On Athletic Prowess

Now that we have gotten past the memory of the tragic 9/11 event, twenty years ago, I would like to turn to the higher nature of humankind.  John Keats, in his poem, Endymion, began it with the immortal line:  A thing of beauty is a joy forever.  I would like to modify that to an act of beauty is a joy forever but retain the same idea that Keats conveyed in his poem, that we cherish a thing or act of beauty  beyond its existence.

We look at athletes who perform at the top of their game with wonderment.  When we see Simone Biles take leaps into the naked air with multiple twists, we applaud her mastery that appears so effortless.  Our own understanding of what we can accomplish makes it easy for us to recognize the uniqueness of their skills.  An athletic feat of such grandeur is short-lived but not forgotten.  Likewise, the beauty of a flower in bloom is ephemeral but stays with us much beyond its happening, as Keats surmised in Endymion “will never pass into nothingness.”

A few days ago, Hunter Renfroe, of the Boston Red Sox did the impossible.  With two outs in the top of the 9th inning at Fenway Park, a ball hit by Joey Wendle of Tampa Bay, in being missed by centerfielder Danny Santana, went passed him.   Hunter Renfroe, who plays right field, sped to the ball, and almost in one motion, took the ball and hurled it to Bobby Daubach, who was playing 3rd base for the Sox.  The throw, described by several sports writers as a “howitzer,” gunned down Wendle as he slid into 3rd base.  When the umpire called him out at 3rd base, Wendle had a look of confusion and disbelief on his face.  The perfect throw, some sportscasters said may have been 300 feet, ended the inning and the game with the Red Sox winning 2 to 1.

The post-game interview with Hunter was, like most spectular moments, anticlimactic.  Renfroe commented that when he saw Joey running to 3rd base, he instinctively threw the ball in that direction.  He modestly gave some credit to Daubach for successfully applying the tag on Wendle.

Words do not have the power to reproduce great moments.  Just like the fleeting beauty of nature, an athletic feat happens quickly and, in the case of Renfroe’s throw, unexpectedly.  Nowadays, seeing a great play like that, is much more available than the mere memory of it.  The modern age allows us to see the event well after it happens.  When the skill of an athlete far exceeds the norm, we can marvel at what had appeared impossible to reach was indeed within the grasp of humankind.  It reminds us that the potential for achieving this level of greatness is a part of what we share as human beings.

Ten Days that Shook the West

It feels the equivalent of two life times ago since I saw the movie in 1955, To Hell and Back, that starred Audie Murphy who played himself in the film.  Mr. Murphy represented the personification of the Greatest Generation, those that lived through the Great Depression and fought bravely in WWII.  Perhaps the lyrics in Paul Simon’s song, Mrs. Robinson asking: “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?” need a new rendition to:  Where have you gone Audie Murphy? Let me be clear, I am not saying that those Americans who have served in Afghan, some of whom died, are not heroes.  But unlike Audie Murphy and the Greatest Generation, they have fought in a losing battle much like their predecessors in Viet Nam.   

America is witnessing the end of a twenty-year debacle in Afghanistan.   Kimberly Nutley, an international human rights attorney, who has worked on Afghanistan for 13 years, said this is a “human rights nightmare” comparing it to “Saigon on steroids.”  The quintessential error in American policy came on July 8 of this year when President Biden stated: “The likelihood of the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is unlikely.” There is some evidence that there were classified assessments of American spy agencies that warned of a potential collapse of the Afghan military.  But Biden apparently was blinded by the message he wanted to hear:  That now is as good a time as any to end the war.  Unfortunately, as I write these words, the world knows better.  Within six weeks of Mr. Biden’s declaration, the Taliban swooped down on Afghan, like vultures, and within 10 days overran the country, victorious at Kabul, and seized all of the Afghan weapons that America had supplied to our Afghan allies.

This is not to say that President Biden was alone in the poor decision-making America displayed in Afghanistan.  The war started when former President, George W. Bush, ordered the attack on Afghanistan in reaction to Al Qaeda’s two airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  Mr. Bush was influenced by neo-conservatives who thought it best for American to export its democratic ways to Afghanistan in an effort at nation building.  Although this may have been a worthy ideal ending, American leaders underestimated the enormous obstacles in achieving such a task with a country that had no history of a democracy.  Duane Evans, who served in Afghanistan and wrote about his experiences there, believed the effort of nation building went awry when America went into Iraq in 2003.  He has pointed out that the focus became Iraq, and not Afghanistan, which radically altered the U.S. policy of nation building in Afghanistan.

To his credit, Mr. Biden reversed many of former President Trump’s foreign policies, such as reactivating America’s participation in the World Health Organization (WHO) and in the Paris Climate Accords.  But rather than overturning Trump’s policy of ending the war in Afghanistan and withdrawing our troops, the President went against the advice he received from his military generals in deciding to exit the war in early May.  These military advisors argued there had been no American casualties for 18 months.  General David Petraeus, the retired army general, who served in Afghanistan, maintained that the cost of keeping 3500 troops in Afghanistan to hold the line would have been minimal.  The sad irony to all of this is that by underestimating the Taliban power and not planning an organized evacuation, there has been mass chaos at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.  Disaster fell when 13 American troops and scores of Afghanistan people were killed by a suicide bomber who was a member of the ISIS-K, another terrorist group.

The late Secretary of State, George Schulz made the following observation: “Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.”  When Mr. Trump allowed 5000 Taliban prisoners to be freed in his efforts to begin the end of American involvement in Afghanistan, he was hardly bargaining from a position of power. These prisoners, now freed, could have assisted the Taliban in the rapid defeat of the Afghan military with the final blow in Kabul.

In the end, as Gerald Seib put it, the odyssey was bipartisan with the retreat widely supported by the public.  America has left troops in South Korea, Japan and Europe for years.  The question on the minds of many political strategists was why not leave some troops in Afghanistan to serve as a buffer for the Afghan forces.  Unfortunately, President Biden allowed himself to be moved by public opinion with little insight into the consequences of his actions. The American presence in Afghanistan had opened the doors for women to become educated and gainfully employed.   Because the Taliban has historically ruled by Sharia law whereby women have few, if any rights, and are not permitted an education, these doors may soon be closing.

The Taliban, a terrorist organization, now supposedly assisting America in the evacuation process, has made it clear to America that it will not extend the deadline of August 31.  The final straw is that President Biden refuses to ask the Taliban for an extension of the August 31st evacuation of all troops.  This deadline will more than likely render it impossible for many of the Afghans, who were critical in aiding Americans, to gain safe passage to the United States.  As Walter Russell Mead has said, the fall of Afghanistan will result in both our allies and our enemies believing that America cannot develop and stick to policies that work.  Robin Wright, writer from the New Yorker, speculated whether the retreat from Afghanistan will mark the end of the American era.  Audie Murphy was a hero who was a part of an America that was viewed by the world far differently than now. As Mead put it, since 9/11 our country has faced a continuous and accelerating drift and decline. 

Globalization has caused the world to shrink.  I believe the world needs America, and I would not count us out of the picture.  In the past, when hit with calamity, America has had a history of reinventing itself.  Let us hope that we will learn from this last disaster in foreign affairs to conduct future international interventions in a new and more productive manner. 

Know With Whom to Trust

     

In 1969, during my second year in a doctoral program in clinical psychology at Purdue University, I experienced what I believed to have been a huge breach in trust.  At that time, a pervasive ennui had taken hold of me that had its roots in a growing dissatisfaction with my studies.  In retrospect, I can attribute part of the frustration I experienced back then to student mental exhaustion.  I had a deep yearning to join the workforce that would free me from the task of writing papers and taking exams.

However, my inertia at that time had other sources.  As a Psychology Trainee at two Veteran Administration’s Hospitals, I had evidenced some serious shortcomings in patient treatment.  My supervisor at the hospital located in Danville, Illinois had strong features of obsessive-compulsive behavior manifested in the manner by which she tested and diagnosed patients.  Not thinking it wise to rebel, I followed her directives that consisted of a long set of rules and procedures in diagnosing a patient.  Whatever result I got, in my mind, simply did not match the amount of time spent in performing this tedious chore.  The second hospital I worked at, located in Marion, Indiana was dark, dank and a far more depressing place with fewer resources than the one in Danville.  Since my Traineeship, I am happy to say inpatient clinical care of patients has shown marked improvement.

Personality Theory in Psychology was a course I remember to have found quite stimulating.  However, I soon learned that the faculty member teaching this course had volatile and unstable features and, I was advised by an upper-class colleague to avoid working with this professor on any big project such as a thesis or dissertation.  Wisely, I followed this advice and escaped the fate that befell a fellow student.

 I never really relished learning how to do testing and assessment of clients.  The graduate student, in his last year of the doctoral program, who was in charge of grading our intellectual assessments, I felt had favorites and was a bit of a nitpicker. He would find the smallest of errors on our test protocols as a means of giving us a grade. I sensed he was looking for mistakes to justify what he was doing.  However, I enjoyed taking a course in the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventor (MMPI) in addition to very much resonating with the professor, I shall call Dr. James, who taught it.

Beyond the testing and assessment classes, the first two years of study involved little other clinical work.  The other academic area of focus was research.  Although I enjoyed designing the experiment for my master’s thesis, I lacked the motivation required to do research.  As I worked on my master’s thesis, once more it appeared to me that the amount of energy spent in completing one research paper, substantially outweighed any result the experimental might yield.  Moreover, I knew that a large number of studies with findings in the direction predicted were essential in establishing a meaningful trend in the data.  I could not help feeling that the amount of input needed in conducting an investigation into a variable was not sufficiently rewarded by the output or results of that particular study.

Because I had a good feeling about Dr. James, the professor who taught MMPI as an assessment tool, I chose him as my major advisor on my master’s committee.  He willingly accepted.  Feeling lost in terms of my professional goals, I opened myself up to Dr. James, expressing the self-doubt I was having in seeing the value of my studies.  This, I told him, made it difficult for me to feel very motivated.  He appeared supportive in what I reported I had been experiencing.  I may have met with him two or three times, seeking an answer to my confused state of mind, before I decided to request a leave of absence from the program after completing all the requirements for my master’s degree. 

When I had completed the final write-up of my thesis and was ready to defend it, the last step before receiving my master’s degree, I began hearing some ugly rumors from some students in their last year.  One of them, Steve, who had an in with the faculty, told me that my termination from the doctoral program had been mentioned, not for academic reasons, but rather for a lack of motivation. I remember my shock at hearing those familiar words: lack of motivation. I knew that rumors are rumors but there was no reason for him or other students to give me false news.  Besides, I was well-liked and to my knowledge had no enemies. 

A week or so later I successfully defended my thesis in front of Dr. James and my other committee member.  Both of them congratulated me and told me that my thesis was so cleverly designed that I should consider making research a career goal.  Subsequently, prior to leaving Purdue for my leave of absence that had been granted, I made an appointment to see Dr. James.  When I met with him, I asked him whether the rumors I had heard of my being terminated from the program were true.  He said they were but I was leaving in good standing.  Although I was irate when he verified the gossip, I bit my tongue, not wanting to hurt my chances of reentering the program in the future.

 After bidding my friends farewell, I got into my car, still miffed about what had transpired with Dr. James.  With my departure, I carried an emotional scar coming from my sense of having been betrayed.   Because I had very much-admired Dr. James, the scar cut that much deeper into my interior.

It took some time for me to understand more fully what had happened to me.  When I realized what I had done, that scar, though always there, no longer burned.  I had crossed a boundary in treating Dr. James, not as my major advisor and academic mentor, but rather as my personal therapist.  How very foolish of me!  In essence, I was telling him that what he did and what I was trying to do was a waste of time.  Indeed, I had used poor judgment in telling him confidential things that I should never have revealed.  Although painful, I had learned a lesson about life:  If you are not careful with whom you share some of your inner most private thoughts, they may come back and haunt you.

How We Can Make Luck Work

Things can change overnight.  In my last blog, Simone Biles had appeared to opt out of the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.  Rather, she had found time to recover and to practice allowing her to enter the last gymnastic event, the balance beam, in which she placed 3rd, winning a bronze medal.  Congratulations, Simone, for persevering under what I’m sure were difficult circumstances.

Similarly, in my private practice, this week two of my clients were in the process of looking for jobs with the goal of changing their lives.  In the first case, one was making a lot of money at his present position, and he did not believe he would be able to find other employment that would match his current earnings. But there were many features in his current work environment that he despised, and he came to realize that his own mental health was more important than his salary.  His participation in the therapeutic process had helped him gain self-confidence in coming to a decision that it was time to start a job search with the goal of leaving his present situation.  He had gained the mental fortitude to prepare himself to do what was best for him.  He has proceeded to update his curriculum vitae and to investigate different occupations that might interest him.

My other client had just recently passed a major exam that qualifies him for a higher ranking in his field.  He just had completed one interview, and he was scheduled for another one the following day.  He already had met some staff that he felt comfortable with, and consequently, made it his business to be well prepared for the forthcoming meeting.  Both of my clients were upbeat about their future and ready to make a change in their lives.

Years ago, my wife, Lisa, had told me how she had taken a quote from Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher, and had employed it with some of the students she had seen as a career counselor.  The quote reads as: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  She would explain to her students that were in transition the good fortune they may have experienced was not due to mere luck but the positive attitude they brought with them.

Accordingly, when the first of these two clients indicated he was ready for some luck to come his way, I told him he was in the process of making the luck happen in his life. I then quoted the lines from Seneca.  I assured him that his positive attitude now would be instrumental in creating the luck he may need in his quest for new employment that might even entail a career change.  I wanted him to realize that his positive attitude would help him in attracting possible employees in his job search.  The second client, who was facing a live interview, understood that the element of preparation would be crucial in his evaluation.

In an earlier blog, The Meaning of Mazel, I elaborated on how we make our own mazel (derived from the Yiddish, meaning luck or fortune).  This idea fits in well with what Seneca said two centuries ago.  I am amused when couples I have met say they were so lucky to find another.  Let us look at this statement more closely.  Perhaps their meeting one another came under fortuitus circumstances but that did not imply they would remain together as a couple.  Rather, it would indicate to me that at the time of their encounter they were ready to make a very important decision, that is a marital commitment.  They may have met several other potential partners but, on those occasions, may not have been ready to make a commitment.  Here I would liken readiness to what Seneca called preparation.

Even if the meeting of one’s partner in life was unplanned, there is little luck involved that keeps them together subsequently.   Moreover, the desire to stay together after so many years has little to do with luck, but rather the underlying love and appreciation, they share with one another. 

When you are prepared and feel confident, you will be able to reap the benefits of your preparation.  What you are doing is steering your life, like a captain behind the rudder of a ship, in such a way that opportunities become more apparent.  When you take the necessary steps to see where the opportunities lie, you are much more likely to experience luck than otherwise.  Just remember: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Stars, Too, Are Humans

The champion gymnast, Simone Biles’ decision not to participate in the Tokyo Olympics shocked the world.  When she posted on her Facebook page, “I truly do feel that I have the world on my shoulders at times,” I recalled an event that happened to me when I was 11 or 12 years old.  At that time, I was playing left field on a softball team, and I was regarded as a better than average player but far from great.  Suddenly, a ball was hit in my direction.  I had an accurate eye on the flight of the ball and, almost immediately after it was hit, came running in, toward it as fast as I could.  I just barely got to the ball as it started coming down and made a shoe-string catch off the ground before it landed.  When they saw the ball in my glove, all my teammates cheered.

It being the last out of the inning, the players on my team congratulated me telling me they didn’t believe I could make that catch.  In feeling elevated by my fielding prowess acknowledged by my teammates, it became clear to me that my status among my fellow co-players had been raised a notch or two.  After the catch, I sensed that I had joined the Circle of the Gods, that is the jocks, who were considered the best players on the team.

Unfortunately, my taste of greatness was ephemeral.  A few innings later a ball was hit hard and well over my head, but high enough where I thought I would be able to reach it while it was in the air.  As I back pedaled, I remember thinking how important it was for me to catch this fly ball to preserve my stature and stay with the Great Ones.  Like most ball players, I found it much more challenging going back to catch a ball as opposed to going in to make the catch.  This ball was hit so deep that I found myself at the border of the playing field in some hedges.  Even though it was by no means an easy play to make, in my mind I could hear my teammates exhorting to me to catch the ball.  At that moment, I clearly remember experiencing a certain amount of pressure in having to make that play. Although I reached the ball while it was still in the air, I was off balance and was unable to secure the ball before it bounced out of my glove.  When the inning ended, no one really said much to me and, consequently, I realized that I probably was no longer in the same category as the star players.

I am very much aware of the fact that the pressure I felt at a softball game at camp does not compare at all with what Simone Biles faced in Tokyo.  But the point I raise here is that top athletes in whatever sport they compete, because they are constantly in the limelight, may experience a great amount of stress.  Let us not forget that those that excel in a sport are only human like the rest of us.  Simone Biles captured this sentiment most perfectly after bowing out of the Olympics when she said: “At the end of the day, we’re human, too, so we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

Biles has reminded us that the often-unforgotten mind is vital in the performance of great athletes.  When her performance on an event was not up to par, she sensed the struggle to be on top may jeopardize her own health and the team’s chances of winning.  Based on her knowledge of herself and the sport, she decided to discontinue her run for more gold medals at the Olympics.  Ironically, by bowing out of the competition and not performing as she was expected, Simone acted with courage.  I understand and respect her decision as I hope others do.

The Great Rivalry Goes On

In earlier blogs, I have said that one of the great attractions of televised sports is they don’t follow a script like Reality T.V.   If they became predictable, the tension and suspense one feels in watching team rivalries, indeed, would be lost.  One such rivalry that has existed for well over 100 years is the Boston Red Sox vs. the New York Yankees.

One of those surprising results that make the game that much more enjoyable to spectators occurred this past Sunday.  The two teams were completing a four-game series at Fenway Park, home to the Red Sox, in which the Red Sox had won two out of the first three contests.  Yankee pitcher, Domingo German, appeared unbeatable.  Red Sox fans had little to cheer for inasmuch as German was pitching a no hitter, through seven innings, with the Red Sox trailing 3 to 0.  By then the Yankee hurler had struck out 10 batters as the Sox hitters had been swinging at unhittable pitches way out of the strike zone.  The Sox players looked like bushwhackers waving their bats in the thin air.  Certainly, no fun if you were a Boston fan, as I am.

In the top of the 7th inning with the Yankees batting, it appeared that the game might become even more lopsided.  Yachsel Rios came in for Boston to relieve Martin Peres, and in the midst of striking out one batter, walked two Yankees and hit another.  This loaded the bases with only one man out.  Although a three-run lead is not insurmountable, any more runs this late in the game most likely would spoil any chances of a Sox comeback.  Alex Cora, the Boston manager, wisely lifted Rios and replaced him with the southpaw, Josh Taylor.  Later, Cora related to reporters he had told his team if “we can hold the Yankees to a 3-run lead, we will win this game.”  With that being said, Taylor went on to strike Giancarlo Stanton out and induce Rougned Odor, who had earlier hit a home run, to fly out to right field for the third out.  

With the Red Sox continuing to do nothing against Yankee pitcher, German, in the bottom half of the 7th inning, the picture still looked bleak for the home team.  To Cora’s dismay, the Yankees increased their lead by another run–in the top of the 8th inning–making the score now 4 to 0 in their favor.  One can only wonder what Cora was thinking at this point.

When the Red Sox came to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning, there was little noise in the background:  Red Sox players had given their fans little to root for throughout the game.  But as the bottom of the 8th got underway, Alex Verdugo promptly changed that when he ended the no hit bid of German by lining a shot into the stands for a ground rule double.  In came Aaron Boone, Yankee manager, who decided to replace German, thinking he had thrown enough pitches, since he recently had returned to the team from injured status.  Right hander, Jonathan Loaisiga, came in to relieve German.  Red Sox right fielder, Hunter Renfroe, hit his first pitch sharply down the left field line for a double scoring Verdugo.  Suddenly, the Red Sox had scored a run and, somehow, 4 to 1 looked a lot better than a shut-out. Christian Vasquez, Boston catcher, followed with a bloop single, that fell in between a group of Yankee fielders, scoring Renfroe. Now, with Vasquez on first base, the score was 4 to 2 and you could hear the roar of the Red Sox fans in the background.  Could the Red Sox come back from a 4-run deficit in the 8th inning?

The 9th batter, Franchy Cordero, usually the weakest hitter on any team, was due up.  Not a starter, but a utility player, Cordero, at the time of his at bat, was hitting a mere .180.  Because the last batter in the line-up is more often than not a poor hitter, he is a pitcher’s delight.  Cora decided to go with him rather than put in a pinch hitter, and, as has been the case so many times in the past, his instincts were right on:  Cordero delivered a ground ball single to centerfield sending Vasquez to second base.   With the score still 4 to 2, Kike Hernandez, the lead-off Boston batter, hit next.  Before one had time to take in the rapid turn of events, Hernandez smashed a double to left-field driving in Vasquez and sending Cordero to third base.  The score now was 4 to 3.

Loaisiga, who had relieved German, had given up four straight hits. Like the many fans at Fenway, I now became a believer.  Yankee manager, Aaron Boone, had seen enough of Loaisiga, who had failed to get anyone out, and brought in Zach Britton, a left-hander.  Part of the strategy by Boone was to bring in a pitcher who could produce ground ball outs.  Fly balls often advance runners, not what a pitcher wants to do when the opposing team has no outs and runners in scoring positions like the Sox had.  Alex Cora showed his coaching acumen when he brought in right hander Kevin Plawecki to pinch hit for Jarret Duran, rookie centerfielder.  Jarret had not played many games but he showed promise inasmuch as he started off hot but, more recently, had cooled off.  Duran, like many overeager rookies without a lot of experience, had been swinging at pitches well off the plate often striking out.   With men in scoring position, the last thing a manager wants to see is a strike out.

Plawecki hit just what the doctor had ordered:  A soft ground ball to the shortstop, bringing in Cordero and advancing Hernandez to third base, tying the score at 4.  At that point, the camera beamed in on poor Domingo German, who had not only lost his no hitter, but now, also the chance to gain the win for his great effort.  The Red Sox had the good fortune of having the very reliable Xander Bogaerts bat next.  With the Yankee infield in, what was needed was a ball hit out of the infield and, Bogaerts, being the team player he is, lifted an outside pitch to right field.  Hernandez, with the speed of lightning, barely beat the throw to home plate, giving the Red Sox a 5 to 4 lead in the bottom of the 8th.

In the top of the 9th inning, Cora brought in closer Matt Barnes, who has been nothing short of superb this season, to give the Red Sox the win. Fate had cast its ugly shadow on Yankee pitcher, Domingo German.  After the game, he was quoted as saying: “You find yourself on top of the world, and all of sudden you are free falling—and you fall fast.  It’s tough.  It’s so hard to process what happened.”  The baseball gods can be most cruel when least expected, but I believe it’s these inexplicable moments that make the sport what it is.

Happiness is Contagious

There are times when one’s expression of joy and happiness is so complete that it can encompass those near to that person.  I experienced that sensation recently.   My Spanish tutor, Stephanie, that I have been seeing online on Skype to maintain and improve my skills in Spanish, had suffered from the Covid19 virus with her brother and parents.  Although she and her brother recovered fairly quickly from the illness, her parents had contracted more serious symptoms from the virus.  They were both placed in intensive care with their situation classified as critical inasmuch as their breathing did not allow either of them to receive sufficient oxygen intake.  

During the course of their grave situation while in the hospital, Stephanie had to give up teaching to assist in her parents’ care with her brother.  When she resumed her online teaching, her parents’ condition was no longer critical, but she still had concern about how they would fair in the future.  As a psychologist, I congratulated her for handling a difficult time in her life quite admirably.  In the ensuing weeks, she would give me an update as to how her parents were progressing vis-à-vis their recovery.  Fortunately, although progress was slow, with her parents still manifesting symptoms, Stephanie reported that overall, both of them were doing better.

Then, I last had a lesson with Stephanie this past Thursday.  Her expression of joy and happiness was apparent as she described the fact that her father, the older of her parents, with her mother, was able to walk unaided by a cane.  I could feel the glowing gleam on her face from afar.  The distance did not matter.  It was spontaneous, so natural, like spring melting the darkness and gloom of winter by bringing more light and sunshine to flowers just blossoming. 

Her words matched the smile on her face.  Her facial glow retained its glow of happiness throughout the hour teaching session.  It was very evident that her heightened level of joy affected me as it would have affected anyone.  My own reaction to Stephanie’s good fortune reminded me of the power of one’s emotions; it was amazing that it was on Skype rather than in person.

Even if one’s life is not going according to plan, it can be uplifting to share in the good fortune of another human.  Viruses we know are highly contagious.  Wouldn’t if be nice if people allowed the positive emotions that their fellow humans experience spread like a contagion into their own lives?

To Vaccinate or Not

          

The reluctance many Americans have to receiving the Covid-19 vaccination is both puzzling and worrisome.  To date, more than 183 million Americans have received one dose of the vaccines approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for emergency use.  This comprises approximately 56% of the population.  Those who have received both doses and are, therefore, fully vaccinated are more than 158 million people that make-up about 48% of the population. 

Those most resistant to receiving the vaccine come from Republican states.  However, more puzzling, are the large percentage of blacks who are against becoming vaccinated.  In the case of the former, the many sources of news media much of which does not support scientific data, may be influencing their decision.  Because the black population does not, in general, vote like Republicans do, their resistance to receiving the vaccine comes from a different source.  I believe many blacks possess an overall distrust of the U.S. Government due to the way they have been treated in the past.  One example of this that comes to mind is the Tuskegee experiment in the 1930’s, where blacks thought they were being treated for some disease, but did not know which one it was. Without telling the black male “Volunteers” what they were investigating, the experimenters administered only a placebo to black males who had been diagnosed with syphilis.  As an incentive to take part in the study, the subjects were given free medical care and hot meals, both highly valued given the fact that during this time the Great Depression had blindsided the country. The underlying unethical manipulation of the black subjects, who thought they were being treated for some disease, was never uncovered until 1972, more than 30 years after the original studies had been conducted.

Young people who do not want to take the vaccine have different reasons than either Republicans or blacks.  Many view themselves at low risk for contracting Covid-19, and even if they catch the illness, they believe they can survive.  One young male, when asked whether or not he would take the vaccine, said “I just won’t go near my grandfather.”  Of course, the problem with this way of thinking is there are other people he may infect, especially, now that communities are opening up.

A further problem with refusing vaccination may allow the delta variant, the most contagious form yet of the Covid-19, to spread more rapidly.  Moreover, recent data have shown that the states having the greatest surge of Covid19 are Missouri, Nevada, Illinois and Arkansas. It is not a coincidence that the data from these states indicate a vaccination rate lower than the national average.  President Biden was hoping that by now 70% of the population would have been vaccinated, a number that would approach herd immunity.  Unfortunately, as indicated by the above numbers, this did not happen.

What can be done about the problem?  One suggestion is for the FDA to grant the vaccines available to the public full approval rather than the status of temporary or emergency use.  Prior to receiving FDA approval for emergency use, over 70,000 people participated in trial runs reviewed by the agency.  Now over 183 million people have received vaccinations resulting in a very low incidence of any serious side effects.  Typical side effects have been sore arms, minor headaches and in fewer cases, fever and chills, for about 24 hours.  Another reason to be supportive of the vaccine is that it will provide some degree of protection against the penetration of the delta variant of the Covid-19.

Those that are unsure of the risk factor of the vaccine need to realize the FDA was not remiss in clearing it for emergency use.  The decision-making process regarding comparable risk is simply not rational.  Political or not no one can deny that to date over 600,000 American lives have been lost due to Covid-19.  But what is not as clear is what is happening to those that survived the virus after actually contracting it.  The time that one recovers from Covid-19 appears to be a huge variable with a number of people revealing subsequent symptoms that render their everyday life much more difficult than previously.  Young people who believe they are invulnerable due to their age need to comprehend this more fully.

Because it is the mark of a free society that distinguishes us from countries like China and Russia, I agree with President Biden that federal employees should not be compelled to vaccinate. On the other hand, I believe that employers with their own businesses have the right to require vaccination of their workers to protect the spread of the virus by protecting their co-workers, clients and society at large.

Several months ago, ex-Laker basketball star, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, in an article in the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, wrote about the importance of celebrity idols explaining the value of the vaccine.   Now that it is safer to be in public, black stars of both genders could speak to black communities with the message of how vital the vaccine is.  Their emphasis on the benefits of vaccination would be enhanced by virtue of the fact that the black mortality rate of Covid-19 has been higher than that of whites. 

As for Republican resistance toward the vaccine, I view it as disheartening that political perspective has become more important than the scientific data presented by the medical world.  Former President Donald Trump was vaccinated.  He did publicly state on a Fox News Interview that he “would recommend the vaccine to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly.”  Although one never knows what to expect from Mr. Trump, if he were to speak of the value of the vaccine to his supporters, I am sure many of his followers would change their minds about receiving the vaccine.  However, beyond Mr. Trump, the Republican Party, in its current torn state, lacks the power and influence to reach its advocates. 

Ohio provided an inducement to its constituents by offering a lottery to those who received their first Covid-19 shot.  The outcome of this idea produced promising results with a corresponding increase of people throughout the state vaccinated.  Oregon has decided to employ a similar lottery to its residents.  Hopefully, strategies like this in the future, will offset the strong doubts people have had about the vaccine.    

Baseball at Its Finest Moments

The twinkle in his eye caught my attention as I’m sure it did the thousands of other onlookers.  Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels pitcher and slugger, was on first base looking like a kid who was about to put his hand in the forbidden cookie jar before his elders could catch him.  He was sizing up the pitcher, Paul Fry of the Baltimore Orioles, a lefty, to see whether or not he could steal second base.  As most baseball fans know, it is harder to steal second base from a southpaw because when he delivers the pitch, his left-hand is aimed directly toward first base.   The camera focused in on the intensity, yet playfulness of Ohtani, as he carefully read every movement the pitcher made.  Baseball, after all, is a game that I, like many others, loved and played as a kid.  Ohtani’s antics, in front of a national audience, rekindled in me, as I’m sure many others, that childhood joy of having fun.

Because of batter interference by Anthony Rendon that nullified his steal, Ohtani had to try to steal second base a second time. But Ohtani was not going to be stopped.  After Rendon struck out, Ohtani stole second base on the first pitch thrown to the next batter, Jared Walsh.  Now on second base, when Walsh hit a single to right field, Ohtani took off, as if there were no tomorrow, and slid around the tag by the Oriole catcher to score the winning run by the Angels in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Scoring the winning run put a perfect ending to a great performance by Ohtani, who had already hit two home runs to drive in three runs.  The divisiveness in the body public of America, for a few precious moments, with each of Shohei’s home runs, appeared to have vanished.  Because Ohtani is Japanese, the many fans of Japanese heritage roared with delight after each home run.  But they were not alone in cheering for Ohtani as the whole ball park lit up with each homer.  The worries and grievances caused by both the pandemia and politics were put on hold as people of all different ethnic groups applauded Ohtani’s feats.  It was a pleasure to see.  America has invented different sports as a way of challenging and competing with one another without doing harm.  Hitting a baseball 400 to 450 feet is a lot less dangerous than firing a missile at another country.  And to many of us the thrill of a bat cracking a baseball reminds us of the beauty and innocence we experienced as children. It is the week-end of July 4th so let’s give thanks to the ideals and underlying spirit of unity, embodied by the Declaration of Independence, that we celebrate each year.  Similarly, Ohtani’s amazing feats in baseball, America’s pastime, brings us all together.

The Woke Standard

Back in 1980, I attended an interdepartmental meeting at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California.  A staff member pointed to a situation where a person had acted in an obviously hypocritical manner so I commented on what he had expressed by saying: “That’s like the pot calling the kettle black.”  To my utter surprise, a black recreation therapist, named Cliff, who attended the meeting, told me that was a racist comment.  When I explained to him that in no sense did I have race in mind when I made the comment, he said that did not matter.  Because I had a good relationship with Cliff, I did not deem it necessary to defend myself any further but simply apologized if I had offended him.  I felt vindicated when several white staff members did not believe that the proverb had any racial connotations.

Let us now turn to present day.  A few weeks ago, journal reporter, Jason Riley, wrote that a Jeopardy contestant, Kelly Donohue, had made a gesture with three fingers extended during the show’s introduction.  Although he was merely indicating that he had been on the show for three consecutive days, many progressives that had been earlier contestants of Jeopardy, signed an open letting contending that his gesture, “whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups.”  Furthermore, Mr. Donohue’s explanation of the gesture was not acceptable to those that condemned him, and so he felt obligated to post an additional statement “regretting this terrible understanding” so he would not be rejected by the ranting of former progressive contestants.

Many of us who have made an effort in being liberal now have to be extremely careful on how we choose our words or we will find ourselves cancelled by those that consider themselves more in the know than we are.  There is no one currently that remains immune to the criticism of Critical Race Theorists (CRT). Even Rita Moreno, the famous Puerto Rican actress, when on the Steve Colbert late show, gave voice to defending Lin-Manuel Miranda’s choice of cast for the movie version of his play In the Heights, came under siege from the progressives.  The next day she withdrew her complimentary posture saying that her friend, Lin-Manuel, had erred by not having a sufficient number of blacks playing key roles in his movie.  Through all the bickering about equal representation in Miranda’s film, sadly, what appeared forgotten was the fantasy element in which the protagonist’s dream comes true, not in the Dominican Republic, but in a Latino neighborhood in New York City.  This fantasy evoked the possibility that people, no matter what their race or gender is, can still dream with successful results in America.

The woke generation of the political left reminds me of Minority Report, a movie Steven Spielberg directed in 2002.  In this movie, a special police unit is able to arrest criminals before they actually commit a crime.  Nowadays, progressives believe people are racially tainted if they have implicit thoughts (often defined as implicit bias) that might not fit the category of being an anti-racist.  In the past, when people stated they were “color blind,” it meant that they did not see others in terms of race.   Today, however, it has taken on an entirely different meaning:  One that is color blind does not understand the difficulties that those of color may have in a society the latter believe is rooted in systemic racism.  The next step will have thought censors deleting any thought that is not deemed congruent with identity or racial politics.  Any nano-aggression or implicit thought that a person may have will be ferreted out resulting in his/her cancelation.

I will not argue the validity of whether or not systemic racism exists currently in America, but rather will point out that the reality of racial progress in our country.  Back in 1970 when I was a Psychology Trainee at Marion V.A. Hospital in Marion, Indiana, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the hospital told me that anyone contemplating interracial marriage best not do it because the country was simply not ready for that type of social change.  It is a verified statistic where in 1958 4% of whites approved of intermarriage.  However, in 1995 45% approved and in 2013 84% approved of intermarriage.  In this same time period, the actual incidence of intermarriage has risen significantly.  I have no doubt that there are still people in America that are racists but clearly the problem has been greatly mitigated.  Steve Pinker, a cognitive psychologist at Harvard University, has labeled this phenomenon of progressive denial in race relations as progressophobia.

Moreover, the Oppressed-Oppressive binary way of seeing reality only applies to whites being the ones guilty of racism freeing people of color from any prejudice that they may have.  Thus, only whites can be considered as racists because of the strong and privileged position they have in American society.  I wonder what a poor, white Appalachian thinks about the “strong privileged” position they have in America. Identity politics weighs far too heavily on skin color rather than socio-economic class differences.

But throwing out the baby with the bath water is not my intention here inasmuch as I do not wish to discard all contemporary thinking on identity or race politics.  No doubt history today needs to be taught differently, with a greater focus on the legacy of slavery and how it fit into American culture.  But I don’t think the absolute vilification of America is an improvement over the omissions made by historians.  After all, America was not the inventor of slavery; it existed among black people themselves. Because young minds are very malleable to ideas, it is important that a balanced viewpoint be presented when the textbooks are rewritten for the grade school classes.   Slavery was prevalent in many West and Central African societies before and during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Everyone now knows how wrong slavery was but, in context, several other societies accompanied America in this very inhumane occurrence.  Furthermore, we know that a good part of America, led by abolitionists, were very much against slavery in any form.  No one can deny the history of racism and oppression in America but we would be remiss if we forget the tradition of liberty and freedom that opposed it.  Focusing on only the wrongs in America is similar to denying the hardships faced by blacks in the past.

I will conclude this essay by saying I am very much in favor of President Biden’s recognition of June 19th as a federal holiday.  This date commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans on June 19th, 1865 when Texas, the last state of the Confederacy, proclaimed and enforced freedom of enslaved people in Texas.  As this day becomes engrained in the America character, I believe the cultural gap between the two races will experience further closure.