Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cruel to be Kind? An Easter Message

Human beings have a concept called cruelty. We know what it is and what it does and yet we inflict it anyway. In fact, many among us love it. The war against terror could as easily be called the war against cruelty. But that war would be all inclusive on many, many fronts, and not just man to man. Cruelty is a pattern in our existence, our history, our very core. We quickly recognize and condemn it in others, but when we look at ourselves we either deny it or we say something glib like, “You have to be cruel to be kind.” “We had to destroy the village to save it.” That being said . . . There are probably many, many more kind people in the world than cruel. You just don't notice them. They rarely make headlines or the history books. Their life stories often are not as compelling. They don't seek attention or notoriety. They're just doing their jobs, keeping their corner of the world as neat and tidy and peaceful as possible. They mostly act one on one, person-in-need to person-in-need, situation by situation. It can be as simple as reaching an item down from the top shelf of the grocery store for someone more vertically challenged, to gathering discarded but still functional medical equipment and making sure it gets to people without, in regions without the capacity to supply them themselves. It can be delivered in a single word or a moment's pause to listen, in helping someone up who has fallen, in stopping to make sure someone is all right, in carrying someone else's heavy burden, in the rescue of an animal in need of a new home. Kindness is the Way, the Mindful Path, the Golden Rule in action. Kindness knows no border or ideology. It just is. Any one of us is capable of lovely, random acts of kindness that no one really notices but everyone remembers in some level of their being. Good news, they say, is no news at all. The kind are often anonymous but it is they whose names should be recalled. An act of kindness is an act of love. Kind offsets cruel; love offsets hate. And if good and evil are more than mere human constructs invented to make some sort of sense of the world and humanity within it, I know where I want to stand. This is my Easter Message and my Easter Wish: Kindness constantly resurrects itself.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

It's the End of the World as We Know It

It's the End of the World As We Know It: When the United States and the Soviet Union were rushing warships against each other to the waters off Cuba in 1962, I thought the world was going to end. It didn't. Cooler heads prevailed. When Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States, I was certain the end was nigh. It wasn't. In fact, Nixon opened up the world instead of shutting it down, by inviting China into the community of nations. When Ronald Reagan was elected, I feared the end of the world as I knew it again. Didn't happen. He deficit spent America nearly to oblivion while trying to get Russia to spend into oblivion and apparently, it worked. And we're still here. So is Russia. Then George W. Bush became President and once again I was certain the end was around the corner. Despite his best efforts, it didn't happen. Others must have been certain of the same fate when Kennedy was elected, when Carter was elected, when Clinton was elected, when Obama was elected. Nope. Nothing. At worst, the world as they knew it, dominated by aging white males, has slipped out of their control but not entirely – I think it safe to say that the majority of members of the Power Elite are still white, of an age, and very much in control both of the economy and politics. And yet, even with greed dominating their motivations, the world has not ended. My father and mother grew up during the Depression in western Europe, watching from the Netherlands the goings on in Germany, the rise of Hitler. It was the end of the world as they knew it, but it wasn't a very pleasant or secure world to lose. The world they lost was the same world that gave Hitler his voice in the first place. And Hitler tried to reshape the world in his own image no matter how many people were enslaved or murdered in the bargain. Try as he might, the world survived, and after the war and occupation of Holland my parents immigrated to the United States, to the New World. I guess what I'm saying is meant for everyone: if Donald Trump is elected President, it will be the end of the world as we know it, but not really. And if Hillary Clinton gets the job, the sun will still come out tomrrow. Is that a hopeful message? That depends on whether you believe that change is good. The Canadians will probably start building a wall along their border and ask Donald Trump to pay for it. And I feel fine.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is the GOP Really Trumped?

Super Tuesday is in the books. Tuesday after Tuesday follows, and Donald Trump is building up a formidable lead while Ted Cruz has won enough delegates to foster his illusion that he can win the nomination outright. But the pundits are saying that the GOP is in a panic, and every election and every poll since Super Tuesday adds to their desperation. They don't want Trump to represent them in the general but they may not be able to stop him. They don't want Cruz, either, but one by one they are falling in behind the Senator from Texas as the lesser of two perceived evils. One candidate is a bigot, the other a zealot. One his own party dislikes intensely, the other they virtually disown. One represents a disaster for the Republicans in November, as they see it, while the other represents a disaster for America. The only question is, which is which? As things look now, only two outcomes seem possible for the Convention: a Trump nomination or a deadlocked convention. Now it seems the GOP is going to play for a tie, so to speak. And barring that, there are many in the GOP who are talking a third party run. Is that true? Is it really that bad? Or is the GOP playing a long game, just as they have been for decades? The GOP controls both the House and the Senate. The last time the Democrats did that was during Obama's first two years. Since 2010, the GOP has controlled at least one branch of Congress, and both this entire last session. This collective control makes the Republicans in Congress at least as powerful as the President. The President recommends. Congress advises and gives consent. Or says no. The current Congress is very fond of the word, “No.” And to keep having the chance to say it, I think the GOP is willing to sacrifice the White House in order to solidify their hold on the Capitol. Donald Trump is a sideshow. He entertains. He infuriates. He makes the Presidency look like a job for a clown, not a statesman. Already countries around the world are asking themselves, how will we respond to Trump? Do we even let him onto our shores? But the GOP doesn't care. They have gerrymandered themselves into a position of strength where it counts most, and the only danger they face now is if enough Americans decide all this clownery (a better word is 'buffoonery') is too much, and come out to vote for new representatives across the board.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Math and Myth: 42

Certain numbers follow you around through life. It's an odd thing, but it seems true enough. People pick their magic or lucky or favorite numbers based on all sorts of things. 7 is very popular. I like 42. If you add 4 plus 2 and multiply that by 7, you get – wait for it – 42. My affair with 42 began in high school. My friends Robbie and Jackie Pira and I (OK – mostly them) invented a dice throwing baseball game. It was a variation on other similar games, but uniquely our own. We assigned the results for every throw you made, using two dice, one red and one white. The red number came first and the white second, giving us a two digit number starting at 11 and going 11-16, 21-26, and so on, through 66. There were lots of strikeouts but hits were harder to come by. 15 and 53 were home runs, 34 was a triple, and 65 was a double. We drafted our own teams from our Topps 1965 baseball cards, but there was no special calculation based on each player's known strengths or weaknesses. That was, the late great Jimmy Davenport could lead our league in home runs two years in a row while Mickey Mantle, despite every effort on my part to infuse good juju on the dice before I rolled, struggled to hit .200. It was nice and straight forward, unless you rolled a 42. 42 was special. When you rolled one, you took the red die and rolled it again. You always knew something good was going to happen: 5 or 6 was a double, 3 or 4 was a triple, and 1 or 2 was a home run. We could do a play by play while preparing to roll that crucial red die: “The runners are off! It's a long drive to deep right field! Going! Going! It's off the wall! Two runs will score and the Mick has a stand-up double!” Or: “It's in the corner! Willie's going to be running for days on that one!” Or: “Tell it good-bye – and other home run for Davenport!” I loved rolling 42's. Good things always happened with a 42. It was much later, after I became interested in history and baseball history, that I leaned that Jackie Robinson wore the number 42 on his jersey. His teammates, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges, each had 42 home run seasons at some point while playing alongside Jackie. In all, a player has finished a major league season with 42 home runs 38 times. Mantle did it in 1958. Since Major League Baseball has permanently retired Robinson's number to honor his contribution to baseball and to integration, Mariano Rivera, the Hall of Fame bound relief pitcher for the New York Yankees, is the last player ever to wear the number 42 on his jersey. Rivera, arguably the best reliever in history, ironically earned exactly 42 saves in post season play. There is a joy to the number, in how it plays within itself like a writer playing inside the canyons of his mind. 4 plus 2 is 6, 4 times 2 is 8, 4 minus 2 is 2, and 4 divided by 2 is 2. The games go on and on in perfect symmetry. Inverted, 42 becomes 24, Willie Mays' jersey number. In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a great computer called Deep Thought is working on the ultimate answer to life, the universe,m and everything. He discovers the answer is 42. But he is not capable of finding the ultimate question, to which 42 is the answer. That question will unravel all the mysteries of the universe, and a far greater computer than he must answer it. That computer is the planet Earth, which is set to do the calculations for however long it takes. Long story short: the question is, “What is 9 times 6?” Think about it. If the answer is 42, then there is something fundamentally wrong with the universe. How could I not love the number 42? There are 42 US gallons in a barrel of oil. If you could fold a piece of paper in half 42 times, it would reach the moon. There are 42 spots or dots on a pair of standard six-sided dice. In our above mentioned baseball game, with the extra roll on 42, there are 42 possible outcomes. Lewis Carroll frequently used the number 42 throughout Alice in Wonderland, which served as inspiration for Douglas Adams, author of the 5 book Hitchhiker trilogy. Book three, So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish, contains 42 chapters just to prove the point. There are 42 lines on each page of the Gutenberg bible. Probably my favorite President of all time, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, was the youngest person to serve as President when he took over those duties upon the assassination of William McKinley – TR was 42. And on and on. I was deep into adulthood when I learned that the house in which I was born was – drum roll, please – 42 Tromstraat, Hilversum, the Netherlands. And my nepthew and best friend besides Diane, Erik, lives in 24 Ravelijnstraat, as if he was a mirror of me. Poor kid. So excuse me if I am excited beyond normal limits that Diane and I will be celebrating, on December 28 this year, Anniversary Number 42. And bully to us!