WORLD’S GREATEST HITTER

I don’t even remember what the television ad was plumping, but the ad itself was a real “grabber.”  You watched it develop, and then you chuckled, chortled and flat out howled.

A little boy stands at home plate, totally alone on the diamond.  He confidently refers to himself as “The world’s greatest hitter.”  He tosses a baseball up, takes a mighty swing . . . and misses.  He picks up the ball, says “The world’s greatest hitter,” tosses the ball into the air, takes an Aaron Judge-like swing . . . and misses again.

Undaunted, and still full of vim and vigor, he repeats the process, all the way through to his deflating swing and miss.  But wait, our waif is not defeated.  “World’s greatest pitcher!” he intones boldly and with a fierce certainty to the wildly cheering masses in his fertile imagination.  “World’s greatest pitcher!”

Brilliant.  When you’ve got lemons, make lemonade.  And learn something about yourself that you didn’t know before.  That is the recalibrating process called “life,” if we are paying attention.  If we are reassessing ourselves when we are given new information.

Had that happen to myself a couple of weeks ago.  I didn’t enjoy the process.  I hated it, in fact.  An email conversation with an outlier family member—a sort of “in-law” several times removed—turned out to be quite unmooring for me.  I think of myself as being open-minded, yet here I was making cavalier judgments about circumstances I only had at second or third hand (and then, only from one side of the social equation).  I had taken the comments and judgments from one side of the family and transferred them wholesale to the son-in-law without any first-hand evidence.  (Also, more than a little self-righteousness insidiously snuck into the discussion on both sides.  Not helpful.)

Well, he called me on it, as he should have, and I had to back away and admit my flawed judgment.  I still don’t know which side is in the right.  I may never know.  What I do know for sure is that I’m going to take a large step backwards from now on and try to make what few judgments I engage in from a more distant perspective.  This whole thing was thoroughly upsetting.  I felt like I was walking in quicksand and that the slightest misstep was going to suck me down into the quagmire.

And I promise to be a whole lot slower to “judgment.”  Maybe even step away from the whole “judgmental” landscape.  We do have to make assessments.  Those come up on a daily basis and you avoid them at great personal risk.  But maybe the judging of other folk is not useful.  Perhaps the judging of other people falls under the “Not my circus, not my monkeys” tent.  Then again, perhaps it is best left to the omniscient, a cadre of which I am not presently a member.  You?

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

SKEPTIC OR CYNIC

If you have the choice between skepticism or cynicism, I hope that you will opt for the former.  You see, the former is critical thinking from a positive, informational, inclusive point of view.  Cynicism, on the other hand, is merely negative and destructive in its origins.  One regenerates; one tears down.

There are news briefs that, on rare occasion, send me into a blind rage over the meanness of their point of view.  They threaten to bring out the cynic in me, and I hate that.  There was a short blurb the other day about Tiger Woods.  It wasn’t all that long ago when Mr. Woods was golf.  He defined the sport.  When you win one out of every four tournaments you enter, where the field starts with 50 or 60 entrants, well, that is domination plain and simple.  And then his infidelities and insecurities were exposed and he was reduced to “human.”  Capable of failure and worse, just like the rest of us.

When he was arrested for driving erratically recently, we forgave him for mixing too many pain-relieving drugs badly.  Right up until the moment when it was revealed that he had reserved the entire male inpatient unit at Jupiter Medical Center for his rehab stint.  Say what?  It was bad enough that he had chosen to use his influence and his wealth to see to his personal comfort.  But to force others trying to face their own personal demons out onto the street to satisfy his imperial whims?  That is hubris writ large.  Asshole!

Speaking of hubris and imperial imaginings, our political head of state is opening a new brand of hotels called “American Idea” to cater to the less-than-wealthy in the heartland.  It’s a sort of rip-off of those who supported him.  No planning, no strategy . . . except to capitalize on the moment.  Adam Davidson’s summation of the project’s “rollout” in The New Yorker seems exactly on point:

“Like many things in the world of Trump, the event was both corrupt and inept.  Trump Hotels had nothing to offer but words, and nearly all of those words were about the President.  A normal company would have chosen to wait a couple of years and then launch properly, but the Trump Organization is not a normal company, and it has other considerations.  Given that a brand launch typically takes three years and that a Presidential term lasts only four, the executives may feel that there’s no time to lose.”

Those sorts of things make the cynic’s blood in me curdle with anger and frustration.  Eventually, the skeptic in me will come forth and nudge of bit of learning and experience into the equation.  But that is not likely to come quickly under these sorts of circumstances.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

SPEECH, FREE

You think speech is free?  Wrong again, bucko.  Speech is very much like liberty:  It has to be won and re-won, often on a daily basis.  It is not a given, it is not a right.  It is there for the taking, but it must be taken.  There is no getting around this one.  No free passes.

There persists this comfortable notion that only those on the right impinge upon this idea of free speech.  Right wing repressors attempt to muzzle the media.  Ah, if it were only true, we of the left could remain smug in our ivory towers, far from the “deplorables.”  Comfortable in our ignorance.

But that comfort comes at a price.  It is a price I am not willing to pay.  If you cut into the speech of one, you cut into the speech of all.  So, when UC Berkley shut down the admittedly deplorable speech of one right wing nut, all of us suffer the consequences of such short-sightedness.  If we are going to protect free speech, we need to protect even objectionable speech.

Why?  Fair question.  The notion of learning, of expanding our horizons with new ideas, with new ways of thinking, is only fulfilled if all ideas are on the table.  If even one idea is shunted aside—no matter how odd that idea is—we all lose the opportunity to learn.

For example, someone floated the crazy idea that cholera victims might be cured by drinking more of the tainted water that had made them sick in the first place.  Flies entirely in the face of logic, right?  And yet, dehydration was the worst (and fatal) part of cholera and, indeed, drinking more of even bad water relieved the victims.

When Baron Joseph Lister and others suggested that hand washing with carbolic acid might prevent the spread of disease in surgery rooms, doctors shrugged off the notion as absurd in the highest degree.  Took a while to convince the sawbones that they were actually making things worse by foregoing so simple a precaution.

The issue of free speech raises the disturbing issue of political correctness.  Some folks are so sensitive that they would rather not be exposed to troublesome images or ideas.  There’s really only one response to that: tough.  Move to Turkey.  Or Venezuela.  Or any number of places where ideas are stagnant and there is only one political truth to hew to.

Democracy is messy.  Get over it.  The rise of civilization comes only through the process of smelting, of throwing ideas into the sweltering cauldron of public exposure and all that that entails.  Discussion and argument, ranting and railing.  Free speech, really, is the best of what a civilized society is about.  Shameless Kathy Griffin with the bloody head is provocative and in poor taste.  So what?  Get over it.  Vote against her viewpoints, tweet out your opposition.  That’s free speech.  Everybody gets heard.  Her image was troubling and worse, but it did not rise to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s drawn line at yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  (We also know, now, that the First Amendment does not protect online trolling to exhort a poor kid to commit suicide.  That was a horrific case.  Words can be weapons, so we bear the responsibility for their ill or malevolent use.)

On Monday the Supreme Court voted unanimously—and you thought that might never happen again—to uphold free speech.  They ruled that an Asian-American rock band could not be denied their application to trademark the name “Slants” merely because that name might offend someone (or even lots of someones).  Wrote Justice Alito, “Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.’”

Amen, Brothers.  Amen.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

EQUALITY FOR ALL?

My brother-in-law caught me off guard the other evening when he told me that he was splitting his estate three ways with his kids, but not totally equally.  “My sons are getting thirty-three percent each, but I’m giving my daughter thirty-four percent.  Aren’t you giving Tamara fifty-one percent and Curtis forty-nine?”

My answer was quick:  “No, it’s strictly fifty-fifty.  Why wouldn’t you treat your kids equally?”

Brian’s answer was typically Brian, sensitive to the extreme.  “Girls don’t get a fair shake in this world, so I’m making up for it in a small way.”

Okay, I get that.  But why slander young men who have never participated in that inequality, with their sisters or any other female relations, friends, acquaintances?  To me, fair is fair, and that’s all there is to say about it.

Last week, the Oregon Senate passed the sweeping Equal Pay Act in a bipartisan action that says all you need to say about fairness in Oregon.  (The Oregon House is expected to ratify the bill and Governor Kate Brown has said that she would sign the bill into law.)

The Equal Pay Act, slated to go into effect on or before on 1 January 2019, will insure that employees are to be paid equally, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, veteran status, disability or age.  The Act wisely allows for exceptions with regard to merit, seniority, quality or quantity of production, education, training or experience.  Which is just logic, plain and simple.

These folks did their homework.  They knew their numbers.  They knew, for example, that Hispanic women in Oregon were receiving just 53 cents on the dollar to what their male counterparts were being paid.  That Native American women were getting just 69 cents, Black women just 77 cents, Asian women just 79 cents and Caucasian women just 83 cents.

Remember when Title Nine went into effect, aiming to equalize college sporting opportunities for women?  Because of that, my daughter was able to grow up with the clear and convincing notion that her opportunities—in sport, in all things—was going to be the same (or very nearly so) as her twin brother’s.  And that was a plus for all of us.  I didn’t have to play favorites—an onerous task at best—and she got to have her attitude (and her shiny green hair).

That’s all any of us wants, really.  Green hair.  No, a level playing field.  Let merit and experience and education and pure ornery will separate what needs to be separated.  We’re not all inherently the same.  But we all ought to have an equal and a fair shot at life’s rewards.  It’s only just, and justice is a big deal.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

HEALTH CARE FOR ALL

I do not pretend to understand all the issues of health care.  It seems sort of like economics:  Anyone who claims to understand it is spitting into the wind.  The results are messy and nobody is really helped.

The current health care debate seems akin to the worst of both:  a combination of voodoo economics and sufficient restrictions to health care that end up benefitting the few.

One principle ought to be brought to the fore in every discussion of this issue:  Our employees who fashion the regulations—never forget that our representatives to the Congress and to the Senate work for us, but that we are responsible for directing their efforts—ought to forge health care provisions that are equal to or better than those they provide for themselves and their families.  (Remember the most basic rule of leadership, as best expressed in our military services:  Leaders put the welfare of the fighting men and women under their commands ahead of their own, personal welfare.  That’s why soldiers are willing to put their lives at risk.  Do not forget the lesson of Viet Nam, where criminally negligent platoon leaders were “fragged”—shot by their own men!)

It doesn’t take a health care wizard to know that a “fee-for-service” model perversely leads to and incentivizes more procedures (many of which are unnecessary).

We also know that single-payer systems—from simply observing those who employ that model (like next door neighbor Canada)—are a far more cost efficient means of delivering health care to all citizens.  (As my good friend, the retired pediatrician, suggests, the one great thing that the Affordable Care Act seems to have done is move the talks forward past “whether or not” to extend health care to all to encompass the equally difficult discussion of “how do we implement this universal, more humane health care?”)

Another method, already used effectively in some parts of our country, is called “capitation,” wherein patients pay a (much lower) fixed fee to cover all their medical expenses.  Built into this system is the notion of Kaiser Permanente-like preventative health care, an example of which nudges diabetes-prone patients away from fast foods and towards more fruits and vegetables, the result of which cuts medical costs from ten to as much as fifty percent!  (The century old capitation system employed by Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania annually spends $2,000 per patient to provide them with free, healthy food . . . which results in a savings of medical costs per patient of $24,000 per year.  You read that right.  Twelve times the return on investment.)

The current health care “debate” seems more focused on tax cuts to the wealthy that will freeze tens of millions of citizens out of affordable health care.  Is that really what we want?  I doubt it.  If you doubt it as well, write or phone your employees, your congressional and senatorial employees.  They might want to know how their soldiers are feeling.  As in the military, you want guys and gals whose morale is high watching your back.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

FLAG DAY

Tomorrow we celebrate Flag Day across the United States, and it will swell my heart to raise Old Glory on the flag pole at our home and watch its ripple with the breeze signify a vibrant-if-roiling democracy still at work, trying to get it right.

There are those so staunch in their defense of democracy who would have those who burn our flag to demonstrate their frustration with the status of that democracy charged as criminals and locked away as miscreants.  That misses the point of democracy:  Everybody gets a hearing, even—and especially—if it’s something you’re not comfortable listening to.  There is nothing comfortable about democracy.  It is messy, it is loud, and it is disturbing.  That, after all, is how ideas win out in an open marketplace.  Strong ideas can withstand the gale; weak ideas shrink and are blown away in the fickle wind.

That’s the deal.  You sign on for democracy—much of the rest of the world wishes that they were so lucky—you sign on for the turbulence and the truculence and the free-for-all of the open microphone.  That’s what free speech is:  Everybody gets heard, even the wing nuts on the far right.  And, to be fair, the cuckoos on the far left.  And every gradation in between.  It takes the extremes to calibrate and mark the middle, where the most and the best of life is ultimately lived.  But only after a just and open hearing.

I have a modest collection of flags, about three dozen in all.  It is an eclectic collection, to be sure.  I have one each for the San Francisco Giants, the Golden State Warriors and for traitorous Santa Clara Forty-niners.  I have flags for various states.  We fly the Georgia flag when Bev’s relatives visit.  The Arizona banner flies in the breeze when our daughter and son-in-law are in residence.

When Trisha and John are here, the Union Jack is unfurled (she is British, and I don’t yet have a Polish flag).  I fly the Canadian maple leaf and Hawaii’s Brit-influenced flag when Patti and Doug are here.  I feature a Holiday Inn or Red Roof Inn flag for generic visitors.

Two of the prizes in the group are a pair of Revolutionary War flags, each of which features a rattlesnake and the cautionary rebel warning, “Don’t Tread on Me!”  The Gadsden Flag—the Charleston-born Christopher Gadsden was a Brigadier General in the Continental Army—features a coiled viper on a field of yellow, while American Stripes (also known as the Navy Jack) has an uncoiled asp on a field of red and white horizontal stripes.

Some flags I collect for historic reasons, like an old French fleur de lys, and some I like for their artistic merit, like the Maryland state flag, with its combination of the Crossland cross in red and white and the gold-black heraldic arms of Lord Baltimore’s father’s family (the Calverts).  I have a skull and crossbones pirate flag just for fun.  Mexico’s founding-pictorial pennant is ceremonially raised on Cinco de Mayo.  The U.N. flag, which I fly on its October 24th anniversary each year, is prized for symbolizing a world unity that is still more theory and ideal than it is reality.  But one must hope, and work feverishly while maintaining good intentions.

I will probably fly the Gadsden flag tomorrow just because I like its inherent attitude.  It’s an attitude that has held us in good stead for more than two centuries—though some have tried to tie it to the Tea Party—of encouraging the dizzyingly difficult meld of diversity and unity.  Keeps me going.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

FULL MOON

The moon will be flush and full this evening, and police stations and emergency rooms everywhere will be equally fully staffed in anticipation of everything from the antic to the apoplectic.  The streets will rock with a rhythm of oddity and perversity and covens will convene.  There will be kerfuffles.

The moon is our closest celestial neighbor.  Curiously, most folks don’t quite know just how close this 16.2 trillion pound (about 1.2% of earth’s weight) tributary is.  Consider the circumference of our planet earth.  About 25,000 miles.  The moon is merely ten times that distance removed from the earth’s surface!

Tides are highest at the full (and new) moons and, at certain places—the Bay of Fundy (Maine) and in Puget Sound (Washington State)—the range can be as much as 16 meters (just over 50 feet)!  And you thought it was only politicians with powerful pull.

A U.S. study covering 1978-82 took a close look at three towns—one rural, one urban, one industrial—and concluded that crimes at full moon were “much higher than on all other days.”  But Benjamin Redford, the managing editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer, suggested this as explanation:  “There is a good reason why there may be more crime on the nights of a full moon; it has to do with statistics, not lunacy.  People are more active during full moons than moonless nights. An especially beautiful full moon may draw families out into the night to appreciate it, and lovers to local necking spots.  Muggers and other criminals who ply their trade at night also use the moon’s illumination to carry out their deeds.”  (My friend, a hospital administrator, says that she does not add staffing on full moons, but a nurse I know says that “We always marked the full moons on our calendars!”)

For me, though, the most fascinating thing about a full moon is that, just as it clears the horizon, it seems to swell in size, nearly covering the night sky.  The more particulate matter in the air, the bigger the rising full moon appears to be.  This is particularly dramatic where I live, near the Sonoma Valley.  It was here that the author Jack London mistakenly dubbed the region “Valley of the Moon.”  This was a mistranslation of the native Pomo Indians, who referred to their home as “Valley of the Moons,” plural, because the moon seemed to rise several times each evening behind the rocky ridges of the Mayacamas Mountains to the east.

What is the influence of this natural satellite on our everyday lives?  Not so much in terms of personal tidal pull, I suspect, as the above evidence suggests.  Probably more romantic than real when you fully test the science of it.  Better still, put Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” (or Dean Martin’s silkily delectable “That’s Amore”) on your best music box and ponder that airless sphere next door that encircles our own orb every twenty-nine and a half days or so.  A neighbor so near that it’s practically in our hip pocket.  Would you go there if NASA offered a berth on the next moon launch?  Boy, I’d go!  I’d go in a New York minute!  Can you imagine what those guys must have felt, standing on the moon and observing its next door neighbor, just hanging out there, suspended in the endless blackness of space?  Oh, my goodness.  Book me a seat, fellas.  I’m ready for the trip.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle