn’t just good, it’s great, it’s magnificent, it’s the best things can be.  Quotidian is boring, to me.  Give me “off the beaten path” any day, any time.  New is exciting for me, change is necessary.  It doesn’t have to be big change; pretty much any change will do.

For my mental self, crossword puzzles are a boon.  They help keep my mind sharp, my vocabulary varied and growing.  And, of course, I read a lot.  A whole lot.

For my physical self, basketball and baseball and riding my recumbent bicycle as often as possible are the primary motivating forces.  I am also trying to learn to ride a unicycle.  Aieee, but that is a tough one.  The whole balance thing gets exponentially harder as you age.  You didn’t know that?  I’m shocked.  Shocked, I say.  (I’m teaching myself to throw a boomerang, too.  You know what the Aussies call a boomerang that doesn’t return?  A stick!)

As to keeping my social self hearty, I work hard on preserving old friendships and cultivating new ones, particularly with younger people.  Let’s face it, people my age are leaving this realm at an increasing pace (rest in peace Remo Patri and Bill Patterson).  With old friends you try to refresh and re-set.  Getting to know youngsters—like Josh and Kyle and Kevon and Chanece—well, that’s just plain exhilarating to feed off their youth and energy.

With my spiritual self, I try to question everything.  Too many religious folk are so set in their ways that they rebel against assessment.  I liked the Jesuits I met in college and admire the Jews for their fierce questioning of everything.  Even the present Pope seems willing to investigate aspects of Catholicism that were previously off-limits to inquiry.  You learn far more from a well-thought question than from most inured, worn answers.

So, push yourself, I say.  Expand your horizons.  Stretch all your faculties, because stretching your muscles and your mind is how you get stronger and more limber.  Get out in the world and feel what’s going on around you.  Embrace change and the new.  Relish the re-set.  Be open to experience.  Remember Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: “A mind expanded by a new idea never returns to its former size.”  Be willing to be stimulated.  Live your life.  Be willing to jump into life with both feet!

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

HOMELESS

The facts are right there in front of us, every day.  If our eyes are open—and we actually see what exists—the assessment of our care for one another is not entirely on the plus side.  We can do better.  And we should.

Darrell Steinberg is Mayor of Sacramento.  He recently said, “Homelessness is the single highest quality of life challenge we face in our cities, and cities cannot do it alone.”  Pleading for state funds to be channeled through California’s cities, Steinberg tied the state’s economic prosperity to how it handles its homeless.

The stats suggest that there are a minimum of 135,000 homeless in the Golden State (a reported 9000 in Sonoma County).  Caring for their needs shouldn’t take a huge economic commitment.  Indeed, common sense suggests that if the economic problems caused by the homeless were eradicated . . . the monies saved would have been far more than the funds needed to care for them!  It’s the old Fram oil filter commercial:  “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”  Prevention is far less costly than cure.  It just requires foresight and fiscal courage, not always present in the political arena.

In New York City, Pathways to Housing takes a proactive approach to the problem.  There, psychologist Sam Tsemberis says, “We made the assumption that housing would actually stabilize people.”  That “housing first” approach stood up.  Those who got places to stay kept them.  Most models—Los Angeles is also in the game—have frequent check-ups from docs, mental-health and substance-abuse counselors.  Residents are not required to be clean and sober on entering the programs, but must be law-abiding.

Education and job training are necessary components of any successful program.  Utah’s proactive programs are immensely successful (with near zero homelessness), reporting that permanent housing costs about $8000 per year (as opposed to a cost of $20,000 a year for temporary housing).  New York, Seattle and Los Angeles report similar savings.

One such program was thoroughly tested by Toronto’s health care system in 1991 according to Michael Lewis in his book The Undoing Project.  The experiment went thusly:  “When a homeless person entered the emergency room, the staff was instructed to tend to his every need.  Fetch him juice and a sandwich, sit down and talk to him, help arrange for his medical care.  The college students worked for free.  They loved it:  They got to pretend to be doctors.  But they serviced only half of the homeless people who entered the hospital.  The other half received the usual curt and dismissive service from the nursing staff.”  While the first group returned to the hospital more often, their actual use of the health care system declined . . . dramatically.  “The entire Toronto health care system had been paying a price for its attitude to the homeless.”

Similarly, Medicine Hat—a town of 60,000 in southern Alberta—has reduced its homeless population dramatically though its “Housing First” program.  By focusing on getting people off the streets, the city has reduced its homeless population from just over a thousand to near “functional zero.”  By aggressively working the problem, people now stay in emergency housing for days and weeks (instead of months and years).  Over a five-year period they managed to place nearly 900 people into permanent housing.

In the end, I think we know as much as we’re going to know about ourselves by how we treat those lacking the benefits we are gifted with and/or the benefits we accrue though our efforts.  Blessings are not equally distributed in Nature, but we do have a say how they are distributed by society.  Whether judgment comes externally or internally, what do you want that assessment to say about you and your life?

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle