Out Of Control?

The image of the NFL which so many people work so hard to protect seems to have taken a beating of late. The Ray Rice pummeling of his wife in an Atlantic City elevator was the highlight of the past few weeks, but the recent story of Adrian Peterson’s “whooping”  of his  4 year-old son now takes center stage. For the moment. Stay tuned.

As a resident of Minnesota who notes in the large print of my contract with the state that I will always be loyal to the Minnesota Vikings, it pains me to think that the talented and seemingly likable Peterson would strip a branch from a nearby tree and whip his son for pushing his brother; the boy was later taken to the doctor’s office with cuts and bruises over much of his small body. As it happens, I was switched as a child on the backs of my legs. My mother lost her temper, switched me with a willow stick and then insisted that I wear long pants to visit one of her friends so the welts would not be visible. Peterson says he was whipped as a boy and Bill Cosby makes fun of the fact that his father took his belt to him and his brother when they were little. That’s the way it was done in those days.

But no more. Now any sort of corporal punishment is regarded as abuse and the parent is held accountable. The jury is out on whether or not this is a good thing, but on the face of it uncontrolled anger on the part of a large and strong parent “whooping” a young child is clearly abuse. I ask, however, is all corporal punishment abuse? My sense of it is that when done in extreme cases by a parent who is on control of his or her emotions it may be necessary and effective way to manage a child who is otherwise out of control. It is not crystal clear to me that corporal punishment used judiciously is more harmful to the child than is the almost total absence of restraint so prevalent today.

But because of the extent of damage to his son, the case of Adrian Peterson is exceptional, and as the latest in a series of violent incidents on the part of an astonishing number of NFL players it raises several questions. Those questions not only address the issue of what sort of punishment would be appropriate for a man as strong as Peterson for taking out his anger on a helpless boy. They also address the question of whether his loss of control in this case (which he admits and which is apparent from the consequences) might be the result of the use of anabolic steroids. It is certainly the case that this man, along with his fellows in the NFL train their bodies to be as hard and strong as humanly possible. And it is clear that there is widespread use of steroids in the NFL to assist in improving performance in a violent sport. Further, it appears to be the case that their use can result in uncontrolled violence.

We need to recall the case of Lyle Alzado who died of brain cancer which was at the time attributed to the use of anabolic steroids. His description of his condition shortly before his death is gripping:

I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I’m sick, and I’m scared. Ninety percent of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We’re not born to be 300 lbs or jump 30 ft. But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better. I became very violent on the field and off it. I did things only crazy people do. Once a guy sideswiped my car and I beat the hell out of him. Now look at me. My hair’s gone, I wobble when I walk and have to hold on to someone for support, and I have trouble remembering things. My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way.

The issue of whether steroid use lead directly to Alzado’s death has been  questioned, but increasing testosterone in a male animal most assuredly increases the tendency toward violence, which in football players is already high. Further, the NFL has known about the use of steroids since the 1960s and instituted a testing policy in 1987 that resulted in suspensions as early as 1989. However, as we know from cases like those of Lance Armstrong, there are ways around testing and the use of anabolic steroids appears to be widespread in the NFL — if not in college football and even at the level of the high schools.  Many a high school football player is now as large and nearly as strong as a professional football player thirty years ago. Perhaps it is a coincidence. Perhaps it is not.

In any case, the NFL players union has recently approved a new drug testing policy that includes such things as HGH which will supplement the testing of steroids even though, again, there are ways around those tests as well. The agreement also guarantees lesser punishments for players who might be caught out using marijuana. But in light of the recent incidents of violence on and off the football field, where players are larger, faster, and stronger and incidents of injury to the players themselves (including concussions) are increasing — coupled with growing numbers of cases involving players being violent toward those whom they profess to love — one must wonder if the NFL has the will or the ability to curb the use of the supplements, and the violence. After all, the games sell out and pro football is Big Business.

Lost Its Way?

The stereotype of the old-fashioned schoolroom shows us the stern-faced teacher walking up and down the rigidly straight aisles with a ruler in her hand glowering at the children who were told not to speak in class or even to sneeze. If a child dared to make a noise and, say, whisper to the child next to her, the ruler would come down swiftly and the child would break into shrieks and later have nightmares about those terrible days. The idea was, it seems, to keep the kids in line, force-feed them knowledge — teach the kids the “three Rs” whether they wanted to learn or not.

Following the lead of people like Jean Jacques Rousseau in France and later A.S. Neill in England, parents and teachers in this country began to realize that this model was somehow wrong and that the child matters. Theory started to shift toward what we now call “child-centered education.” The subject-matter began to be thought of as less important than the child who was being taught. Such notions as “authority” and “discipline” took on a pejorative meanings, calling up images of the ruler coming down on the knuckles of the small child by a teacher who suffered from Jehovah’s complex. Soon popular psychologists got on the bandwagon, thinking they could not only teach better than the teachers, but also raise children better than the parents. Parents and teachers were told not to “inhibit” the child, that “stern discipline” was not the way to go, that the child ought to be treated like an adult and allowed to find their own way. Teachers and parents were told to be their kids’ friends, not authority figures. Soon the “free schools” sprang up, patterned after Neill’s Summerhill school in England — where students were allowed to select their own subjects and study them when they were ready to, and not before. His system worked with many bright, precocious children, but in the majority of cases the children learned little and the experiment was called by many people, including Bertrand Russell, a failed experiment.

But the child-oriented movement in this country had gained headway and began to take this country by storm. Supported by people like John Dewey (who later abandoned the theory, realizing that it had gone too far afield) and by the pop-psychologists who fell all over themselves rushing to get their books into print, parents and teachers questioned their own instincts and fell in line behind the so-called “experts” who may or may not have ever taught or even to have children of their own. They were not to restrict the children; they were there to support the child no matter what, always say “yes” and never say “no.”  Thus was born the permissive society with which we are now so familiar where students are told they can walk on water even when it is not frozen and “authority” and “discipline” have become bad things — in the home as well as the classroom. Neill took a plain truth, namely, that students learn more quickly those things they enjoy — and developed it into a blatant falsehood, namely, that they will not learn those things they do not enjoy. In fact, students learn to like a great many things they might have avoided had they not been required to study them. Further, maturity is a function of being able to do those things we are not fond of doing, or which we have an aversion to doing.  Child-oriented education has resulted in numberless children who are mis-educated and remain immature well into adulthood.

While this might be seen as (a necessary?) swing of a pendulum away from the stereotype given at the outset of this discussion, the pendulum at present shows no signs of moving. There is little evidence that more than a handful of folks connected with education realize how damaging this theory has been to the education of our children — as evidenced by comparisons of the American school system with the likes of Finland. Take, for example, the current notion of discipline which is regarded as a bad thing, whereas, in fact, intellectual discipline involves the ability of a mind to follow an argument, form cogent arguments, perceive untruths and formulate responses to blatant falsehoods. In a word, discipline is essential to real thought. It does not require teachers patrolling the classrooms with rulers in hand. But it does require teachers who are acknowledged as legitimate authority figures and who are committed to teaching tough subjects and demanding positive results from their students. Above all else it requires teachers who demand that their students learn to read, write, speak their language, and calculate such things as the tip in a restaurant — things that increasing numbers of American students cannot do. The sort of thing that passes for thought in a classroom where discipline is thought to be a bad thing is merely disjointed, incoherent drivel.

Flaubert said that discipline makes art of impulse. Similarly, discipline makes thought out of tangled, incoherent ideas and half-truths. Undisciplined thought is not real thought at all, it is mere impulse, gut feelings. And coming from kids who are, in many cases, overflowing with  undeserved self-esteem, the way is paved for our mindless age of entitlement where spoiled kids cannot read, write coherently, or figure. But let us not simply assume that the pendulum will swing back somewhere just short of the teacher cruising the aisles with ruler in hand  — say, to the vital notion of intellectual discipline instilled by demanding teachers who recognize and reward genuine excellence. It’s not going to happen unless enough people realize that the pendulum needs a push. And, sad to say, there appear to be very few around who even recognize the fact that the pendulum has become stuck in place.

Cover-up?

I am sure you have heard the latest in the sad and truly unsettling story of the Baltimore Ravens’ running-back, Ray Rice, who was recently suspended from the NFL for “domestic abuse.” In fact, the case goes back to July when a CCTV video clip showed Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée from an elevator in an Atlantic City hotel. Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner who claims unlimited power in these matters, suspended Rice for two games as punishment for the deed and then the proverbial shit hit the fan. The outrage over the film clip that was shown widely followed by the slap on Rice’s wrist was loud and clear. In light of the flack he had stirred up,  Goodell reneged and issued a new policy statement on Domestic Abuse with stiffer penalties that seemed sensible and calmed the waters somewhat.

But very recently another film clip was released showing Ray Rice striking his fiancée in the elevator, knocking her against the side of the elevator and falling unconscious to the floor. After this, he dragged the unconscious body out of the elevator and lowered her unceremoniously to the floor of the corridor outside. Suddenly the shit started to fly once more. Big Time! This time The Ravens football team cut their ties with the player and Goodell suspended him “indefinitely” from the NFL. Iron-Brain Mike Ditka, former Chicago Bears head coach, worried about Ray Rice’s future “earning power,” while others raised serious issues. One of those people was known to remark that the NFL seemed to be “reacting” rather than being “proactive.” Further, many wondered, were they reacting to Rice’s brutal behavior — or to the public reaction to that behavior that was becoming widespread with repeated showings of the film clip in television (ESPN has been known to exploit such incidents, ad nauseum)? It seemed clear that the latter was the case and many people expressed their disgust, not only with Rice, but with the NFL as well. But, for the most, part talking heads shied away from pointing the finger straight at Goodell and the NFL.

Until Keith Olbermann got in front of the cameras.

As this piece of must-see TV makes clear, Olbermann pulled no punches. He held not only the NFL but also everyone involved in the case, including the courts, responsible for covering up the truth. He called for the resignation or the firing of all concerned. He expressed the notion that the NFL was simply out to save the image of what has become America’s favorite sport and a billion-dollar industry to boot, and not the millions of women in the country who face the reality of domestic violence every day. The NFL fumbled the ball, according to Olbermann and they (and these who supposedly enforce justice) deserved to be punished accordingly. One knows that this will not happen, of course, since the reach of powerful corporations and the incredibly wealthy individuals in this “democracy” is far and effective. Their reach, in fact, raises many questions.

Why, for example, did the NFL claim not to have seen the latest video clip from within the elevator until TMZ released it to the public? Goodell claimed that if he had seen the clip the initial punishment of Rice would have been swift and fair, yet the hotel said the NFL never contacted them about the clip of the event. Further, a complete description of what had happened inside that elevator (if not the clip itself) was available not only to the prosecutors but also to the NFL. Why did the prosecutor not proceed with charges against Lewis after seeing the clip despite the fact that Rice’s fiancée (now his wife, if you can imagine) was unwilling to press charges? When Goodell interviewed Ray Rice about the incident, why did he insist that the victim accompany him — which flies in the face of every known procedure for fair and impartial judgment? Olbermann even suggested that Lewis’ wife might have appeared in support of her husband out of fear of another beating, which is not beyond the realm of possibility. As has been pointed out by legal analysts, the state does not require that the victim press charges, especially when there is visual evidence such as the clip of the incident actually occurring in the elevator. But nothing happened until the clip was released to the public and outrage was heard from one coast to the other.

Reacting rather than pro-acting. Very well put. But one expects that is business as usual for professional sports where the bottom line is all that really matters. Olbermann put it well. The people involved were more concerned about saving face than doing the right thing. This strikes me as symptomatic of a much larger problem we have in this country that almost certainly stems from our Business Mentality. This is our inability to consider possible outcomes and take measures to prevent problems before they arise. Instead, we focus on the short-term (profit) and are habitually involved in cleaning up the mess afterwards. This does not bode well for the future, given the many serious problems this country — and indeed the world — faces.

The Visible Wonder

Great writers are great because they notice things about the people around them and the world in which they live. One of the greatest of these is Joseph Conrad whom I would list among my top five favorite writers — a list that includes George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. They not only notice things: they write about them with extraordinary psychological insight and a distinctive writing style — even in the case of Dostoevsky whom most of us must read in translation.

Conrad was, in addition to being a magnificent writer, a relentless critic of man’s inhumanity to man — especially with regard to the exploitation of the Congo, which he witnessed first-hand, “the vilest scramble for loot that has ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration.” This concern was most powerfully expressed in his remarkable novella Heart of Darkness where he made clear that the white Europeans were guilty of the most heinous crimes against the native people as well as the earth they exploited out of unfettered greed. Unfortunately, this message was lost on Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian author and critic, who wrote an essay attacking Conrad and urging people not to read his novels, calling him a “racist” because his moderator, Marlowe, used the word “nigger” — a word freely bandied about by merchant seamen in the early part of the last century. Ironically, Achebe simply could not see beyond this to uncover Conrad’s obvious sympathies with the native people and hatred of what the Europeans were doing to them. In any event,  Conrad would have us all become astute observers of our world and the people around us. In his “Personal Record” he says that we should all become engaged in

“visionary activities. . . unwearied self-forgetful attention to every phase of the living universe . . . [make it] our appointed task on this earth. . .to bear true testimony to the visible wonder, the haunting terror, the infinite passion, and the illimitable serenity; to the supreme law and the abiding mystery of the sublime spectacle.”

The problem, of course, is that we can no longer engage in “self-forgetful attention” to the world, because we cannot for a moment forget ourselves: we have reduced the world to OUR world. With exceptions like the delightful artist Z, who is alive to the world around her, increasingly we suffer from our inverted consciousness, our attention focused solely on ourselves — a condition exacerbated by the electronic toys we are addicted to that direct our attention away from our world and other people to the ego at the center. Surely, the word “social media” is a misnomer: there is no real socializing going on here; we just write about ourselves. Beauty is no longer regarded as out there in the world, it is “in the eye of the beholder.” We no longer see the beautiful sunset or the grace of the deer as it leaps over the fallen tree. We “see” only our own reactions to those events, our own feelings. It is now all about us, not about our world. How does it make me feel? That’s the only question we ask. Some even go so far as to deny that there is any truth to be told about the world, that all truth, like all value, is subjective — just a reflection of the subject himself or herself. In the process, of course, we have flattened the world and made of it a two-dimensional sheet that merely reflects back the face and the feelings of the observer, ugly though that image might be.

In a word, if we ever were able to realize what Conrad seems to regard as our true, human calling — to “bear testimony to the visible wonder. . .” — few of us today are able to do so. I would guess that most don’t even know what Conrad is talking about — assuming that they read Conrad (or anything else for that matter!)

Movers and Shakers

Machiavelli (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Machiavelli
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Machiavelli’s Prince was written in the sixteenth century ostensibly as advice to the rulers of Florence — especially Lorenzo de Medici — about how to achieve and maintain power. Or it may have been written to alert the common folk about what their rulers were up to. It is so vivid and frank that people like Jean Jacques Rousseau have been tempted to insist that it is satirical: surely, politics isn’t that rough and cut-throat! The Catholic Church disagreed with Rousseau and banned the book soon after it appeared.  For my part, I think Machiavelli was being quite honest: politics is, indeed, a matter of doing whatever it takes to achieve the desired objective.  And the “objective” is always to gain and maintain power. In his day, it was the Medici family who pursued that goal. In our day it is the corporations where the CEOs make 475 times as much money as their average employee and “morality” is a word never used.

In fact, there is a most interesting and provocative parallel here that might have missed a great many readers of Machiavelli’s classic. The Medici were the wealthiest family in Florence. Today’s power-brokers are the very wealthy, as was the case in Machiavelli’s day. Money is power. Thus, while we like to delude ourselves about democracy resting upon the power of the people, Machiavelli would insist that the people who have the power are, in fact, those who hold the purse strings. The people simply go through the motions and exercise the very few options open to them.

Thus, while you and I might bemoan the fact that the planet is suffering from severe attacks by greedy people and something must be done and the quicker the better, as long as people like the Koch brothers are the ones who decide what will be done, the planet must suffer.  They hope to stack the political deck with hand-picked puppets and rid the country of restraints on “free enterprise” — by such as agencies as the EPA. To be sure, today’s movers and shakers failed to achieve all they hoped for during the past election, despite the millions of dollars they spent to guarantee that the puppets they had selected for public office were successful in the national elections. But they have sworn that this will not happen again in the mid-term elections. And given their determination together with the money they have at their disposal, success seems inevitable. The vision of the fore-fathers that was framed in the Enlightenment optimism of the eighteenth century, the vision that assured those who embraced their new nation that the people will in fact rule in this Democracy — as reflected in Madison’s statement in Federalist Papers that those in positions of political prominence would be removed if they failed to attend to the voice of those who elected them — turns out to have been a pipe dream. Sad to say.

In then end, then, those of us who care about our planet and our country will have to sit by with hands tied and watch those who rule — who are, in fact if not in principle, the movers and shakers of today. They are the ones who hold the reins of power by means of the amount of monies they have to spend on electing puppets who will respond only to the pull of the strings that are wielded by the power-brokers themselves. And, of course, those same people could care less about the planet or their country. They care only about the bottom line. They are blinded by greed and the love of power and care only about what will bring them what they want. So let’s not fool ourselves. Machiavelli told us all about it centuries ago, and things have not really changed that much since then. Those who have money and power seek only to maintain their positions of strength while the rest of us seek the latest diversion they provide us with.

Does this mean that I, personally, will no longer hope for real change, that I will no longer send in my piddling amounts of money to help support those few politicians who seem to have something resembling a conscience? Certainly not. One must free one’s hands and continue to swim against the tide if it is certain to be heading in the wrong direction. I will continue to hope and I will continue to struggle and raise my shrill voice. But though I am not a pessimist or even a fatalist, I am a realist who has learned from the wisest and brightest of those who have passed before me. I have a pretty good idea how things will turn out.

Dodging a Bullet

This past June we had sudden and frequent rains — nearly 20 inches in a single month, which was more rain than any of us could remember is such a short time. In one instance, we had five inches in just a few hours. That rain followed several others that had already dumped considerable amounts of water into the barely adequate sewer system. The town ordered a number of porta-potties to be placed in strategic places around town and asked folks not to flush their toilets unless absolutely necessary and not to shower until the emergency abated. We all held our breath (literally) and waited for the rains to stop. And stop they did. Since the end of June we have had barely over two inches of rain and things are starting to look like our ordinary Summers of late: dry and dusty. The grass is once again brown and crunches underfoot. The trees are dropping their leaves early out of sheer exhaustion. The dark clouds gather from time to time, promising rain, but then move on East, dropping the rain elsewhere — such as Minneapolis during a baseball game.

But in the midst of  the crisis last June, when townspeople were taking precautions to make sure the sewers didn’t back up into their houses (though I seriously wonder how many people actually used the porta-potties) there was apparently at least one family that wasn’t going to be inconvenienced. They lived in a newer home on the lake and had a cut-off installed when the house was built that made it impossible (?) for the sewer to back up into their house. The distaff member of that household has been bragging ever since to all and sundry that they weren’t in the least bit worried and went about their business, taking showers regularly and flushing at will. And this is a middle-aged couple, the husband a respected businessman in town. One wonders, what about their neighbors? Why didn’t these folks think about others?  Has this sort of thing finally arrived, even to a small Midwestern town?

I spoke with the city engineer and he said that if there had been one more downpour there would have been very serious consequences. The equipment they have in this little town is simply not up-to-date and sophisticated enough to handle a series of heavy downpours. We had dodged a rather smelly bullet, it would appear. And I am left pondering what Ortega y Gasset said about civilization, that it is “the will to live in common.” The determination of at least one family in this little Midwestern town to ignore the emergency precautions because they had the latest technology raises the question of whether they are, in Ortega’s sense of the word, “civilized.” Or do we have here another instance of the growing trend toward a new barbarism that seems to be taking hold of the country, a country in which its people are not citizens at all, but isolated individuals who have no sense of obligation toward their fellows. Indeed, they hardly seem aware of their existence. And when more and more emergency situations arise in the years to come — as promised by the scientific community resulting from the climate change that threatens more frequent violent weather events and reduced food for growing numbers of people — we might indeed soon be back in a state of nature.

Hope As Illusion

I am not a psychologist nor, indeed, a social scientist of any particular stripe. But I do like to think about people, the things they do, and the society in which we all live. Further, I am a bit of a sports nut. I have always participated in sports — in fact, they kept me sane (!) through college and graduate school — and continue to do so today (?). And I watch a lot of sports on television, as my wife will attest! So I was delighted to see that a group of kids from South Chicago recently won the United States portion of the Little League World Series (which is actually a world series, since it involves teams from around the world and not just in the United States). As of this writing they will play Korea (that’s South Korea) for the Little League world championship. It’s a great story, though, like many others, I was disappointed to see Mo’ne Davis and her team defeated and unable to continue to play. Now there was a great story.

But when I heard this morning on ESPN that the championship by the team from South Chicago brought “new hope” to that city, and particularly that section of that city, I did wonder. Seriously? New hope for South Chicago because a group of kids won a few baseball games? Get real.

And that’s the issue. Sigmund Freud talks about the need for all humans to develop what he called a “reality principle.” We need to be able to separate reality from illusion. The notion that this championship can bring new hope to a huge portion of a large city in America is pure illusion. South Chicago is a place where most people would not choose to live. I know. My wife’s grandparents lived there and we visited them on weekends while we were at Northwestern. We were always careful to leave before dark. Students at the University of Chicago are warned not to walk alone in the streets around their campus. It’s simply not safe. That’s reality.

It is certainly the case that involvement in sports can save many a kid from gangs and drugs, which are common in South Chicago. Let’s hope their involvement in Little League Baseball will save most, if not all, of the kids on this particular championship team. But to state as a truth that this win gives the city “new hope” is, as I say, pure fiction. It is the sort of hyperbole that television engages in to tug the heart-strings of their viewers, keep them watching, and help them escape their drab, wretched lives (as Tom Lehrer would have it). We should be used to it by now, but we need to recognize it for what it is: it is pure escapism, an attempt to substitute illusion for reality. Sports are simply a fragment of life itself. After the LLWS those who live in South Chicago, like the rest of us, will have to get back to reality, though television is always there to help them escape whenever it gets too tough. After all, the Chicago Bears are supposed to be very good this year!

We need to be concerned that we fail to develop that all-important reality principle that Freud talks about. We need to keep reminding ourselves that games are just games and sports are fun and games, but they are (for most of us) merely an escape from reality. They cannot become the whole of reality, though I am beginning to suspect that for many people who are immersed in such things as “fantasy football” that ship has sailed. Reality can sometimes be unpleasant and even downright painful. But it is what it is. And it isn’t fantasy football or a winning team that gives us all a thrill but should never pretend to provide a substitute for the real thing.

 

Bi-monthly Report

As is usually the case with this blog, I am going to summarize the Sierra Club’s bi-monthly report as included in the Sierra Magazine. It contains some bad news along with some very good news as far as human life on our planet is concerned. First the bad news:

BAD NEWS

The Baird’s sparrow is being pushed out of North Dakota and Montana and into Canada by climate change.

Rising temperatures and hybridization with non-native rainbow trout threaten Montana’s famed cutthroat trout with extinction.

May was the hottest month on record.

The West Antarctic ice sheet is in irreversible collapse according to a joint University of California, Irvine/NASA study. The ice sheet contains enough water top raise sea levels worldwide by four feet.

That last one is most disturbing, but it is countered by some good news.

GOOD NEWS
One-fifth of the world electric energy production now comes from renewables.

The EPA proposes a rule to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, including existing coal-fired power plants, by 30 percent by 2030. (You may recall that the EPA is one of the main targets of the Koch brothers!) Meanwhile, Finland (whose school system is the best in the world) aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the middle of the century.

Tesla motors (makers of the world’s most efficient electric cars) has surpassed Toyota as the largest auto industry employer in California. Further, their CEO, Elon Musk, has opened his company’s patents to other automakers for free in order to help widespread adoption of electric cars.

America now has more solar workers than coal miners — (for those who think the pursuit of renewable energy will cost the country jobs).

And finally, Pope Francis says that destroying the earth is a sin. (Not to mention suicidal).

Obscene?

It was recently announced on ESPN, the voice of sports that only seems to grow louder yet rarely says anything worth hearing, the Indiana Pacers’ talented player Paul George, who recently broke his leg in two places, injured himself on the day of the delivery of his $370,000 custom-made Ferrari. In its report, the irony of the car being delivered the day of George’s injury was noted, but not the slightest hint that in this day and age such a thing is just a bit obscene. Karma? Divine retribution? Or is it none of my business?

There are those who say that a talented basketball player who makes mega-bucks is entitled to spend his money the way he wants to. It’s his. He earned it honestly, and it’s no one’s business how he spends it — except, obviously, ESPN’s. They make pretty much anything remotely related to sports their business.

But from where I sit, it seems not only obscene, but even a bit immoral — if something can be a “bit” immoral. Given that there are millions of people on the planet who can’t put food on the table and/or have no place to call home, it seems wrong for any one person to spend that kind of money on a car. I would argue as follows: a person’s responsibility is a function of his ability to act. For example, if I see a crime being committed and have an operable cell phone, I have an obligation to call 911. Recall the outrage expressed over the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York which was witnessed by a number of people who took no action whatever. Responsibility is a function of ability, which includes knowledge, though ignorance may not be an excuse. Presumably, I know that 911 is the number of the police. If I don’t know it, I should.

Analogously, if a person makes a great deal of money and is able to make a difference, no matter how small, it seems he has an obligation to do so. If one insists that Paul George may not know about the people in need, I would say this is irrelevant. He should know, especially in an age of information overload. It’s not a huge secret and we all have an obligation to know as much as we can about the world in which we live — if for no other reason than to try to make it a better place. After all, it’s what it means to be a civilized human being, isn’t it?

But, it might be the case that Paul George gives a great deal of his money to charity and this instance of self-indulgence may be a rare example of his lack of concern for others. This is possible. ESPN hasn’t told me whether or not Paul George is a charitable person. I doubt  they will, since it lacks the sensational element that that their many sponsors are eager to pay for. But the purchase of this particular “custom-made” car is self-indulgence on a grand scale, and that alone makes it worth reflection. It just seems to me that if a person is in a position to help another who is in need, he ought to do so. Further, at some point, buying expensive toys that we simply don’t need is obscene. I’m just sayin’……

Ignorance and Fear

Socrates famously said the ignorance brings about evil in the world. He put it otherwise. He said knowledge invariably leads to goodness. I stress the obverse, but in either form he was a bit off the mark, it seems to me. I would say that ignorance leads to fear which quite often leads to violence. It is not ignorance, per se, that leads to what Socrates would call “evil.” It leads there through fear. And we are learning all we need to know about fear these days, thanks to the media, prodded by the frenzied right-wing, who have discovered that fear is an excellent way to control the population, to reject any attempts to control the sale of guns, and get such things as increased defense spending in Congress.

In a previous blog I quoted the Hanlon’s Razor that tells us “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.” This is a profound adage, if you think about it. It is indeed stupidity that leads to the fear that, in turn, leads to violence. Think about it. Imagine you are in a dark house alone and you hear something drop in the kitchen. You immediately are afraid and you reach for a poker (if you are near the fireplace) or a make-shift weapon of some kind. Then you find out it was the cat who knocked over the sugar bowl and you breathe easier. Your heart stops racing and you calm down. But think about the direct and immediate connection between your ignorance of the cause of the noise and the fear you feel as a direct result of your ignorance. And one can expand on these examples endlessly and continue to imagine what might happen if you had a real weapon, say a hand gun or an automatic rifle in the drawer next to you. You might have shot the poor cat! Or your nephew. Or a neighbor who was watching television in his living room next door. Absurd, you say? Not really. It simply explains how so many violent acts are committed each day by frightened people who shoot first and think later. I say again, ignorance leads to fear which leads to violence. Not always, to be sure. But often.

And when we consider the widespread ignorance in this country fed by the fear-mongers who feed off it, we might want to pause and reflect. Consider, for example, the self-appointed guardians of our southern boundaries who are armed and ready to protect us from the hated immigrants, children though they be, who (they think) will their jobs away and cripple our economy. I have blogged about this, as I have about their conviction that theirs is a right guaranteed by the Constitution to carry those weapons and be ever-prepared to use them — even though (as I have noted in past blogs) the Bill of Rights guarantees the militia the right to carry weapons, not frightened and stupid thugs. But because many choose to read the Constitution through glasses tinted by fear and suspicion, their right is insisted upon even though it is a fiction.

As F.D.R. said long ago: we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Indeed. And its first cousin, stupidity.