HALFWAY

Well, we’re almost halfway through the 2018 Major League baseball season and there are things to be learned.  We know, for example, that the Giants are much better when Joe Panik and Madison Bumgarner are in the lineup (even though “Bum” lost his first two starts).

In one month, for the first time in Major League history, more strike outs than hits were recorded.  It’s pathetic how these guys are swinging from their heels, strike outs be damned.  It reminds me of the delightful old commercial, where Braves pitchers Greg Maddox and John Smoltz are hitting in the batting cage, murmuring, “Chicks dig the long ball.”  Ha!

There are things that Major League baseball players do that will puzzle me forever.  For one, why the single flap batting helmets?  When you’re on base, you can get hit in either ear by a thrown ball.  Why leave one ear exposed?  And why doesn’t everyone wear the C-flap, to protect their jaw from the hundred-plus mph fastballs flung towards them?  You see more and more, but still.  Ought to be mandatory.

And why do batters remove their batting gloves when they reach base?  You’re probably going to slide at some point in the game.  Why wouldn’t you continue to protect your hands from infield grit or a baseman’s spikes?  I don’t get it.  I just don’t get it.

A month ago, in a college play-off game, a relief pitcher for LSU was due to bat.  The manager was going to pinch hit for him, but the kid said, “Coach, I hit nukes in high school!”  The manager let him hit, and he roped a double off the wall to drive in a run or two.  After the game, at the press conference, the kid admitted that he had never hit in high school.  The coach, with a wistful smile said, “You lied to me?!”

I remember watching the College World Series about ten years ago with my son.  At one point during a Florida State game, Curtis opined, “It would be nice if we could get that kid.”  That “kid” was the team’s shortstop, catcher and closer.  He could do it all.  Buster Posey.

A favorite baseball story has to do with home run calls.  When a Giant hit a homer in the old days, Russ Hodges would intone, “Bye, bye baby!”  For his successor, Lon Simmons, it was, “You can tell it goodbye!”  When Hodges retired, Bill Thompson slid into the second slot.  The San Francisco Chronicle had a contest to come up with a home run call for Thompson, but KSFO radio never let him use it.  “Adios, mother!”  (I kind of like it, and Jon Miller does slyly pay it obeisance with his lusty call, “Adios, pelota!”)

Though I am not a fan of “Charlie Hustle”—Pete Rose should never be admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame (gambling is the ultimate sin in sport)—I am a great fan of the quality he espoused and lived by.  I saw it a few weeks ago when the Giants’ Evan Longoria ran hard out of the box on what would have been, should have been a double play.  But, because Longoria didn’t quit on the play and beat the throw . . . the Giants went on to score three runs that inning.  Three runs that would not have been toted up in the absence of his hustle.

Speaking of hustle, did I ever tell you about the time I scored on a walk?  You’ll understand why I remember this play so vividly when I explain.  My adult hardball team was playing at Sonoma State’s excellent diamond.  Seriously green grass, laser level.  I was at bat.  When ball four was recorded, the ball skipped past the catcher, so I sprinted to first base on the off chance that he might be a tad lazy retrieving the ball (the field’s backstop is a good distance from home plate).

Sure enough, he had taken things for granted, so I turned to second.  The catcher frantically grabbed the ball and heaved it toward second.  Wildly.  He overthrew the infielder and the ball skittered into centerfield . . . where that outfielder had taken his eye off the play to ogle the young female soccer players beyond the fence.  Needless to say, the ball went all the way to the wall . . . and I scored on the walk!                             ©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

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TRUMP AS LINCOLN

This is the most ludicrous, most pathetic comparison imaginable—and I’ve got a pretty good imagination.  Our President, comparing himself to Lincoln.  On the face of it, it is a most laughable dab of self-aggrandizement.  Underneath, it is symptomatic.  I don’t have to spell it out for you, do I?  Thought not.

It does bring me to a delightful story that historian-baseball buff (huge Red Sox fan) Doris Kearns Goodwin likes to trot out.  I heard it on Christiane Amanpour’s television show, but I’m sure Ms. Goodwin has told it many times.

Seems that the great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy related the following story to a New York City newspaperman shortly after the outset of the 20th century.  Tolstoy had just returned from a journey to Siberia, to some remote outpost in the Caucuses.  There, he was asked to tell stories about the greatest leaders of men, including Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar.  “But wait,” said the Chief of the Barbarians.  “You haven’t told us about the greatest ruler of them all.  We want to hear about the man who spoke with the voice of thunder, who laughed like the sunrise, who came from that place called America that is so far from here that if a young man should travel there he would be an old man when he arrived.  Tell us of that man. Tell us of Abraham Lincoln.”

“Tolstoy was stunned,” explained Goodwin, “that Lincoln’s name had reached this far and isolated corner, so he told them everything he could about Lincoln, and then the reporter asked, ‘So what made Lincoln so great, after all?’  And Tolstoy said, ‘He wasn’t as great a general as Napoleon, he was, perhaps, not as great a statesman as Frederick the Great.  His greatness consisted in the moral integrity of his character.’  In the end, that is what we should judge all of our leaders by.”

The moral integrity of his character.  Think about that.  Can you connect any of those words—save “the” and “of”—with the current resident of the White House?

I told you, a while back, about Senator Tammy Duckworth.  In other news, you need to know a little about Lt. Col. Amy McGrath.  She is running for Congress in Kentucky.  I don’t know if she’ll win.  She’s got an uphill battle on her hands.  But, as a former F-18 fighter pilot, she’s more than up for the challenge.  Everything I’ve seen says she’s got the same “moral integrity of her character” as the former military helicopter pilot, Senator Duckworth.  (A Democrat, McGrath laughingly notes that her husband is a Republican. “But we agree ninety percent of the time.  That’s America!”)

The contrast is so stark as to be absurd, but there you are.  An economy-fueled, racist-fueled backlash took us from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the decent to the crass (and worse).  We went from a man worthy of respect to one for whom contempt is not quite enough.  If he fell down a flight of stairs, at what point would the laughter turn to pain?

He says he can assess a negotiation in one minute.  He seems to be able to turn friends and neighbors into enemies within a similar time frame.  I just want to see him be open and honest enough to do two things.  One, face a live press conference and answer for himself.  Oh, and two, I’d like to see his tax returns.  That would be open.  That would be honest.  What’s he got to lose?  What’s he got to hide?  Oh.  Everything.  I get it.  He’s scared.  He would be exposed.  It would ruin him.  Know what?  I’m okay with that.

We get to vote again in November.  If we fail to show up and be counted, we risk so much more evil than mere bad governance.  True evil is not opposition, it is apathy.  Show up.  Stand for something positive.  Do not abdicate your right and your responsibility.  Lincoln is the proper model.  Not this other guy.

2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

STILL, THERE IS HOPE

Okay, Tuesday’s post was a little harsh, I’ll admit.  There are things that we need to account for, circumstances that we need to upgrade, to heal.

That said, there is another side to things, and that is the overarching viewpoint—the macro counterbalance, as it were—that reveals a world that is, for the most part, working.

This is where I return to my optimistic side and, deftly, defer to Dr. Steven Pinker and the late Swedish thinker Hans Rosling.  If you don’t know these folk, they are numbers gurus who assess overall inputs and conclude, rightly so, that we are richer than you think, healthier than you think, and that the world is much less volatile than you feel.

Rosling’s book is entitled Factfulness (Bill Gates calls it the most important book he’s ever read about the world we live in), and in it he reminds us that merely twenty years ago nearly thirty percent of the human population lived in extreme poverty.  But, today, the poorest among us account for only nine percent of the world’s population.  In raw numbers, that’s still an awful lot of folk.  But, when viewed from the perspective of distance—and accounting for the obvious trend—those numbers are highly encouraging.

To assess our “real” knowledge about such trends, Rosling used to administer a 12-question test.  He was disturbed to discover even his brightest students answering only two questions correctly, on average.  Given that every question had only three potential answers Rosling noted, sadly, that even a chimpanzee, guessing, would get twice that number correct.

One of the questions:  In low income societies, what percentage of girls finish primary school?  A) 20%.  B) 50%.  C) 60%.  Most people pick A.  Then B.  But C is the correct answer.  Things are much better than you think.

Why the pessimism?  Says Rosling’s wife, Anna, “I think it’s because of the over-reporting of all the bad stuff.  It is a sign of improvement that we know more about the fake news.  There are actually less conflicts than we think, less war, less people killed in combat.”

Professor Pinker agrees.  His new book is Enlightenment Now.  His argument is that we are smarter now than ever before, that violence is lower than ever, that poverty is less than ever, and that illiteracy rates are lower than they have ever been.  It wasn’t all that long ago that life expectancy was barely 30 years; today it is 70 overall, and 80 in developed countries.

“Even given the situation in Syria, the rate of conflict in the world is far less than it was in the ‘60s,” he says.  “You have to remember that ‘news’ distorts how we ‘feel’ things.  And, too, that incidents like the Parkland shooting have vitalized kids into actions that could be a game-changer.  When you look at events like the Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s and the openness to gay marriage recently, you could never have predicted those events right up until they actually happened.”

Pinker points to the Enlightenment as the real game-changer.  “That period in history showed us that reason could be used to increase human flourishing, that a rational approach could be brought to human institutions.  The possibility of raising ourselves economically, then and now, has given rise to the broader chances of happiness.  Americans, curiously, mostly happy, but not nearly as happy as they could be.  The insecurity, there, comes from our patchy social safety nets.  We could learn much from some of the European countries.”

If that weren’t enough, even something so chancy as being struck by lightning . . . has been reduced by 96 percent, according to Pinker.  I’m not sure where that one comes from, but you gotta like the numbers.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

LAUGHINGSTOCK

 

You know your crazy, touchy-feely uncle?  You know the hermetic aunt who lives in her own world?

Bad as they might be, we are going to be seen of as worse to future generations (should we keep our planet healthy enough to sustain such folk).

We are going to be seen as and judged to be laughingstock by our descendants.  We are going to be the butts of easy-but-bad jokes.  Words like “simpletons” and “troglodytes” will be justly bandied about.  Here’s why.

What sort of creature knowingly fouls its own nest, clogs its waters with waste and allows its air to be fouled by poisonous particulate matter?

What sort of critter allows angry idiots easy access to military-grade weapons?  No background checks, no training, no waiting.  Here you go, have at it, take your slights and aggressions out on the most vulnerable among us, our kids, defenseless in little boxes as if lined up at a shooting gallery.

What sort of two-legged animal sorts itself out by such specious designations as race, color, religion, region, sexual preference?  It’s a small planet, and we’re all related, really.  Does that make any sense at all?  All it does to me is express the horrifying and inherent insecurities that we all must live with, sort out, and deal with.  Grow a pair.  Deal with it.

What sort of society willfully, even gleefully erects economic systems whereby mere handfuls receive and control the vast majority of wealth (not to mention the health care system) that all contribute to?  That injustice—from paltry minimum wages to criminally overpaid CEO’s—will be judged harshly by future societies.

Goodness, we can’t even get along with our closest neighbors.  What is the sense of impugning the good people of Mexico and Canada?  The pure evil of separating kids from their parents at the border?  And then losing the kids?  What good can come of that?  And who can’t get along with Canadians?  They’re as nice as the Portuguese!  Or the Swedes!  Goodness.

If you were your great grandchild, looking back at what we’ve created, what judgment would you lay upon our crude and primitive society?  Fools?  Dunderheads?  Children?  Incompetent stewards of a perfectly good, life-giving planet?  Worse?

What say you, future earthling?  It cannot be good.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

[Tune in Friday for the counterpoint.  There is one, you know.  Be patient.]

THE FUNNY BONE

The is nothing better in this life than having your funny bone prodded, enjoying a full-on belly laugh.  Laughter cements marriages and eases social tension.  How many times have you heard a successful comedian reminisce about easing his or her way out of difficult social circumstances as a youngster with a timely quip?

Humor is, in addition, a wellspring of sanity . . . often derived directly from the delightfully insane.

Turns out, laughter has been a staple of our species for many millennia.  When researchers tickled young primates, acoustical analysis of the hundreds of sounds that funny brought forth showed astonishing similarities between their giggles and guffaws and ours.  That means that laughter goes back somewhere between 10 and 16 million years.  Does that surprise you?  Not me.  We need joy in our lives, and will even laugh—a laugh that often sounds more like a groan—at the worst of puns.

So, laughter and joy are hard-wired into us by our distant ancestors, all praise be to them.  And it would be fun to find out what sort of physical prompt or prank—beyond the obvious tickle response—first got some bonobo out there to laugh.  Wouldn’t you expect it to be some sort of physical prompt, like a pratfall.  Something like Dick Van Dyke’s character, Rob Petrie, tripping over an ottoman or Chevy Chase’s gangly body turning on itself?

We love to analyze successful comics but, as E. B. White once observed, “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the purely scientific mind.”

I am particularly fond of the word-game drollery of Stephen Wright, who says, “If you’ve got the time, pretty much any place is walking distance.”  I like it because it supports my belief in self-perambulation—by foot, by bicycle—and because it takes a simple premise and turns it on it’s ear.  (He also wonders, “What happens when you get scared half-to-death . . . twice? Think about it.)

Interestingly, research tells us that we typically laugh about twenty times a day, but also that only ten or twenty percent of the remarks that prompted the laughter can be seriously thought of as funny.  What do you make of that?  Does it mean that our bodies have such a profound requirement to giggle that we’ll seize upon almost anything to nudge us to chuckles?

If you go back to the ancient philosophers—we’re talking Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Descartes and Baudelaire here—the thesis is that we are tickled by being made to feel superior to others.  It’s an ego thing.  Freud went so far as to propose that forbidden things are funny because laughing is a gesture that releases pressure for repressive psychic energy.  Oh, sure.  That makes sense.

The philosopher Henny Youngman, more simply, implied that funny comes from incongruity.  Absurdity equals amusement.  But the incongruity does have to be benign.  The classic explication is this:  A man slips on a banana peel and falls down a long and winding staircase.  He lies in a crumpled heap at the bottom.  At what point does the scenario slip from hilarity to morbidity?  Depends on whether, upon descent, he ends up alive . . . or dead.

A British academic titled one study “Sex, Aggression, and Humour: Responses to Unicycling.”  His take-back was that “humor may be a by-product of male hormonal aggression.”  Seemed he was often laughed at by men when out on his unicycle.  Funny, no one laughs at me when I’m riding my unicycle.  Oh, right.  No one has yet been allowed to see me riding same.  Ah, well.  Have a chuckle at the image that that provokes.  I’m okay with it.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

THE SHAMAN WITHIN

 

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Plato

 

When reading Tony Hillerman’s engaging novels on Native American policing in the southwest, I am always drawn to his portrayal of the shamans, the spirit guides, the healers.  They are always “connected” to others.  They find subtle truths and offer help and healing.

I believe that I have that gift.  It comes from an inherent sensitivity that “feels” what others are going through and experiencing.  It is that sense of empathy that allows me to connect with others, and I thrive on those connections.  I am unabashed in my willingness to start up a conversation with anyone, at any time, in any place.

My gift is the ability to help others find context in their lives.  Perspective.  Balance.  Awareness.  Meaning.  All the good stuff.

We are all looking for those qualities in our lives, whether we know it or not, whether we’re aware of their necessity or not.  There’s got to be some reason we’re here, right?

If you’re a regular reader, you already know that I do not see any inherent meaning built into the universe.  I believe strongly, however, that it is our obligation to create meaning in the midst of this nothingness.  Concomitant to that is the obligation to care for one another, to be a part of the lives that are lived in our vicinity.  If we don’t connect with our neighbors, who do we join in with?

I admire the idea of the shaman, that person who brings a healing nature to the table in his or her connections with others.  I aspire to be shaman-like.  I know that I am occasionally slow to process new information, but I do tend to get there in the end.  I am trying to create a new mantra for myself:  What can I do to help?  Remember the late Fred Rogers of PBS’s “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”?  He always counseled others, when things began to look down, “Look for the helpers.  There are always people willing to help.”  I want to be one of that contingent.

I really enjoy aiding others to reevaluate their lives, reassess their positions on vital issues.  I’m here to pass on the love, to pass on the blessings that come with a thoroughly examined life.  I’m assessing mine.  I hope you are evaluating yours.  (Keep in mind, through the process, that negative thoughts are debilitating.  They are not of service.  Cast them aside.)

So, if you need an extra eye, another ear, give me a call.  I’m here for you.  And, in the process, remember that “other people” are not the enemy.  The enemy, as always, is ignorance and apathy.  Both of those are curable.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

WRITE IT DOWN

Whether you put pen to paper (the old-fashioned way) or let your fingers do the talking (on a modern computer keyboard), writing is the cheapest form of therapy known to mankind.  (Okay, playing a musical instrument can also cut out the psychiatrist, but that’s another blog posting).  The reason is simple:  When you commit something to paper, you’ve almost certainly given the subject some serious thought, that lovely mixed metaphor of “digging down deep to come out on top.”  As it were.

Writing forces you to learn something deeper about yourself and about others.  Writing pushes you to evaluate underlying causes and their effects, how one thing connects to another.  Or to several “others.”

There was a piece in our local paper the other day about a Viet Nam widow who credited writing an account of her personal journey with taking her from despair and incapacity back to a life that could be, once again, fulfilling, useful and satisfying.

Pauline Laurent noted that when she first starting writing about her husband’s combat death in ‘Nam she wasn’t setting out to write a book.  “I was trying to save my life.”  Simple as that.

Now a grandmother and a life coach, helping others to sort out their own problems, Laurent was just 22 years old when her husband was killed in the Mekong Delta.  She was also seven months pregnant with a daughter she would raise alone.

As Santa Rosa Press Democrat columnist Chris Smith pointed out, when Laurent began writing in her journal some three decades ago she also began to heal wounds that had been building up, eating away at her confidence and sense of self.

In her self-published book, Grief Denied: A Viet Nam Widow’s Story, Laurent writes, “I began to write as a way of sorting out my feelings. . . . As I spent more and more time writing, I encountered more and more grief.”

The notion of writing her way out of despair came when she re-read letters she had written to her late husband.  In one she wrote, “As I finally cry these tears which have been bottled up for so long, I am regaining that 22-year-old maiden that you married.  She died when you died.  I want her back in my life.  In order to get her back, I must experience the grief.  I am strong enough now to feel the terror of your death—to open your coffin and look in.  I couldn’t do it back in ’68.”

Powerful stuff.  Digging into your inner self is also a soul-satisfying and a mind-expanding bit of catharsis.  Finding out what really gets your juices flowing is equally energizing and uplifting.  It allows you to approach each new day with a confidence and a fire that will galvanize your thoughts and focus your actions.  Be it a journal entry, a blog post or a book, write it down.  What the hell are you waiting for?  Come on!  Write it down!

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

[Laurent’s book can be found at griefdenied.com.]