The NBA Stymies Democracy

The NBA All Star Game is quickly approaching and the fans submitted their votes for who they’d like to see start in the greatest showcase of basketball. But one player, a player who was the fans’ choice to Make Basketball Great Again, will not be in the starting lineup.

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Zach Pachulia.

Zach Pachulia represents change. Many NBA fans are tired of the status quo for what defines basketball greatness. They don’t want to see players who can simply launch the ball into the hoop from 35 feet away or who display dazzling athleticism in averaging nearly a triple-double. They demanded a departure from rigid definitions of greatness in basketball that value athleticism and skill over facial stubble and Russian toughness. They demanded Zach Pachulia. They demanded a player like Pachulia who makes the most out of his 18 minutes a game and who stands above the so-called stars.

They demanded a player from the Soviet bloc who shares the traditional Slavic values that we cherish.

putin-on-horse

Pachulia received the second most votes from the fans to start for the Western Conference, yet now there’s a good chance he may be watching the game from his neighborhood Chili’s.

This is because the NBA does not trust democracy. In 2016, Pachulia almost got his chance to be an All Star starter while playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Thanks to a grass roots effort, he finished 3rd place in All Star Voting for frontcourt players in the Western Conference, barely losing his spot to Kawhi Leonard. With a new team, this year he overtook The Claw in fan voting, but the NBA changed the voting rules. This year, starters were determined by a weighted system that uses player votes and media votes in a way that undermines the democratic process. Pachulia finished second in fan voting, but the elitist members of the media and the NBA had him way down on their ballots.

The NBA isn’t the first to wield its tyrannical saber at the voting process. In 2007, on American Idol, Sanjaya displayed his artistic vocal stylings in an effort to Make Music Great Again by reverting back to a day before notes and key signatures mattered. The fans loved him and voted him onward. The judges, however, did not like that. They held it against Sanjaya that he didn’t sing in a way that conformed to their view of what makes a great singer, to wit: singing on pitch. In subsequent years, they too created a weighted system that allowed the judges’ votes to potentially override the popular vote.

sanjaya_at_seattle_center

This is terrifying for democracy. The people obviously know best. The people wanted Zach Pachulia to Make Basketball Great Again. Thank goodness, at least in Government, the United States hasn’t limited the people’s right to decide whom they want to represent their values.

A Simple Note

A simple note is never so simple
There is a draft
a revision
some time for reflection
on the sentence or two
that will carry my sentiments—

Reading it aloud again and again
Sifting through words that might miss their mark
or may be misconstrued as slightly offensive
I question—
Does the occasion call for such careful deliberation?

A simple note?

It’s signed, folded, inserted—
the envelope sealed—
then unsealed, removed, and unfolded before the saliva has dried—
One final inspection for lexical defects
Then refolded, reinserted, resealed with tape—

A simple note—

A congratulations on the birth of your son
And a happy second birthday to him, too.

write2

Mister

(He is well-known so I won’t reveal his name)

I met him when I was young.

He lurked in an unmarked van near the school

and once moved into the vacant house next door.

He was a foreigner –

an intruder to our land.

As I aged

I realized

every night

he entered my home through the screen

and I watched him with suspicious eyes.

I erected walls,

secured locks,

but like a stubborn itch

he always reappeared.

He sat next to me on the airplane

as I quivered in my seat.

He tracked me through the wires,

threatening to steal my life,

and I spent my nights

awaiting the midnight tapping at the door.

 

Eventually

I would surrender to him.

He was my protector,

the one keeping me safe at night.

 

Until the drunken dinner

when I carved him up

soaked him in butter

and ate him

brushing off the parsley and chives

relishing every bite

postponing the certainty

this would later make me sick.

 

And now I am dying

of this terminal disease

called life.

 

Why was he always near?

And who was so cruel

to introduce me to fear.

Mister2

Tony Gwynn

In 1994, Tony Gwynn batted over .400 for most of the season, and every morning that summer I would open up the Sports section of the newspaper and check the box score to see how Gwynn had done the day before. He was on a tear heading into August, and many thought he might be the first person since Ted Williams in 1941 to crack the .400 batting average mark.

To me, the most important statistic in baseball was the batting average. It was the first thing I looked at when I checked out the stats on the back of a player’s baseball card. I would arrange my cards in my collection based on a player’s batting average. Home runs were overrated in my opinion. Home run hitters were guys seeking personal glory while the good hitters were more interested in team success.  I followed all the prolific hitters. I knew of Rod Carew’s year in 1977 when he batted .388 and George Brett’s 1980 season when he batted .390.

carew brett

I knew of all the seasons that Pete Rose had over 200 hits. For many years, Rose was by far my favorite player, but by 1990 his reputation was tarnished and all those baseball cards of his that I’d collected were now seemingly worthless.

Tony Gwynn kept my interest in baseball even after the black eye of the Pete Rose scandal. Gwynn was a good guy, loyal to his team, and a tremendous hitter.

1994 was destined to be the year someone would finally break the .400 mark. Although Gwynn repeatedly batted well over .300, never before had he gone so deep into the season hovering so close to .400. Then August 11th came and the baseball players announced they were going on strike. The season was over. I hated the player’s union and the owners for disrupting Gwynn’s glorious season. When Gwynn was unable to replicate his torrid pace the next year, I had nothing left to cheer for. I hated baseball. The strike had ruined everything.

The Sosa-McGwire summer of 1998 temporarily resurrected my fractured relationship with baseball as I began taking an interest in the type of player I had always detested. The home run hitter. These guys were hitting home runs at such an impressive rate that they captured the attention of the country.   Baseball was back. Mark McGwire smashed Roger Maris’s record (as did Sammy Sosa), but when the bloated Barry Bonds surpassed the record in 2001, the excitement was missing. Everyone knew something was off. The subsequent and ongoing steroid scandal sunk baseball to a level lower than the strike-shortened season of 1994, and the inflated stats from 1998 onward were no longer of any interest to me since it was impossible to know which ones to believe.

The last time I believed in baseball was in 1994, during that unfinished season. Would Gwynn have done it? Would he have cracked .400?  We’ll never know.

Tony Gwynn passed away on June 16th at the age of 54 after a battle with cancer. He didn’t get a chance to finish coaching his team at San Diego State University. He didn’t get a chance to see his son, Tony Gwynn, Jr. finish his own professional baseball career.

Tony Gwynn and Tony Gwynn, Jr.

On Father’s day, the day before Tony Gwynn died, his son told a Philadelphia reporter about his father, “I always try to get in an I love you. For a while that was uncomfortable for me, I don’t know why. But since 2010, it hasn’t been uncomfortable. It’s something I want to make sure I get in because you never know what’s going to happen.”

There are several things that the baseball strike and cancer didn’t allow Tony Gwynn to finish, but nothing stopped him from achieving the ultimate victory in life: achieving a meaningful bond with his family before it’s too late.

 

 

The Failure of Reason – Sharpening An Old Saw

by Robin Hostetter

In the mid 60’s, a young Mario Andretti worked his way through the ranks of professional drivers by racing stock cars. A rubber company sponsor delivered the tires to the track without treads, so that the proper pattern could be cut in on site, customized for the conditions and track and driving style. This was state-of-the-art, for everyone knew that a tire had to have treads to grip the track.

One day at practice, Mario anxiously awaited the delivery of his tires so he could shake out a new car for the race that weekend. But the delivery was delayed until an hour before the track closed. Mario, not wishing to lose a day of practice, asked that they be installed as they were- slick, uncut. Every one warned him he would slide right off the track for everybody knew a tire had to have grooves to function properly.

Mario insisted, saying he was more interested in just getting to know the car, and would push for speed another day. He challenged the track, pushing only as fast as he felt he could control the car.

He set a new track record that day, not just by a few seconds, but by fifty per cent.

Reason said that tread gripped the road, kept the car from sliding off due to angular momentum on the corners. No one doubted the assumption. Mario demonstrated the actual physics, overlooked by a generation of reasonable people. The grip of the tire is determined in large part by the area of rubber in the contact patch, the more the better. Cutting grooves into the tire only diminished the amount of rubber in contact with the track, making them less “sticky” than having no tread at all.

AndrettiNow everyone runs on slicks- it is the reasonable thing to do.

Superheroes

oak

“Whatever you do, no climbing any trees while I’m gone,” my mother had said before she left the house to go shopping.  The simple warning had slipped out of her mouth, fallen to the floor, wiggled through the carpet, squeezed behind the TV set, crawled up the wall, wafted over my head out the window, and caught up with me thirty minutes later as I was shimmying up the largest oak tree in my neighborhood.

Dressed in my Spiderman suit—which were really pajamas with sleeves that no longer reached my wrists and tattered bottoms that extended just beyond my knees—I stopped just as I reached a broad, upwardly expanding limb.  I watched in wonderment as Steven carefully eased himself away from the trunk, avoiding prickly branches as he neared the end of the limb.  His Superman suit fit him perfectly, and the falling sun cast a phosphorescent glow on the red cape tied neatly around his neck.

“I don’t think I’m supposed to be climbing trees,” I called out as I made the critical mistake of looking down.

Steven remained focused on the branch supporting his broad chest.  “You don’t have to.  I just want to see how high I can get.  I’m Superman, remember?”

I looked up.  We weren’t even halfway to the top, but we were higher than I had ever climbed.  I timidly followed my friend out onto the limb, hugging it securely and ignoring the pricks on my forearms and ankles.

I had a sinking feeling.  With our combined weight the branch bent until it was nearly horizontal.  But it didn’t break.  Steven sat upright and flung his cape proudly over his shoulder.  He watched with compassionate concern as my fragile frame inched closer to him.  A semi-circle grin rounded out my elated face, and I was beginning to maneuver myself upright, to sit beside greatness, when I heard the crack.  The geometry on my face reversed itself as I whipped my head around to see what had happened.  The limb remained securely attached to its trunk, but my reaction had been too abrupt, and I lost my balance.  The world flipped as I swung around the limb, my arms flailing but catching nothing but empty air.  My legs, though quivering, held strong, and I hung upside down staring at the hard ground that awaited my head.  I cried out in fear.

“Grab my hand,” said Steven.  I strained my neck to find his silhouette framed in a flare of sunlight.  Reaching out my arm, I swung it until I found his hand.  My fingers wrapped around his, and I sighed in relief as I began to be pulled upright.

What happened next was one of those rare unexplainables, like biting into a salad fork or poking an eye while putting on a t-shirt.  My feet suddenly lost their grip, and though I tried to hang on to Steven’s hand, I flew—miraculously feet first—toward the ground.  Impact sent a violent shock throughout my entire body.  Pain had no identity, but it overtook me.  I squeezed my eyes and rolled on the ground in anguish.  I needed my mother to absorb my pitiful groans.  Burying my head in the ground, I let the tears puddle beneath the bridge of my nose.  It was my own fault.  I couldn’t let Steven see this—my defeat.

Even as I suppressed my barking breaths, they lingered, orbiting around my head.  After what must have been almost a minute, I took a deep breath and held it, but the gasps continued.  I realized they weren’t my own.  I cautiously lifted my head, and my eyes climbed the tree and followed the limb to the red cape firmly in the grasp of prickly branches.  Dangling several feet below, his head in the noose of the cape, was Steven.  His strong fingers struggled to untie the knot around his neck.  His legs thrashed the air as raspy whimpers escaped his throat.  My tears hardened as I watched in horror.  I was going be in trouble if my mom found out where I’d been.


Months later, standing on the stage in front of my classmates, I accepted the wooden, shield-shaped plaque amidst the chorus of cheers.  My mom had taken off work to be there for that day, and my eyes teared when I saw her smiling proudly at me from the back of the auditorium.

I stood uncomfortably beside the principal of our school as he gave my little hand a firm shake.  He put his hand on my shoulder and spoke into the microphone.  “Steven Keller wanted to fly like Superman, and for a brief time he did.  He was a model student and this award, in his memory, is given to a student who best exhibits exemplary behavior.  You should be very proud, son.”  He handed me the award and pushed me forward to the front of the stage to accept the applause.

I didn’t know what “exemplary” meant at the time, but in my mind it was something horrid.  My refusal to speak since Steven’s accident had been mistaken for good behavior.  Exemplary behavior.

But to this day, every time I hear the word, I remember the scared little kid who ran home and cowered in his bedroom while his friend dangled from a tree.

What Ayahuasca is Like

The ayahuasca root

The ayahuasca looked like sludge.  I was afraid to smell it.  I’d never done any kind of mind-altering drugs, and I knew ayahuasca would be an intense initiation into hallucinogenics.  I felt somewhat comforted by the shaman’s presence.  He was experienced with this and there to guide me.  In Ecuador, despite the government’s harsh stance on drugs (ask any of the foreigners stuck in jail for a few years for possession of pot), ayahuasca is legal when taken with a shaman.

Don Alfonso scooped a larger bowl for himself.  “Be careful that you dream the right dream, or your dream may become a nightmare,” he said.  He studied me then began to laugh.  “Do you know why you’re here?”

I started to suspect that he, like myself, was a little drunk.  “Do you know why I’m here?” I asked.

“You are searching for something.  It was not chance that your aunt brought the picture of the Cayramashi.  Tonight, I’m going to find it.  We’ll find it together,” he said.  “The Cayramashi carries the wisdom of a hundred great shamans’ minds.  I always dreamed a visitor from far away would lead me to it.”  He drank his bowl.

Being alone with the shaman underneath his cabin amidst a chorus of a million singing insects inspired a faith in the mystical journey that’s hard to describe.  Perhaps it’s kind of like how listening to Mozart’s Mass in C minor in a Renaissance cathedral can draw spirituality out of the most hardened atheist.  I closed my eyes and gulped it as fast as I could, spilling some onto my Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville t-shirt.

“Ask the yaje a question.”

The only question I had at the moment was when am I going to vomit.  I knew that ayahuasca could be dangerous and that vomiting was necessary to clear the worst toxins from your system.  Immediately, the drink felt indigestible.  I slumped over.  Across from me, the shaman closed his eyes and leaned back, satisfied as if savoring a fine Cabernet.  I tried to stand and pace the room, but my legs felt wobbly.  I sat back down and waited.  After about fifteen minutes, the shaman strolled over to a bush, and vomited in fiery heaves.  But his bowl had been bigger than mine, so perhaps the sickness had come more quickly for him.  He returned to his seated position across from me and fixed his eyes on mine.

I relaxed and took in the sounds of the jungle and concentrated on controlling my breathing.  I wanted to be calm.  Upon closing my eyes, the blackness in my mind was filled with brilliant colors shooting off like fireworks.  Each sound blossomed into shapes of varying animals.  I saw the vibrant outlines of monkeys, snakes, insects, birds, and jaguars.  They would vanish almost as quickly as they appeared.  At times it was so overwhelming I grew dizzy and opened my eyes.  In the visible world outside my mind, the shadows around me came alive, nothing creepy or psychedelic, just alive.  When I closed my eyes again, the shapes reappeared, but I discovered if I narrowed my focus to just one sound in the jungle, everything would go black.

“Why have I not gotten sick?” I asked.

“Don’t fight it.  Let the ayahuasca escape your body.”

“I’m trying!”

“You can’t make it happen.  Let it happen.”

I returned to my images and let a lazy smile curl onto my face.  Everything was going to be okay if I surrendered myself to the jungle, to the ayahuasca, and to the world.  Soon after, the toxins began their flight from my body; I walked to a bush and vomited.  When I returned, the shaman was aglow, not literally, but aglow is the best way I can describe it.  It was as if I could see his emotions, his kindness, his curiosity.  It was an amazing feeling, being that connected.

“Fly with me,” Don Alfonso said when I returned.

Truth be told, I didn’t see the images the shaman saw when he departed on his journey, though I wanted to.  Besides the fireworks display in my mind, there was nothing else.  “Where are we going?” I asked, still playing along.

“Follow me down the river,” he said.  The shaman described the terrain on our travels, but I could only imagine navigating over the brown river and soaring over kapok trees.

I don’t remember when he put out the fire underneath the pot.  I don’t remember when I lay on my back.  The world’s transformation before my eyes was so gradual and seamless that I never suspected the departure from my former universe of precision and reality to the shaman’s world of spiritual fantasy.  Concentrating on his voice made the crude but colorful outlines of animals disappear.  But when he asked, “Do you see the great red tree below?” I opened my eyes and saw it below me.

“Sure,” I answered.  I was soaring high above the trees and darkness had turned to daylight.  I didn’t see my wings; I was more like a particle of air floating through space.  The shaman was a man yet a bird with his colorful feathers.  All of this seemed absolutely normal.  And I did see the red tree.  It seemed as if it had been transported from a New England autumn to the jungle.

He swooped down to the earth and I followed, but when I reached the ground, I had difficulty moving.  I found myself inching towards the red tree.  Now, the shaman was a leaping from tree to tree.  Without speaking, he urged me to follow him.

“Why can’t I move?” I asked.  “Why can’t I fly anymore?”  An incredible weight was stopping me.

“Hey!” a voice called out.

I looked to my side and saw a turtle next to me—not at my feet, but next to me.  His head seemed enormous.

“You can’t go that way,” it said.

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t belong in there.  Our home is outside the jungle.  Besides, the anaconda blocks the only path.”

A giant anaconda was rolled up in a coil, apparently sleeping.  A swarm of vicious flies hovered over its muscular body.  I looked around for the shaman, but he was gone.

“Then I’ll go over it,” I said.

The turtle laughed.  “You can’t get over it.”

I crept up to the snake.  Just as I prepared to crawl over him, he whipped out his tongue and flicked it rapidly.  Then, with amazing quickness, he uncoiled his head and came at me with his fangs.  I pulled back and suddenly found myself in a cave.  I could hear the anaconda’s voice.

“You shouldn’t have gone down this path.  Why are you so foolish?” He waited for me to answer, but I didn’t want to give away my hiding spot by speaking. So I remained silent.  The anaconda laughed.  “You think you can hide safely under that shell?  I can flip you over, pull you out, and devour you.”

I felt his head start to burrow beside me.  I quickly dug myself into a hole making it impossible for him to get under me to flip me over.

“He laughed again.  “What a hole you’re in now!  You can’t stay there forever.  Eventually you’ll have to come out.”

A flash of light swept briefly before my eyes.  And then again.  First it was a flash of red.  Then a flash of green.  The colors were iridescent and beautiful.  Finally darkness was lifted completely and I was again face to face with the anaconda.  His gaze, however, was skyward.  I looked up at the brilliant colors blazing through the sky.  It was the Cayramashi.  My spirits were lifted and I wanted to be with its beauty.  My shell was in its talons.  It flew on into the jungle.  I had a surge of energy.  I rose to my feet and leapt over the anaconda before he could react.  I raced through the forest with amazing speed.  I was a jaguar.  I jumped over fallen trees and burst through dense foliage as easily as a bird flies through a cloud.  The Cayramashi was overhead, appearing and disappearing behind the leaves of the trees.

Finally, the Cayramashi came to a stop and perched itself high on a hill.  I tried to follow but the hill was slippery and steep.  I couldn’t gain enough traction to climb.  High above, the shaman sat next to the Cayramashi, but neither he nor the bird offered any help.  “Patience,” he said.

Then an explosion blasted through the forest.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Hunters.”

I heard another shot.  Closer.  I panicked.  “What are they hunting?”

“Probably jaguars.”

I looked for a place to run.  Another shot rang out, this one closer.  My eyes opened.  “What was that?”

The shaman was sitting across from me.  A candle lay burning between us.  “Hunters.  Don’t worry.  They’re on the other side of the river.”

“What are they hunting?”

“Jaguars, probably.”

“Did I already ask you that?”

“Don’t worry about it.  Sleep.”

I put my hands on my head and felt my hair, and my forehead, and my nose, and my ears.  I lay back down on the ground and closed my eyes.  The jungle noise once again filled my ears and fading glitters of light poked through the blackness in my mind until I fell asleep.