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Cheating

 

 

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2012)

“I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.” Woody Allen

So…Melky Cabrera, the star outfielder of our San Francisco Giants, has been suspended for fifty games for using performance-enhancing drugs, which means all his game-winning hits and spectacular catches are now suspect and this year’s success of my favorite team is suspect, too.

“Everyone cheats,” said Carlo, when I called him to commiserate about Melky’s suspension. “You think he’s the only one cheating? Guys on every team cheat every day because if they don’t cheat they’re out of work. That’s why they risk getting caught, because at least when they’re on the juice they’ve got a chance as opposed to no chance. And it’s not just baseball and football and the Olympics. This whole fucking society is built on cheating. Look at the toxic derivatives the Wall Street cons use to bankrupt the world. Cheating on a massive scale, protected by the fucking government, and the fuckers get huge bonuses for cheating. That’s all Melky was doing, going for a big bonus. Look at the income tax system. Legalized cheating if you can afford a smart enough accountant. Cheat or pay. Look at all the great inventions stolen by the big corporations. Screw the inventors. Look at Romney, offshore tax cheat, cutthroat business cheat, lying cheat. Fucker could end up President for all his lying and cheating. Look at Obama breaking every promise he ever made, selling out to the worst Wall Street crooks and lying about helping average Americans while he drone bombs women and children on the other side of the world. So Melky hit the juice hoping for a big payday and got caught. What else is new?”

“The first and worst of all frauds is to cheat one’s self. All sin is easy after that.” Pearl Bailey

I was thinking about Carlo’s spiel on our cheating society when a friend called to ask if I’d seen the defamatory Amazon reader review of my book Buddha In A Teacup. I had not seen the poison epistle, so I went to Amazon and was baffled (and angry) to find a brief commentary containing the following spiteful and entirely false declaration. “We could listen no more after 5 out of 7 stories were centered on the attainment of curvy, slender, and busty women with extra commentary on their sexual appeal or glistening naked bodies.” Wow! I am well accustomed to people expressing their negative opinions of my work on the interweb, and though I may not like people calling me a lousy writer, I have no problem with the free expression of opinions, however lame and misguided. But expressing opinions is entirely different than blatantly lying about my work.

If you are among the few who have read or listened to Buddha In A Teacup then you will know that none of the forty-two stories in my little tome are about attaining busty, curvy, slender women, nor are there any (let alone extra) commentaries on the glistening nudity of such. If that were the case, I might actually have made some money by entitling the book Buddha In A Bordello or Busty Glistening Buddha Babes or The Buddhist Way of Attaining Busty Curvy Slender Glistening Women. But I did not choose any of those more titillating titles because they have nothing to do with my book.

Fueled by my outrage, I wrote to Amazon and said, “Because I assume it must be against your policy to print false and totally misleading accounts of the books you sell, I hope you will speedily delete etc.” To which Amazon replied, “The reader’s comments do not violate our guidelines.” Amazing. One wonders what would violate their guidelines. Threats against the author’s life? Racist profanity? Detailed plans for a nuclear bomb? In any case, lying, which is the essence of cheating, apparently does not violate the Amazon guidelines.

So…the end result of cheating is that others are cheated, as I am cheated by the jerk who tainted my book with his lies; and to be cheated is to be robbed; and to be robbed is to be violated. So it occurs to me that if Carlo is correct in his assertion that our whole fucking society is built on cheating, then we, the people, are constantly being robbed and violated, and it makes perfect sense that we should come to believe/think/feel that robbing and violating and cheating are the way of the world, the way of our society, and perfectly appropriate ways to behave.

“The truth is more important than the facts.” Frank Lloyd Wright

I once knew a strange little man, an eternal boy, who made a very good living as a cheat-for-hire at Harvard University. A brilliant polymath, he had once been a student at Harvard but could not, for complex psychological reasons, complete any of the course work required of him and so was forced to resign. He was, however, entirely capable of completing other students’ work, as well as taking tests for them, and many desperate clients paid handsomely for his services. He had a lovely townhouse in an upscale part of Cambridge, a fantastic collection of rare books, and several suitcases full of cash. At the time I knew him he had been a professional cheater for several years.

He met his clients at various cafés and pubs in the university district to receive his assignments from them and to hand the giddy undergrads their completed essays literally under tables in exchange for wads of cash. I was present at one such exchange, and after the happy client scurried away, the cheater said to me, “You know, I have now written over seven hundred essays for these people, and all but thirteen of my essays got A’s, and those thirteen should have gotten A’s.”

“Gads, you could have graduated from Harvard fifty times by now,” I said, finding him almost impossible to relate to. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught?”

“I’d love to get caught,” he snickered. “But I never will be because my clients will never tell on me and the professors don’t care who writes the papers and the university doesn’t care so long as the tuition is paid. It’s all just a game to these people until whatever comes next. They have better things to do than study and write papers. They go to parties and take drugs and have sex and make connections, whereas I have nothing better to do.”

“Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except it ain’t so.” Mark Twain

Then again, I, and most of the people I know, don’t make a practice of cheating; at least I don’t think we do. We occasionally go over the speed limit and we don’t always thoroughly check the grammar and spelling in the emails we send, and we do occasionally eat things we said we weren’t going to eat, but we don’t lie or steal or intentionally rip people off. In fact, it seems to me that we go out of our way not to cheat, not to overcharge, not to take advantage of others, but rather to help when we can. And this, one might argue, is what cheaters depend on: the honesty of other people.

Romney and his ilk get away with hiding their billions of dollars in offshore tax havens because you and I and hundreds of millions of non-cheaters dutifully pay our taxes to keep the country running (sort of), and most of our money goes to paying the interest on the national debt and supporting the gargantuan military tool of the master cheaters of the world.

I could go on and on about cheating and cheaters I have known, but…how depressing! Instead, shall we cheer ourselves up by listening to some baseball on the radio and imagining that no one on either team is a cheater, that the contest is entirely fair; and may the best team win?

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Giants and Greece

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2012)

“We don’t have to look far to see how pervasive suffering is in the world.” Joseph Goldstein

Matt Cain recently pitched a perfect game for the San Francisco Giants while Greece is in the midst of a massive economic collapse. Gregor Blanco made one of the great catches in Giants history to preserve Cain’s perfecto while Spain is in economic freefall with over 25% unemployment and Spanish real estate prices falling falling falling. Cain gave his catcher Buster Posey much of the credit for the no-no while Syria is in the midst of a horribly bloody civil war with thousands of casualties, many of them women and children.

Cain’s perfect game is only the twenty-second perfect game in the 130-year history of baseball while the Japanese government has ordered the restarting of several of their dangerously unsafe nuclear power plants despite a vast majority of the Japanese people opposed to nuclear power in the wake of the ongoing catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

And how about Melky Cabrera, the Melkman, leading the National League in hitting while the American economy is collapsing around our ears. True, Tim Lincecum is having an awful year so far and Barry Zito is showing signs of faltering after a strong start, but the rest of the Giants starters are pitching magnificently while California’s budget deficit is several billion dollars more than state officials anticipated, though anyone with half a brain knew that such drastic cuts in government spending would guarantee equally drastic economic contraction.

“We may have compassion for the victims of social or political injustice, but can we feel compassion for those who perpetrate that injustice?” Joseph Goldstein

For many years I have been in the habit of listening to Giants baseball games on a little silver transistor radio I carry from room to room and out into the garden. When I lived in Berkeley, I had a neighbor who was bothered by my interest in the Giants, and he told me so one day when he found me in my vegetable patch listening to a game while I pulled weeds and watered.

“You’re such an intelligent person,” he said, shaking his head. “How can you listen to that meaningless junk when there’s so much suffering in the world?”

This fellow, I hasten to add, walked his talk. He was a medical doctor who worked long hours in a clinic for poor people and spent the rest of his time reading books about social injustice and political corruption and writing passionate letters to government officials and marching against social injustice and wars waged for corporate hegemony. He lived frugally and gave away most of the money he made to help fund the clinic where he worked, so…

“This is an antidote to my own suffering,” I replied, comforted by the inimitable ambience only baseball on the radio provides. “A form of guided meditation.”

“Sponsored by earth-killing corporations,” he said, pointing at my radio dangling amidst the snow pea vines. “Listen. Yet another ad for Chevron.”

“I studiously do not buy gas from Chevron,” I said—an easy boast since I didn’t own a car.

“But why do you like that garbage?” he asked, visibly upset. “You like basketball, too, don’t you?”

“Love basketball,” I said, nodding. “Basketball was my salvation and succor for many years.”

“And you actually care who wins?” He sighed despondently. “What a waste.”

“I care and I don’t care,” I said, as one of our boys led off the seventh with a single. “The game matters in the moment and doesn’t matter in the next moment. I’m not attached once the game is over. For long.”

“But do you know why the major corporations sponsor these games?” he asked, waving his arms in frustration. “Because it keeps people occupied so they won’t take any meaningful action to create substantive change. It’s a mechanism of social control. And look what they’re selling. Gasoline, beer, cars, insurance, computers, plastic, Las Vegas.”

“So what do you think I should do?” I asked, trying not to hold him responsible for altering the game with his negative attitude (see quantum physics) and causing the double play that just wiped out our first decent scoring opportunity since the first inning. “I don’t have a television or a car or health insurance or really much of anything except a piano, a guitar, a very slow computer, and things to cook with. You want me to toss the little radio and take a vow of chastity and silence? Gimme a break, it’s baseball. I love baseball. I played baseball growing up. Baseball is in my bones, in my blood.”

“Entrained since childhood,” he said, nodding dolefully. “That’s what they do. Cradle to grave entrainment disguised as entertainment.”

Then it hit me: this guy did not play baseball growing up. Baseball was not in his bones, in his blood. He did not understand what I was experiencing when I listened to a game on the radio because he had no real understanding of the language of baseball. He might as well have been listening to someone speaking Greek, assuming he didn’t understand Greek, which I think is a fair assumption.

And the moment I realized that his antipathy was as much about what he didn’t understand about baseball as it was about what he did understand about corporate control of the media, I was filled with compassion and said, “Want any lettuce? I have a vast surplus in need of harvesting.”

“Love some,” he said, his frown giving way to a smile.

“Compassion is the tender readiness of the heart to respond to one’s own or another’s pain, without resentment or aversion.” Joseph Goldstein

There are only eleven million people in Greece, about a quarter of the population of California, and because Greece is so small, relatively speaking, the annihilation of Greek society by their corrupt government in collusion with their corrupt banking system is easier to discern than the annihilation of American society by our corrupt government in collusion with our corrupt banking system. But the mechanisms of both annihilations are identical (not to mention intertwined), and what unfolds in Greece is predictive of things about to unfold here if the powers-that-be don’t quickly and dramatically shift current fiscal policy away from austerity to something resembling the stimulating policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

That is to say, a small minority of unscrupulous people in the banking/government system of America, stole trillions of dollars from the people of America, kept billions of those dollars in their personal bank accounts, and gambled away the rest. Then when the financial system began to totter and fall, these same criminals stole trillions more to prop up the markets and the banks a little while longer—which is where we are today.

In their most recent election, enough Greeks were scared by erroneous propaganda into voting for the same criminals who created the current economic mess so that the annihilation of their country will continue, in the same way that enough Americans in our upcoming election will be scared into voting for the same criminals who created our portion of the global mess so the annihilation of our country and the world will continue.

The good news is that the Giants are doing remarkably well this season and are poised to make a strong run in the second half. If Lincecum can get back on track and Pablo will shed twenty pounds and stop swinging at high pitches out of the strike zone, and if Blanco can keep getting on base ahead of Melky, and Melky and Buster keep hitting well, and Crawford keeps being Crawford, we might very well go deep into the post season if not all the way to the World Series. And once there, as we know from recent experience, anything is possible.

As Charles Dickens wrote to begin A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

And as Joseph Campbell said so eloquently on his eightieth birthday, “The field of time is a field of sorrow. Life is sorrowful. How do you live with that? You realize the eternal within yourself. You disengage and yet re-engage. You—and here is the beautiful formula: you participate with joy in the sorrows of the world.”