Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fear Strikes Out

I grew up (and remain) a Chicago White Sox fan.  Back in the day (early 80's), the White Sox had a radio/TV tandem of (believe it or not) Harry Carey and a lesser known, flamboyant, bombastic color-man named Jimmy Piersall.

Piersall was a brilliant young player in the late 50's who had suffered from manic depression.  His mother was routinely hospitalized as he was growing up.  His troubled family life eventually manifested in Piersall, leading to his falling out and then coming back to baseball which he chronicled in a book called "Fear Strikes Out."  Piersall described his stuggles, his challenges controlling his own fears, fears of failure, of inadequacy, and the intense reactions he experienced to those fears.  The silver linings were, if there can be such linings, that Piersall found himself.  He had a 14 year career in which he was a solid player, and one of (if not the finest) defensive outfielders the game has ever seen.  But even more, by facing those fears head one, Peirsal was truly liberated, he could be who he wanted to be, he could say what he wanted to say (and did).  He frequently said things critical of White Sox players if they failed to hustle, which really irked the players and management staff of the White Sox, but provided truly entertaining and truly insightful, thought provoking commentary for their fans.  Piersal was comfortable in his own skin and never really looked back or was afraid of the larger world because he'd already slain his "demon."  That was the essence of Piersal and the meaning of the title of his book.

Scroll forward 30 years and I am amazed and struck dumb by how fearful we have become.  As a nation we sit perplexed/paralyzed with fear, fear of Ebola, of Isis, of rogue terrorists.  I sit bewildered (not) at how the party of common sense and small government advocates for forced quarantine (needlessly) - a big government solution to a nearly non-existent problem (Ebola pandemic risk), but chooses to do nothing to handle mental illness (a far more pervasive problem which kills tens of thousands per year).  I sit baffled by the fear we seem to have of ISIS, a movement which is in fact looking to establish a country, rule an area of (mostly) desert in western Iraq and eastern Syria.  We are ready to use our one and only tool (killing people with military firepower) to try to scare the rest of the people in the area (the Middle-East) into "not getting in our way."  We seem to think that fear will cause them to cease seeking their own goals/determination.  Would it stop us?  Did it? 

I sit perplexed by how MSNBC spends 6 hours covering a shooting at the Canadian War Memorial, when the same organization spent 15 minutes covering a similar shooting 16 years ago at our OWN capital.  We had the sense to keep things in perspective then, but have lost that perspective now, and not just fear mongering conservatives have lost it, liberals have too.  I sit baffled by Darrel Issa, how he can, with a straight face condemn the CDC for not having fully complete guidelines on Ebola, whe he consistently has cut the CDC's budget to the bone.  He wants perfection but doesn't want to pay for it.  He (and those like him) are utterly unable (or more correctly unwilling) to apply a modicum of common sense to the situation and grasp that the CDC doubtless provided general guidelines which, in the face of application, needed refinement, just like EVERY policy needs, every plan needs, once put into action.  Companies develop Disaster Recovery plans, then they test them, then they refine them.  A failure in one part of the plan doesn't mean the people (or the company) are incompetent, it means they aren't capable of predicting the future or of dealing with every possible variable until they get a feel for what those variables turn out to truly be.  The better question is, why would Issa choose, at this time, to desire to instill a lack of confidence in the ability of the government to handle something which he purports to feel is a serious issue?  Is he looking to cause a panic? 

The answer to all these conundrums is that they aren't really conundrums.  We're afraid because we don't chose to apply common sense, it's easier to blame to be fearful, to DEMAND action, than to accept that in a world of unpredictable things, of lone rogue, crazy gunman, some things cannot be controlled.  It's also easy to see that stoking fears of the ineptitude of government is easily done IF you know there really isn't anything you need to truly fear (as I'm sure Issa understood and understands), that you understand that so far, we've have 6 cases of Ebola treated in the US, four of whom were people who arrived/returned from Africa (one of whom died), the other 5 cases were treated successfully.  We have 100 people die EVERY DAY to suicide.  We have 30 people die EVERY DAY who are murdered.  We don't fling poo in the air (at all) about any of that. 

What's going on is nothing more than a campaign based on fear.  We saw something similar in 2004 which kept an inept George W. Bush in office for four more grueling, painful years.  Be afraid of Isis (terrorists), be afraid John Kerry can't handle terrorists (Obama can't handle Ebola), be afraid, afraid, afraid.  Don't worry that you're being cheated by banks, don't pay any attention to the vast overspend on defense toys, don't worry about our bloated Homeland Security budget going to private companies, be afraid of a single gunman - so that you don't question that budget.  Be a pawn, let the campaign of fear upon which we've struck win, or... be Jimmy Piersal, and speak your mind, question the idiocy, keep Ebola in the perspective it should be kept, which is someplace behind the local mill's economic trouble, or the local school closing - because while Ebola is scary, and has the POTENTIAL to be bad, that potential is a remote risk - I'm not saying it doesn't exist and shouldn't be dealt with seriously, in fact I'm saying exactly that, deal with it seriously - don't prevent people from fighting it in Africa or you WILL fight it here - unlike ISIS, don't lock people up needlessly, don't invite or incite panic - speak coherently, factually, practically. 

We do ourselves a great disservice (as well as doing those who actually SERVE a disservice) when we imply they are incompetent, and say it from a position of profound ignorance and fear.  We put ourselves in a position to be manipulated and to make very bad decisions.  The trouble I have with Republican attitudes about wanting less government is that they only want it until there's a calamity, then they want FAR MORE than liberals ever want or wanted, then they (the Repubs) want and enact badly thought out laws, they enact stupid quarantines, they create dumb laws like Sarbannes-Oxley (a law intended to punish the leaders of companies like Enron, but which instead created a needless beurocracy inside large companies and which really holds low level staff accountable, not high level officers).  They want voter ID laws to stop 15 people from voting fraudulently but which keep 100,000 people who are legal voters from voting at all. 

Jimmy, where are you bud (I say that metaphorically, he's 84, living in Chicago, btw)?  Where is his spirit, the American spirit of facing challenges head on, not with fear, but with resolve to do what's right?  Where is the spirit and common sense of Will Rogers?  We need someone like Piersall to tell Chris Christie he's a bloviating, headline seeking blowhard and to tell the rest of us to stop fearing our own shadow or it will consume us.  Seriously.


  1. One of propaganda's tools to get people to short circuit their intellect is to use emotion: and fear is a very strong emotion. Wayne LaPierre's miquotes FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" to make it "the only thing we have to fear is an absence of fear." That LaPierre attributes this fake quotation to Winston Churchill, which makes it only more laughable.

    Unfortunately, the use of fear and a perversion of what makes someone brave (a kind of "American Courage" as opposed to "Dutch Courage") seems to be a part of the American political scene for some while. Richard Hofstadter wrote an essay in Harper's Magazine a half century ago called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". While some of us have not lived our lives in fear; that cannot be said for everyone in the US:

    "American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years, we have seen angry minds at work, mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated, in the Goldwater movement, how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But, behind this, I believe, there is a style of mind that is far from new, and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style, simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind."

    Perhaps, the one good thing to come from this has been that the paranoid style has not been able to sway all the American public.

    Of course, that was before the media became consolidated and that the conservatives had their Fox News "informed" echo chamber.

  2. Thanks Laci, your quotation is better than my own reply can be. My comment to Christie, or to John McCain about ISIL, would be (in Christie's case), "You're a coward, Governor Christie. You would crawl into a shell and let tens of thousands of people in Africa die to mitigate an extremely remote risk in New Jersey. Your responsibility is NOT just to the people of New Jersey, but to the wider world as well, and that is, to do what is right, to stand up for that which is right, which includes incurring a small risk to ourselves to deal with a greater risk to us all." To Senator McCain I would say, "How do we show ourselves to be that shining beacon on the hill by running from standing up for democratic rights for all? How do we preserve those rights by agreeing to prop up a government (in Iraq) which allows the majority Shia to oppress the minority Sunni? How do we create a lasting peace by perpetuating injustice?" For each I would ask, "If you seek to be that 'shining beacon on the hill', how do you accomplish that by trading thousands of lives to save a handful? What example does that set for the world? Is that the America which sacrificed itself to fight for democracy in WWII? Is that the example your parents and mine set? It isn't to me, to me it's nothing less than self-serving fear mongering retreatism."

  3. Being a little older, I remember cheering on Jimmy when he played for the Cleveland Indians ... and I remember as vividly as the Kennedy assassination, Jimmy hitting his 100th career home run (it happened in 1963, and when he crossed the first base bag, he started running backwards -- like a defensive back in football -- until he crossed home plate.) Was that a crazy act ... nah, as I recall, he did it because the media did not give sufficient attention to Duke Snyder hitting his 400th career home run.

    Sometimes, people do things to grab attention ... and we should pay attention to the underlying message.

    Take for example, Bill Maher. Yeah, I know that he is trying to bring attention to the failings of Congress, but did you read his 2002 book, "When you ride ALONE you ride with bin Laden: What the Government SHOULD Be Telling Us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism" ?
    My memory is not that good ( I read the book in 2002) but as I recall one story of how we care when we are impacted ... much like the Canadian shooting story, Maher wrote about a plane crash "Plane crashes in XYZ country" is buried deep in the newspaper ... but "Plane crashes in XYZ country with 1 American dead" is front page news.

    I understand the fear of Ebola ... but let's put it in perspective ... Thomas Duncan left Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 19 aboard a Brussels Airlines jet to the Belgian capital. After layover of nearly seven hours, he flew to Dulles International Airport (where I suspect a lot of Members of Congress regularly fly in and out of). After another layover of nearly three hours, he then flew to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. On Sept. 26, he sought medical attention. 3 flights ... have you heard of anyone else getting sick? What about all the people that he was in contact with all those days in Texas.
    Thus far, the only ones who have gotten sick have been the people that have given medical treatment.
    Ebola has become a "headline" when we should be looking at Bill Maher's message ... WHAT IS CONGRESS DOING ?

    No better example, is the City Pages story on John Kline John Kline Descent From Patriot to For-Profit College Bodyguard.

    After you read that, you understand why the Post-Bulletin has joined the ECM paper to endorse Mike Obermueller .... as the P-B said "Sending Kline back to Washington would be rewarding him for failure."