Angry Buddha

In my last entry, I called for all of us to be a Buddha in the face of this Chinese flu pandemic, part of which means to accept what we cannot change. Implied in that idea is the notion that we should be alert to things that we can change, and to do what we can to change them. I’m finding it impossible to keep up with the news on this subject and to adjust my emotions accordingly  and so, I will address just one subject in an attempt to influence my little corner of the blogosphere: Politicians who portray themselves as benefactors of the people by handing out money that was ours to start with should be quarantined from office.

There is no doubt that many, many people need some kind of financial assistance in the current situation, but here’s a good idea, not that it’s original to me: Instead of taking my money in and then handing it back to me, how about you STOP TAKING MY MONEY IN THE FIRST PLACE? Let’s place a moratorium on collecting any taxes at all until 30 days past the date when the current emergency is declared to be over. If ever the local, state, and federal governments had an incentive to find a cure for this pandemic, that policy would surely provide one.

As it is, these elected potentates have no clue, and what’s worse, no plan to pay for the several trillion dollars in aid that they plan on distributing. Which means that the federal government is just going to print more money. Which means that the dollar you get back under the guise of their beneficence isn’t going to be worth the dollar you put in.

Ironically, part of a plan to pay for the recovery has already presented itself: If public schools and universities can carry on in a virtual classroom now, why not all the time? Ask any educrat, “What is the optimal per pupil spending figure that insures a good education?” and the answer in all 50 states is always, “More.” What the citizens have received for their investment of tax dollars are high schools that look like shopping malls, stacks of unnecessary or useless text books, and graduates who can’t make change. Even now, school systems are saving on electric, water, and fuel bills. There is a great deal more tax money to be saved—and directed toward the recovery—by overhauling our entire public educational system.

This pandemic has dramatically altered our way of living, but we should look at it as an opportunity. Let’s pay attention to what we do in this situation and how we do it in an effort, when this is all over, to deliver goods and services (including and especially education) more efficiently, to make our economy more stable and even more robust, and to make our nation more secure and self-sufficient. If we do these things while we are saving lives, then we can truly declare a grand victory. If we return to the way we have always done things we will have wasted a golden opportunity to improve our society.

The Buddha would not like that.

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Be a Buddha

The current pandemic may be just the opportunity we so desperately need to sit beneath the Bodhi tree and regain that spirituality with which we were born.

Whatever words you use, hymns you sing, scripture you quote, or theology you follow, there are two great Spiritual Truths endemic to humanity that we need to, not only recognize once more, but embrace fully. They should become mantras for modern man:

I control nothing but myself.

There is Something out there greater than I am.

You do not control the corona virus or how it is presented in the news. You cannot prevent it from mutating. You cannot make your neighbor wash his or her hands. You cannot worry this virus into submission. It has no will for you to bend. It is not sympathetic to your anxiety or your schedule or even your ability to make ends meet. Neither is it doing this to you on purpose. It is neutral, indeed, oblivious to human feelings and endeavors. This will come as a shock to the vast numbers of people who expect their feelings to be considered by everyone and everything. If you’re anxious, it is because you choose to be anxious. The virus didn’t “make” you be that way. If you’re worried, you choose to worry. You control only you.

I know that it is hard not to be anxious and not to worry, but these are bad emotional/spiritual habits, and the more you practice resisting these twin temptations, the stronger you will be. You will relax. A calmness in your core will start to grow. . . .

You are not the pinnacle of Creation. You are special because the Universe did conspire to create you, but It did not name you the Boss of Everything. After all, we may have no other purpose than to house the million microbes that are swimming around in us, corona virus being just the latest. Call it God, Humanity, the Cosmos, Tao—there is Something that is greater than you. Recognize this fact. Embrace it. Submit to it. The more you paddle against the Cosmic Flow, the more frustrated—and exhausted—you will become.

Celebrate it. The Universe doesn’t need you to navigate this Grand Trip on which we find ourselves. It’s a Trip taken on a raft more so than a canoe, so quit paddling. Just try to maintain a steady keel. It doesn’t need you, but for some reason, It invited you along, anyway. No guarantees on the difficulty of the rapids or where you’ll ultimately land, but enjoy the ride. Every day. Virus or no virus; quarantine or no quarantine.

Do what you can to make the journey pleasant for your fellow passengers. You can control that.

You will not solve the medical crisis nor will you dictate policy. You can build that calmness at your core, which will naturally emanate to the others on your raft. The gloom and anxiety we feel over this pandemic is palpable. So too are individual acts of kindness and thoughtfulness and calmness. That’s palpable, too.

Be a Buddha.

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The Hope of the Summer to Come

If you’re a baseball fan, Spring Training is one of the grand times of the year, maybe even the grandest. Hope grows in the warm Florida (or Arizona) sun and it becomes easy to construct scenarios by which even your bad team might just pull off a miracle. After all, you just boarded a jet that had been sitting on a frosty runway and two hours later you land in bright warm (or at least warmer) sunshine. That is a miracle to me, so I’m primed to conjure another one by the time I arrive at the ballpark.

Ah, the Spring Training ballpark: Small, intimate, minor-league affairs which means the players are that much closer and that much more accessible. There is a comradery in the stands born of the recognition that if you’re at a Spring Training game, then you are a true believer in the Magic of Baseball. Wins and losses don’t matter and so, we can all sit back together and just enjoy the game without the anxiety of counting how many games out of first place our team will be when we lose.

We recently attended a game in Lakeland, the long-time home of the Detroit Tigers on our recent trip to Florida. We ran into a young couple in Tigers’ gear who commented on our Orioles gear. It turns out that Camden Yards is their favorite major league ballpark and so, they named one of their children Camden. True believers, indeed.

Some 4,000 of us gathered together to see the Tigers play the Houston Astros. Houston brought many of their starters, each of whom was booed lustily. Two female Tiger fans sported shirts that read, Steal bases, not signs in an obvious reference to the Astros cheating scandal.

Besides those Tiger fans and Houston fans, we saw folks sporting jerseys, hats, or t-shirts representing the Cubs, Phillies, Yankees, Indians, Royals, Reds, Pirates, Giants, Rangers, Rays, Dodgers, Braves, Brewers, Red Sox, Cardinals, Twins, and Nationals. We were sporting our Oriole shirts and hats, of course, which meant that 20 out of the 30 major league teams were represented in the stands. Oh, and the minor league Toledo Mud Hens and Fayetteville Woodpeckers each had at least one fan in attendance as well. This plethora of rooting interests is a perfect example of Spring Training comradery.

There was a rather large contingent of Astros fans who had made their way to Lakeland from West Palm Beach, including a pair of older ladies who styled themselves the “Play ball Bunnies,” and were decked out head to toe—quite literally—in Astros gear. Cheaters or not, the Astros are their team, and they love ‘em no matter what. Kind of a hate the sin, but love the sinner proposition.

The Play Ball Bunnies in all their sartorial splendor.

I’ve been to two different World Series and those games are thrilling, but they are the final salute to a summer past. I think I actually prefer Spring Training games and the hope of the summer to come.

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Dirty Dancing Update

You may remember a post from January titled, “Oh, that dirty dancing from the ’20s,” in which I discussed how 100 years ago, American dance masters were anxious to rid dancing of “vulgar music,” as well as moves such as the body lock, shimmy hold, and half-nelson. Having no idea what these moves might have looked like, I contacted Sharon Davis of JazzMad London, a swing and jazz dance studio in England. I have just received an answer: Sharon has no idea what these moves are/were, but she certainly appreciated the clipping. She also sent me several photos of Lindy Hoppers doing their thing back in the day. I highly recommend Sharon’s dance videos on Youtube, not only for the outstanding dancing, but also for her ultra-pleasant video personality.

Those of you attending the Big Swing Thing at the end of April have two months to perfect some of the moves captured in the images below. Thanks for sharing, Sharon!

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Phony Outrage Over Astros Scandal

I am sick of the self-righteous blathering about how the Houston Astros cheated.

Cody Bellinger, if you were suddenly traded to Houston, you’d gladly accept the Astros paycheck. And, hey, New York: When you quit regarding Jeffery Maier as a folk hero, then maybe I’ll have a little sympathy for all the tears you’re crying now. Rob Manfred, you apparently received complaints from more than a few teams for three years and didn’t do a thing about it. Furthermore, you stuck monitors showing the game in real time in major league clubhouses and never suspected that somebody might sneak a glance—or design an algorithm—to gain a competitive advantage. Spare me the outrage. Every day, in all walks of life, people are cheated in business and passed over for promotion. Their spouses are unfaithful, and the DMV treats them with disdain, and none of it’s fair. Somehow, most of them move on, and without a minimum salary of $555,000.

Of course, let’s admit that we love to be outraged these days, despite the fact that it’s not good for our blood pressure or our collective happiness. The Astros have given baseball’s talking heads a wonderful opportunity to be more outraged on the 2 o’clock show than the guy was on the 1 o’clock show. It’s all phony.

Clearly, other teams knew the Astros were stealing signals, but somehow weren’t smart enough to combat that? I bet I know how Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, and Nolan Ryan, for example, would have combated that. Had they heard that banging on the trash can, the next sound in the ballpark would have been the air quickly exiting the batter’s lungs after being drilled in the ribs. The players will always do a better job of policing the game than the suits in the Commissioner’s Office, and that includes the suits that used to wear uniforms.

Oh, I know, I’m supposed to be outraged because this form of cheating used technology. Modern cheating using modern technology to produce modern outrage!!! Yawn. There once was a Phillies infielder named Pierce Chiles who often coached third base. He had backup catcher, Morgan Murphy, stand beyond the centerfield fence and, using binoculars spy upon the opposing catcher’s signals, then buzz the third base coaching box through a buried telegraph wire that terminated under the foot of Chiles. That is, assuming that Chiles positioned himself correctly in the box. Blogger Jackie Howell detailed this forgotten episode in baseball history in her wonderful blog, The Baseball Bloggess recently. Chiles was using technology 120 years ago in 1900, but come to think of it, that telegraph wire thing is way more high-tech than banging on a trash can. (As a postscript, the Cincinnati Reds discovered the buzzer and dug it up. Just for funsies, ole Chiles buried a dummy buzzer in the first base coaches’ box, which the Reds also discovered and unearthed.)

Ah, for the good ole days in Houston.

What’s to stop a major league team from hiring a horde of interns to review the center field camera footage of every game played in a season, and then analyze what signal combinations indicated what pitch, in turn applying that to the new season? That might not be a perfect system, but it could possibly produce a trend since there are only so many signal combinations. Is that cheating since technology is involved or does it have to be in “real time?”

Was it cheating when New York’s A.L. team built Yankee Stadium in which the right field foul pole stood a mere 290’ from home plate in order to accommodate their new left-handed slugger, what’s his name? Something Ruth? Was it cheating when San Francisco’s grounds crew used to turn the baseline from first to second into a swamp to slow down Maury Wills? Can I get a little retro-outrage over those examples?

The current fauxrage is obscuring another consideration. Hitters know what’s coming in batting practice and still make outs four out of ten times. I keep seeing replays of Jose Altuve’s home run off Aroldis Chapman to capture the 2019 American League crown against the Yankees. Every time I see it, however, that slider is still eye-high and not doing much sliding. If Chapman throws a good slider, one starting knee-high and breaking down and away, the most Altuve might have hoped for was an opposite field single. Even if you know what’s coming, you still have to hit it, and I’m still not at all convinced that the diminutive second-sacker knew what was coming.

All you talking heads, please stop talking. The Astros cheated. They got caught. They tainted, if not ruined their own legacy. That’s not outrageous, that’s sad.

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Enough With MLB Gimmicks; Try This Post-Season Idea

Yet again, Major League Baseball (MLB) has resorted to gimmicks by which to alter post-season play. If MLB wants each league’s playoffs to include seven teams, then dividing teams into divisions is itself a gimmick, and it reduces the chances that fans will at least get to see the seven best teams in each league. Furthermore, the idea that certain teams will get to pick who they will play in the opening round of the post-season is worse than a gimmick—it’s a boring gimmick. At least with the NCAA tournament selection shows, we, the audience, cannot be sure exactly which teams will be selected. Baseball fans will already know who will be playing, and there would be about as much suspense in the MLB Selection Show (or whatever its title may be) as there would be in watching a rerun of Gilligan’s Island. (If you were wondering, they ain’t getting off the island.)

If MLB wants to revamp the post-season in a meaningful way that will truly increase excitement, and by extension, television ratings, then model the post-season on the College World Series. The concept is simple: Divide MLB into Eastern and Western Leagues. Each team plays every other team in its league 11 times for a 154-game schedule. Just eliminate a previously-tried gimmick of interleague play, a gimmick that has run its course. The top 8 teams in each league then play a double elimination tournament. Rob Manfred, you want teams to pick their opponents? How about a tournament in which you won’t even know who your opponent will be until all games are completed on a given day! A city in each league could host this tournament on a rotating basis a lá the All-Star Game. Perhaps, even two ballparks could be used, e.g. Citi Field and Yankee Stadium or Nationals Park and Camden Yards.

The winners of each League Tournament will play each other in a traditional home and home World Series.

I’ve been espousing this idea since 2011, writing at that time,

Football games are appealing not only to fans, but to the average television viewer because they are set pieces, self-contained dramas, like the movie of the week. A World Series tournament would be baseball’s version of the mini-series. You have to tune in every night (and day) because you don’t want to miss any of the twists and turns, which you can track over the course of 10 days. The average viewer won’t stay tuned for twists and turns that take 30 days to unfold and include multiple travel days and cutaway shots of fans in Northern ballparks whose gloves are fur-lined, rather than oiled and laced. [And Rob, they haven’t.] This latter element is underappreciated, for as any writer knows, the setting does contribute to the mood of the story. (Hence, Dostoevsky never set one of his novels in Miami.) The World Series then becomes Part II of the mini-series, and the entire event is concluded in three weeks.

Rob Manfred is so worried about attracting new fans that he forgets about his long-time fans. He’s like the satellite television company that offers a great deal to new subscribers, but offers nothing to the people who have subscribed for years. You know, Rob, your gimmickry might result in a net loss of fans, but I might point out to you that the College World Series is gaining in popularity and I am convinced that a large part of the reason is the format.

Rob, don’t give us another gimmick. We’re sick of blue bats, pink gloves, nickname jerseys, Ugly Uniform Day (or is that something else that just seems like Ugly Uniform Day?) You want to revamp the post-season? Give us something new to professional baseball that already has appeal on the college level. Give us League Tournaments.

TD Ameritrade Stadium, site of the College World Series

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Robert E. Lee, Reconciliation, and Race. And Grandmothers

I just finished reading the fourth and final volume of Douglas Southall Freeman’s Pulitzer Prize winning (1935) biography R. E. Lee. Very well written, and extremely well researched, I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in General Lee’s life or in a biography well-told. The four volumes encompass over 2,400 pages, but the read was smooth and never tedious, although it certainly will help if you are already somewhat familiar with the history of the War Between the States.

Robert E. Lee, photographed by Mathew Brady, taken shortly after the surrender at Appomattox.

Of course, “the General,” as Freeman often referred to him, is a controversial figure now, and many in the latest generation just do not understand how someone who fought for a cause that enslaved people could possibly be revered. An even greater question is how did someone who was indicted for treason by a Norfolk, VA grand jury in 1865 become, in five short years (Lee died in 1870) someone who was regarded as a prime example of American genius and gentility, and by Northerners as well as Southerners? I think the answer to both questions lies in the little considered history of just how the country reunited. After all, the North had just sent over 360,000 of its young men to their death in order to keep the Southern states as their neighbors. So, how DO you reunite with your neighbors, 258,000 of whom you just killed in order to maintain a filial relationship? It’s a question that resembles a Buddhist Koan. Certainly, there was no blueprint as to how this reunification was to be accomplished.

It was the soldiers themselves who blazed the path toward reconciliation. Jonathan Noyalas, Director of the Civil War Institute, right here in Winchester wrote an excellent account of the Union soldiers who had fought in the Shenandoah Valley, coming back to the scene of their battles some twenty years later. Eventually, their Confederate opponents began to participate in these reunions. Noyalas’ book, Civil War Legacy in the Shenandoah: Remembrance, Reunion and Reconciliation gives an excellent account of how this reconciliation unfolded through the years in the Shenandoah. It is representative of the reconciliation that was occurring all over the country.

Another work that demands consideration is Carol Reardon’s Pickett’s Charge in History & Memory, which as the title implies details the history of the history of Pickett’s Charge. (You read that right.) Indeed, the veterans of George Pickett’s division came to Gettysburg in 1887 for a reunion with the Philadelphia Brigade. Not all Northern veterans were pleased by the idea, annoyed as they were because they felt that the only thing anyone remembered about the great battle was the “valorous” charge by Pickett’s Division. That was a mere 24 years after the battle; by the 75th, and last reunion of veterans, the country was moved by photos of 90-something year old former enemies shaking hands over the stone wall along Cemetery Ridge. To put this in context, my dad served in the United States Navy from 1943-1945 and saw time in the Pacific, but his son has driven Toyotas for 35 years.

There was also a great deal of contention over whether the Confederate battle flags should be displayed at that 1887 reunion. As the years went by, there were arguments over whether captured Confederate flags should be returned to the states from whose regiments they were captured. (Ultimately, they were.) In time, the United Daughters of the Confederacy issued very stringent guidelines on the flag’s display as they regarded it as sacred symbol that represented the sacrifice of Southern sons. The last thing they wanted to see happen was for the flag to be slapped on every beach towel and shot glass at souvenir stands throughout the South and the rest of the country, for that matter. I won’t get any further into the flag controversy, but I would urge you to read this article on, “Embattled Banner: The true history of the Confederate flag,” and make sure you read the two accompanying essays that appear following the article’s conclusion.

In other words—and this is my own amateur historian’s judgment—the understanding that evolved in order to make permanent the bonds of reconciliation was that the North would accept the mythology of Lee as the chivalrous knight and Pickett’s Charge as the premier example of Southern valor and sacrifice, and Southerners would accept, not only the fact that they lost (an acceptance that Lee strongly urged), but that it was good that they lost.

This understanding completely omitted what the former slaves and their descendants understood about the whole matter. That took 100 years to begin to address, although Jackie Robinson and Harry Truman laid the groundwork in 1947 and 1948 respectively.

Unfortunately, we have currently deviated from what was admittedly a winding path towards including the black perspective. We have entered into a wilderness of extremism in which nuanced thinking is not permitted. “Lee fought for slavery; he was 100% bad,” is an example of that simplistic thinking.

Make no mistake: There is no going back. We cannot undue slavery or the delay in granting civil rights. To feel guilty about these things is also to go back. As Robert E. Lee told his fellow Southerners after the war, we must move forward. I can’t undo those things, but I can think critically, I can converse respectfully, I can judge my neighbors on the content of their characters.

So, what to do about all those statues honoring General Robert E. Lee?  My suggestion would be a Museum of Reconciliation. Appomattox Court House would be a good place for that. Maybe have statues of Lee, Grant, and Booker T. Washington all facing one another with their words on reconciliation ringing the base of those statues. Include information on the reunions of the soldiers and the Civil Rights Movement. I know this much: The one group of people who are bound to propose the worst possible solution area a gaggle of politicians.

Rather than politicians deciding this question, I would like to see three grandmothers from the NAACP and three grandmothers from the United Daughters of the Confederacy brought together to decide about the statues. First item on the agenda would be passing around grand-baby photos, then, it’s down to business. I bet it wouldn’t take them long to figure out a solution, and whatever it might be, I’d be willing to abide by it.

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