Going down memory lane

“With a photographic memory
I could live in a time that used to be.”– Greg Ham

The past weekend was a miracle of happenstance. Well back in the summer I decided to purchase football tickets for one game at my alma mater. I also wanted to bring my family. So, a lot of factors played into my decision of which game to take them to.

I went to school in Fort Worth. The weather is a little more unpredictable than it is at home. If you buy the tickets for early in the season you’ll be guaranteed a win, but you’ll also come out more sunburned than what you came in. If you buy the tickets for the latter part of the year there is always the possibility of having it be cold or rainy.

So, October seemed perfect and it ended up being an opponent where the game should be competitive (it wasn’t but you can’t plan everything). It just so happens that the weekend I picked was also homecoming weekend. It just so happens that the weekend I picked happened to be the 25th reunion for my graduating class.

That in of itself is a long story since I graduated in December. So, I was class of 1996, but I really wasn’t. It should have been 1997, but these things are complicated. I caught myself doing the same thing everyone else does when they see people honored at halftime. My first thought was, “who are all of those old people down there.” That thought process quickly switched to, “gee, do I know any of them?”

As I was pointing out landmarks to my wife and daughter it hit me like a ton of bricks. There was more different than there was the same. It’s then that you can’t really control the flood of emotions. It’s an unholy mixture of nostalgia, jealousy, and lack of connection. I could say the same of the new high school that sits on the same plot of land as my old one. I know people of my age and older can relate to these feelings.

I never knew why older people behaved the way that they did. The usual sentiment when someone wanted to renovate a school or make additions was to utter that “it was good enough for me so it should be good enough for you.” So, why do we need that new gym or that new addition with new science classrooms? Why do we need to spruce up the library? Why do we need to invest in new infrastructure so the kids can use their technology in the building? We didn’t need any of that crap.

If you don’t check yourself it is fairly easy to find yourself going down a different rabbit hole. It’s easy to find yourself talking about how unfair it is that these kids have it so nice. Why do they get the nicer dorms? Why did they get the new student center? It’s not fair that they got all of this new stuff. Think of what we would have done with all of this new stuff.

Give into those feelings and you become “get off my lawn” guy. It’s a slow but slippery descent that can creep up on you seemingly overnight. One minute you feel like a progressive kind of guy (or gal) that seems to know what’s hip and what’s going on. The next you’re just lost in a haze and wondering what the kids are doing and how they got to be so young.

Get off my lawn guy is bitter and hates change. Get off my lawn guy doesn’t want to spend any tax dollars improving things because they were good enough for him (or her) and they should be good enough for you. Get off my lawn guy is the one that starts every story off with a “back in my day…” Get off my lawn guy is the guy (or gal) that we all swore we would never become when we were young.

Some of us have become get off my lawn guy. Some of us haven’t. The deciding factor is how we deal with change. When we see that new school on the grounds where we went to school are we happy? Do we appreciate that we are all better off when today’s children get the very best? Do we realize that we got better facilities than those 25 or 30 years ahead of us? In terms of the alma mater, the better than the school is now the more prestigious my degree really is. So, let the kids have their new dorm and their new student union. Maybe it will be there for my daughter if she chooses to go there.

The Waiting Game

“Life’s greatest comfort is being to able to look over your shoulder and see people worse off, waiting in line behind you.”– Chuck Palahniuk

It’s Friday and we certainly deserve a little brevity on a Friday. That’s especially true after a week of hard hitting stories and flags flying a half staff. This Saturday my family and I will get to spend time with friends from college. One of our favorite pastimes was brainstorming new products we could share with the world.

The first and most talked about invention was one called Bag-O. Essentially, it would be a bag tethered to your stomach with Velcro that could be safely hidden under your shirt. From that point, the owner could place any liquid they wanted in the bag and sneak it into sporting events, movies, and other situations where drinks are normally not allowed. As you might imagine, this idea never got beyond the idea stage.

Today’s idea is more or less half idea and half social commentary. My daughter and I went to a youth group event where one of the youth painfully described a customer he had to deal with. Seems she wanted to get cash back at the store and was repeatedly unsuccessful at the extra maneuver. She was belligerent to the teen and holding up the line behind her. What she needed was a “difficult flag.”

Think in your lifetime. How many times have you been in the store and tried to find the shortest line only to find yourself behind the person with 47 coupons (29 of which have expired) and trying to pay with a check from the bank of communicable diseases? Maybe it is the person buying 13 scratch off cards that also wants a certain pack of cigarettes behind the counter. Perhaps it’s the old person loudly complaining to the manager because the last time they went shopping they remembered T-Bone steaks selling for 69 cents and they can’t believe prices have gone up that much.

Yet, the difficult flag could also go to the cashier that never took typing in school and so they peck away at the register one key at a time. Maybe that same cashier has mastered the intricacies of calculus in school, but is somehow incapable of counting up correct change without the help of the machine. More often than not, they are just new to the job and are doing the best they can.

In either case, we need the difficult flag. The difficult flag serves two distinct purposes. First, it warns everyone about to enter a line that they definitely want to avoid THAT line. Secondly, it alerts managers that they need to hover by that line because they definitely will be needed.

Take the situation with the kid from church. He was just trying to do his job and he got an earful of verbal abuse because the woman could not get her cash back. The manager eventually came to the rescue, but how much better could it have been if the manager had seen a difficult flag and come over immediately? It certainly would have turned out better for the woman, the cashier, and the customers behind her.

Obviously, the way this works is that everyone would be installed with a difficult flag. For most of us, this flag rarely flies. Most of us were born with self-awareness and know to get in and out as quickly as humanly possible. However, occasionally we need more service. Maybe we have to deal with a return or an exchange and that has created a protracted discussion with management. Maybe we just need someone to answer questions or give us a hand.

Naturally, the flag would need to operate independently of us. It would need to sense when a situation was going to become difficult. After all, difficult people rarely know they are being difficult. It’s just a natural state. Perhaps stores could organize one of their stations to be the difficult station. So, if you see your flag flying you can make your way to that station and leave the rest of us to shop and pay in peace.

It should be noted that difficult flags would not be necessary if more people had an ounce of self-awareness. It wouldn’t be necessary if people took a quick inventory of their surroundings and noted the people waiting on them in line. Maybe when people are waiting we shouldn’t buy our lottery tickets or challenge the cost of the grapples. Maybe we can have our coupons organized in advance as to make the whole process a little more efficient. Maybe it’s just a sign that more and more people are selfish these days and our entire society is breaking down. Maybe we just all need difficult flags.

A Petty Life

“If you didn’t care what happened to me,
And I didn’t care for you,
We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain.
Wondering which of the buggars to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.”– Roger Waters

We had one of those debates as we walked out the door. None of these are ever mean-spirited. They usually take on the form of less filling vs. tastes great. In this case, it involves our former president. I said that it must be exhausting to be so petty. My wife pointed out that he’s never emotionally matured beyond the age of six. Have you ever met an exhausted six year old?

For those wondering, this revolves around his general reaction to Colin Powell’s death. I don’t know what any of us could have expected here. It’s not like there’s an ounce of humanity left there. What’s left is an image of that six year old stomping up and down and screaming because the attention isn’t on him somehow.

If we needed any further proof we would also throw out the bit of news that he is planning on starting his own social media network. Again, none of us could be all that surprised. Of course, the question is not if the network will fail, but how long it will take to fail. That’s the lasting legacy of a man that barely qualifies as human after more than 70 years on the planet.

We’ve seen this story before. Charles Dickens regaled us of the tale of Eboneezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. Of course, it should be pointed out that Scrooge was a work of fiction. I’m sure Dickens must have had some people in mind when building the character, but one scarcely sees anyone that foul before the ghosts appear to him. I’m sure he was sensationalized for our benefit. No one like that could really exist right?

Except that when you dive into the character you see the myriad of choices one makes throughout their life. None of these choices by themselves create the embittered soul we all saw before us, but when you added up all of the wrong choices you ended up with the Scrooge that needed saving. Of course, that was the whole point.

The trouble here is that we don’t see any evidence of humanity. We don’t see it in his past. We don’t see it in his present. We don’t see it in his future. We don’t see a tortured soul that made the wrong choices along the way. We don’t see a soul at all. The ghost of Christmas past would be left to twiddle his thumbs and whistle show tunes. What’s left is someone with absolutely no personal insight whatsoever. Even in his comments about Powell we are left wondering if he grasps what the rest of us undoubtedly know.

Powell was most assuredly a flawed man, but he was never a caricature of himself. He made mistakes, but we all make mistakes. In the end, he got most of what he deserved. He got respect. He got admiration. He got a fairly accurate accounting of his legacy. Yes, he had some detractors as well, but that’s a part of the deal.

Trump spoke of what will happen when he dies. I’m suspecting he doesn’t know. Why would he? A life devoid of any real love or insight probably wouldn’t like what’s waiting for him. Like the ghost of Christmas future, he would see a world where all of his family and associates fight for table scraps as his empire comes tumbling down. If the love we take is equal to the love we make you have to wonder if there is any love there at all.

Lowest of the Low

“No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan spell.”– Don McLean

Some stories keep coming around no matter how much you try to avoid them. This happened yesterday when it was reported that Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto tested positive for COVID-19. Being that the reporter suffers from multiple sclerosis, you’d imagine that he has already been fully vaccinated against the virus.

Fox News is a deep dive of depravity and contradiction all by itself. There has always been a schism between the hard news division and the commentary division. Cavuto comes from the hard news division. When you look at only the news division you see some examples of bias, but it doesn’t outwardly appear to be all that bad.

Then comes the commentary. Their prime time hosts rail against vaccine mandates, mask mandates, and safety protocols as if the Gestapo were marching in and strapping everyone down to the chair. Yet, news has been oozing out about Fox News themselves. Seems their corporate policy says something else entirely.

We start with the usual disclaimers and statements of concern for people like Cavuto. Like Colin Powell yesterday, he represents the moral gray area where most people reside. Sometimes it’s light gray and sometimes it’s charcoal. Yet, this gray area exists for people that know the truth, don’t outwardly speak against it most of the time, but also don’t speak against those that would distort the truth. Powell made a career of selectively speaking truth to power. His critics would say he let far too many things go in the service of gaining more power.

I don’t know Neil Cavuto. I don’t know what makes him tick. I’m guessing he enjoys cashing his paycheck every couple of weeks and that is understandable on a certain level. Yet, it is hard to take anyone seriously from a news agency that doesn’t consider itself a news agency legally. They have been taken to court before for reporting and commentary that has been less than accurate. Each time they’ve thrown out the defense that they are an entertainment company.

There is something to be said about people that know the truth, follow the truth in their own personal lives, and then speak the opposite in public. We can most assuredly add more to those that say these things for the mere purpose of garnering ratings and cultivating an audience for profit. Judas famously got his 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus. I suppose Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity have simply done a good job of negotiating on their own behalf.

In the old days, scholars asserted that heresy was the worst of sins. In that case, it was people preaching the absence of God. Yet, one wonders how horrible a sin it is to simply believe something different than the majority. In the case of COVID, an idiot can be forgiven his idiocy if that idiocy is his natural condition. In other words, if he really believes his rhetoric he is to be pitied and pat on the head.

What Fox News does is somehow worse than heresy. While it may be implied, the definitions of heresy do not overtly say whether the heretic actually believes the lie. Fox News definitely doesn’t. They all bask in the glow of their own vaccinations and somehow peddle “freedom” to the masses like rancid red meat you wouldn’t even feed your dog.

I haven’t read Dante lately. Perhaps he could tell us which concentric circle of hell that gets you into. There is no greater sin than to know the truth, live the truth, and then to speak against the truth for your own personal gain. There is no greater evil that exists in the world. There should be no greater punishment than what awaits you at the end. I’d love for that punishment to be on a Biblical level, but I’ll settle for a class action lawsuit.

Life Interrupted

“If you should ask then maybe they’d
Tell you what I would say
True colors fly in blue and black
Bruised silken sky and burning flag.”– Paul Hewson

It’s impossible to say that I plan these out in advance. My process has been the same for decades now. Sure, when I wrote term papers there was always a plan, but I spent numerous years as a columnist and I always flew by the seat of my pants. So, it should be little surprise that I’m doing it again. At least you can bask in the knowledge that these posts are worth every penny you’re paying.

General Colin Powell passed away yesterday. Like many Americans these days he passed away due to complications from COVID. Unlike many of those Americans, his death was complicated. He wasn’t going to be a Herman Cain Award nominee. He had been vaccinated. By all accounts, he had been careful. Unfortunately, he was recovering from cancer treatments and his body just didn’t have the immune system necessary to fight off the infection.

His death was as complicated as his life. In the case of most of these COVID deaths, you could easily say it could have been avoided. In most cases you could say it was a self-inflicted wound. In most cases you could chalk it up to arrogance and irresponsibility. Powell’s death can’t be placed in that category. His death became as complicated as his life. Legacies are usually not clean and his life is a reminder.

I imagine the first thing that comes to people’s minds is watching Powell stand before the United Nations and lie about weapons of mass destruction. It seemed credible at the time and a lot of that credibility was due to him. Once you surrender your credibility it’s hard to get it back. So, it is impossible to consider his legacy without considering that first.

Powell’s legacy is one of speaking truth to power most of the time. For some, most of the time simply won’t cut it. These days, most of the time is something we’d likely settle for. He was a registered Republican, but he hardly seemed like the usual Republican even back then. There was a brief, fleeting moment when we thought he might make a successful run for the presidency. That seems as distant a memory as our childhoods now.

In a moment of brutal honesty, we would readily admit that Powell is like many of us. Yesterday, we talked about civic religion. These stories intersect in the legacy we hope to achieve. When we all pass on it will be asked whether we lived a life of good or a frivolous life. For most of us, the answer will not be so simple. It wasn’t for him either.

How does one balance all of the good he did over the course of a career with one moment that may very well erase it all? It is impossible to know now how much he actually knew at the time. Did he honestly believe there were weapons of mass destruction? Had he been misled by those above him? Was he complicit in the biggest lie of the first decade of the century? We might never know the answer to that question.

What we do know is that there are some things we can never outrun. There are some things that a thousand or even a million good deeds can’t wash away. We can ask the same thing we always ask when any one us finally goes. On the balance, was the world a better place because we were here? In Powell’s case, that’s a hard one to answer.

Life is not a choose your own adventure book. We can’t go back and try the alternative story line. We also have no way of knowing if there was anyone available to stand up to the administration in that moment. That’s what makes legacies so hard. It’s also clear that he figured that out eventually. Maybe that is worth some points in the end and maybe it’s not. For me, it’s worth retaining his humanity until the very end.

Civic Religion

“And when you stop and think about it
You won’t believe it’s true
That all the love you’ve been giving
Has all been meant for you.” — Justin Hayward

I’ve seemingly spent the last 14 or so months trying to articulate the same concept. That’s why I seem to be circling back to the same thing over and over again. Each new attempt tries different words and a different tact and each new attempt seems to miss the mark by just enough to bring me back again.

I’ve been trying to describe the sadness of the last five plus years and have failed to grab a hold of it. There’s a nastiness that wasn’t there before. There’s a meanness that wasn’t there before. There’s a cruelty that wasn’t there before. I think each of us understands more acutely than ever that the pain didn’t come from one man. That man has always been a reflection of us. The seeds of our discontent were sewn years before.

The images of whatever this thing is get placed into the child we are preparing for the world. It took me awhile to fully understand that we are not only preparing the child for the world, but we are also giving the world our child. The world becomes an accumulation of all of our children. It becomes an aggregation of those children. It becomes an aggregation of their attitudes. It becomes an aggregation of their hopes, their dreams, and their sacred honor. It becomes an aggregation of their kindness, grace, or lack of kindness or lack of grace.

Civic religion refers to the way we treat each other as people that share this space. Religion obviously has negative energy for some folks, but in this case refers not to a particular God, but a particular mode of thought. In short, it refers to a source for our energy and what it means to be successful in this world.

The hardest lesson we have attempted to teach our daughter is the difference between being kind and being nice. For the life of me, I don’t know if we are being successful. There’s a balance between allowing things to roll off your back and sticking up for yourself. The problem with our civic religion is that self has become way too important. If we are kind then we treat people with kindness, but we don’t allow others to push us around. That balance is nearly impossible to teach.

Since the 1970s, success has slowly but surely been redefined. What we are seeing today is a culmination of that changing definition. I was brought up believing that success was measured by the positive impact that we had on those around us. How many lives have we positively impacted? Have we left a positive foot print on the world? That changed and morphed into what we see today.

The “Me” Generation slowly turned into the “Me Me Me” Generation. Success became about accumulation. It became a measurement of stuff. It became a step on your neighbor if that’s what you need to get more stuff. It became a glorification of the individual. The last five or so years simply became a reflection. Our leaders are a reflection of us. This is what we’ve become. This is an aggregation of the world we’ve created. This is who we are.

We live in a world that measures success by the strength of our devotion. We live in a world that openly brags on those successes as if they are our own. Our civic religion used to say otherwise. It used to say that someone’s success was all of our success and someone’s failure was all of our failure. What happened to the least among us mattered as much as what happened to the greatest among us. The real measure of success comes not in the strength of that devotion, but who or what we are devoted to. If it is only ourselves it matters not how strong it is. It is misplaced anyway.

The Mafia Boss

“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”– Vito Corleone

I have to do a tip of the cap on this one. My supervisor at my other blog actually broke this one first. All that being said, I saw it yesterday before she broke it. I somehow got on Donald Trump’s mailing list. Actually, I’m pretty sure it happened since I left a comment on one of his White House polls basically calling him a jackass. With the way algorithms work, that makes me a supporter in his eyes.

I open them every once in awhile and glance inside. It’s good to know what the enemy is doing I suppose. I try not to look for too long. Doing so tends to raise my blood pressure and I’m already on so many medications and I don’t want to add that one to the mix. Usually they are somewhat sedate versions of the mendacity that he throws around on a daily basis. This last one should be viewed in its entirety.

It combines two things that should be noted. The first is one that infuriates Democrats and anyone that really knows what’s going on. “Which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented.” This is a common trick for him. Remember when “people are amazed at what they are finding” when he “sent” people to look for Barack Obama’s birth certificate? The statement above is about on that same level. Somehow numerous failed audits, nearly 100 different court cases, and defamation lawsuits equal confirmation.

It’s the kind of statement that cuts as many ways as you need it to and when you send it to your dedicated followers they are ready to lap it up. What’s funny is that these audits are finding some examples of fraud. They are finding that the counts weren’t exactly correct. The numbers did change slightly. What he’s not telling you is that they are finding the fraud on the GOP side. They are finding more votes for Biden and fewer for Trump.

However, it is the meat of the statement that is the most jarring. “If we don’t solve the President Election Fraud of 2020, Republicans will not be voting in 22′ and 24′.” At first glance, when you look at that you are left wondering if he really understands how this process works. Doesn’t he understand that if you want to erase the effects of the 2020 election that you actually need MORE of your people to vote? Of course he does. That’s what makes this jarring.

In parlance, he is basically saying, “gee, it’s a nice party you got there. It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.” So, if Republicans don’t kiss his ring, pet the cat in his lap, and do him this favor then he is going to take the whole thing down with him. We know he can do it and we know he would do it. He already did in Georgia in their runoff elections.

He peddled his bullshit about the elections being rigged and how people’s vote wouldn’t be counted. So, many GOP voters stayed home because they figured the fix was in. Voila, the Democrats won both Senate seats. The prevailing wisdom at the time was that he just didn’t understand how his rhetoric was suppressing GOP voter turnout. He knew. He knew and didn’t care. He knew that a loss would actually serve his long-term interests better in some sort of perverted way.

One of the common refrains from my lifetime has been the lament that some politicians put party over country. They vote along party lines even when it goes against the interest of their state or the country at large. Here is a case where someone is clearly putting self over party. The cardinal rule of politics is that the losing party always has to distance themselves from the guy (or gal) that lost the last election. The Democrats couldn’t be Hillary Clinton’s party in 2020. They had to convince voters that they were just different enough to avoid the same fate.

A part of that equation is the loser moving on. They might continue in politics (as John McCain and Mitt Romney did) but they are no longer the head of the party. That’s just the way these things are supposed to work. Trump is equal parts mob boss and megalomaniacal madman. He can’t stand not being the center of attention. So, he will never admit defeat. Admitting defeat means he has to move aside. So, a party that lost the national election by more than eight million votes has to kiss the ring of the mafia Don. They have to play his greatest hits. They need to stoke the same responses from an ever shrinking herd as they lemming off the cliff. It sure is a nice party you got there. It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.

In the end

“Others may hate you, but they don’t win unless you hate them. Then, you destroy yourself.”– Richard Nixon

The number of things that bothered me about the last regime are too numerous to count. However, an underrated one was the horrible writing that came out of the speech writing department. We made our way to Disney World this past summer and we missed out on one of the minor sites I have always enjoyed.

The Hall of Presidents brings all 45 presidents to life as atomtronic robots. The fascinating thing as a writing junky is hearing the quotes attributed to the presidents they choose. Whoever the current president is at the time gets a prominent blurb. We went to the Magic Kingdom during the Trump administration and it was not open. Now, we’ve gone at the beginning of the Biden administration and it still wasn’t open.

I’m sure that we were there too close to the beginning of both presidencies, but it wasn’t difficult to let my mind wander to the vision of the planning meetings for the Trump atom Tron. What in the bloody hell were they going to have him say? Children go into these exhibits. Even when he was speaking to literal boy scouts he couldn’t keep himself from delving into the X rated nonsense.

As a young man I never imagined I would become one of those writing snobs or grammar Nazis, but here I am. Every once in awhile I find myself going off on someone online. The one that grates on me the most is the misuse of the word “loose.” It conjures up images of wrenches and screw drivers. I just can’t help myself.

The Nixon quote above is either graduate level introspection or higher level irony. Nixon had some terrific speech writers, but this came from his farewell address, so I’m not sure if anyone prepared it for him. I choose to believe that he innately understood his downfall in the moment. That kind of personal understanding is rare in anyone much less a powerful man like Nixon.

Nixon has always been a complex historical figure. As time has gone on, we have found out that he very well might have committed genuine treason. As you might suspect, the details of that story still need to be flushed out and since he’s gone you have to wonder about the motivation. All that being said, he still understood that it was important to at least try to lift the public discourse and encourage people to be the very best version of themselves. He just may not have been able to do so consistently enough because of his own personal failings.

Still, I can’t get around how odd it is that someone could be so vile, hurtful, and petty and yet here I am getting hung up on the writing and speaking end of that equation. It’s funny how people remember the words. It’s funny how a little known exhibit at Disney World might give us a clue to the lasting impression of one of the worst Americans in our nation’s history.

We don’t go to Disney every year, so I have no way of knowing whether they even bothered to try. I could probably hear the talk in the board room. They likely assumed he would either get impeached (and convicted) or resign. Besides, they probably couldn’t think of a single thing he said that would sound presidential. Why risk a lawsuit from a family that objects to toilet talk in front of their six year old?

The presidency is like a fun house mirror. When you listen to the president speak you see yourself amplified. Maybe you see the very best of humanity. Maybe you see a flawed but decent human being doing their best. Maybe you see a morally flawed man that still manages to do good in spite of himself. We’ve seen each of these men over the years and each of these men describe each of us in equal measure.

We’ve also seen the very worst. We’ve seen someone desperate to divide Americans for whatever reason. We’ve seen someone hell bent on being as vulgar and tactless as he could possibly be. We’ve seen someone basking in his own ignorance and arrogance in equal measure. We’ve seen someone that inspires more hatred than any politician in modern memory.

Hatred is a complex emotion. I’m not sure it even qualifies as an actual emotion. There’s anger, joy, sadness, and fear, but hatred seems a combination of the worst of those feelings. There’s some self-loathing in it. There’s shame in it. There’s the uneasy feeling that we shouldn’t feel this way and we used to not feel this way. Like most mirrors, when we see the reflection we don’t always like what we see. Nixon learned that lesson a little too late apparently. I can only hope it isn’t too late for us.

Life By the Numbers

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”–Yogi Berra

Everyone that knows me well knows me as the stats guy. This began honestly enough. When I was a kid I collected baseball cards. I memorized the numbers on the back for my favorite players. That graduated to learning about more complex numbers when in college. Admittedly, I’ve never been at the tip of the curve, but I try to keep up as much as I can.

Even though analytics have made their way into football and basketball, there is a special love between the analytically minded and baseball. It’s a more one on one sport, so it lends itself to that sort of thing. Like anything else, there has been a backlash to analytics from people we might classify as “get off my lawn” guy. These people are unavoidable in all of society.

I’m not going to bore you with statistics like weighted on base average or hard contact rates or anything like that. This really isn’t a baseball column anymore. Yet, there is a divide like that in society. At this point, many of the anti-vaxxers are jumping on the statistic that those that get COVID have at least a 97 percent survival rate. So, why sweat it?

Not coincidentally, these are the same folks that feel they need to carry a gun everywhere to keep themselves safe. This comes despite all of the available evidence to the contrary. If you don’t want to go down the rabbit hole, the evidence is overwhelming. Guns are more often used or misused in the home for assaults, murders, and suicides than they are to thwart would be assailants. Yet, when you live outside the numbers you are free to believe anything I suppose.

The best analogy I have heard as it pertains to COVID is to imagine a bowl of M&Ms. We can even split the difference to make things easier. There are 100 of them in a bowl. Two of them will kill you. Sure, the odds are forever in your favor if you decide to eat one. Those of you adept at the math could calculate the odds if you choose to eat a handful. Everyone can calculate the odds if you choose to eat zero.

That’s really the whole point here. Dying at the hands of a rogue M&M is an unforced outcome. If you get vaccinated, wear a mask, and practice social distancing your death rate drops to nearly zero. It is almost like declining to eat any of the M&Ms. You know the outcome.

Yet, millions have chosen to eat the M&Ms anyway. Unwittingly, they’ve chosen to eat multiple M&Ms without even knowing it. They obviously don’t know about how numbers work. If the death rate is one to three percent for everyone then that number includes vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans. The death rate for vaccinated Americans is practically zero even if they contract COVID. Therefore, logic would clearly dictate that the odds jump for unvaccinated Americans.

I’m not an expert on health related statistics and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I can harbor a guess that if roughly half of the population is vaccinated then unvaccinated people might see their odds roughly double. So, one to three percent becomes two to six percent (or some similar number).

Given what we know about people, overlooking some of these obvious facts is par for the course. They do the same thing with their guns and likely do the same thing with their health in other areas. We even see combinations that would be comical if they weren’t so tragic. Let’s combine alcohol and guns just to see the multiplication effect. The actuary tables on these Americans has to be entertaining for people who find numbers fascinating.

As much as I enjoy baseball statistics, I don’t make it a habit to delve into these. No one is hurt when a hitter strikes out or a pitcher is pulled from the game. All these numbers do is describe pain and suffering. Every note on a page describes someone’s tragedy and it is impossible to derive any enjoyment from that. However, a basic understanding is helpful. As the computer in War Games said when we were kids: “the only winning move is not to play.”

The Crazy Pill

“I said, watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical
Liberal, oh fanatical, criminal.” — Roger Hodgson

Last week marked one of those moments everyone dreads every year. You combine three things that no teacher likes. First, the Astros were in the playoffs and we were stuck here at school. Secondly, it was faculty meeting day. Those are always fun as you test out the combination of stuff that no one needs to hear, stuff that could be conveyed in an email, and stuff that people will confuse and ask several ridiculous questions about.

Yet, it was the third reason why this moment was a special kind of hell. It was the benefits meeting we have every year. In this case, “benefits” is a fancy, ubiquitous word that actually means health care insurance. If you saw the specifics you wouldn’t see much of a benefit.

See, the district has its own plan. Sure, Aetna runs it, but they have put all of the employees into a pool and the insurance rates are based purely on how much we spent the year before. Obviously, the district isn’t trying to make money off of us, but Aetna sure is. Since people spent more money last year (gee, why would that happen) they hiked our rates 25 percent. I’ve never been so happy not to be a part of that insurance plan.

It was impossible not to somehow extrapolate this situation outward. Citizens over 65 get the benefit of Medicare. It is a government insurance program that is designed to break even. Millions of Americans are part of a pool that is also based on average costs across the pool. Older (or more experienced) Americans are more apt to get sick and need expensive medical procedures. Yet, somehow they end up spending less per month than teachers in our district. Keep in mind that district makes a contribution to “defray” the costs of the insurance.

It’s up against this backdrop that we bring up the concept of Medicare for all. The process is actually simpler than people might imagine. It isn’t free health care. We know the program works because we have been using it for years. The caveat is that it might actually become cheaper. You are currently basing rates on the amount of risk and that risk is greater for people 65 and over. If you expanded it to include everyone you’d include healthy children, young adults, and relatively healthier middle aged Americans.

It comes with other advantages as well. One of the reasons why rates are so high is that we are footing the bill for everyone that cannot afford care. It’s a similar concept to Wal-Mart building in the cost of theft into their inventory. They will pass the costs onto the consumer. If everyone is covered then there’s no reason to jack up the costs.

It means that you don’t have to worry about whether your doctor is in network or out of network. They are all in the network. You don’t have to worry about changing jobs or possibly going to work for yourself. Companies save millions as they can defer all of the money spent on “benefits” into actual benefits. What would honestly happen if they folded over the district’s contribution to our insurance into our salary?

Who is against this? Obviously the insurance industry is against it. They make between a 20 to 30 percent markup for running the system. Decisions are based on profit margins and stockholder considerations. You talk about your death panels. One considers sustainability of the whole system. The other considers whether Daddy Warbucks will get a dividend this year.

This is basic math and basic common sense. Yet, we are told how complicated it is. We are told that it’s socialism. We are told that the only industrialized country in the world that still has for profit health care insurance is somehow the system that makes sense. If you dare question that they’ll be calling you a radical, a liberal, or fanatical criminal.