Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 134: On Baseball, and Taxes

You've basically got two ways of thinking about people: like (good) or dislike (bad).

Somehow I still think like (good). Which isn't to say I haven't seen people do extraordinarily awful things. I've done some awful things myself.

It's hard to see the positive sometimes when you see deceit and outright lies, greed, selfishness and worse. There are a lot of things that lure people to become jerks. Money is a prime motivator. People will get cut-throat in its pursuit. I love competition and think that is one of the things about capitalism that is generally a good idea. "Build a better mousetrap."

But things in our society encourage the wrong values. Being financially strong and able to maximize your enjoyment of life is a good thing. But some people don't understand where the line is. They want to have a nice car, be able to live in a comfortable home, provide for their family. They want to be able to hold on to this comfortable lifestyle and protect it from catastrophe such as huge medical expenses or some other problem. All that's fine and dandy.

But sometimes wealth can be excessive. When someone has several multi-million dollar homes, that's carrying it a little far. It goes beyond needs, way beyond.

This is why I respect only a few of the mega-rich. Bill Gates has been active in donating huge sums of his vast wealth. Warren Buffett lives in a modest home in Nebraska that he purchased decades ago. He also advocates higher taxes for the wealthy.

Meanwhile, richies like the Kochs use their vast wealth to try and spread misinformation and influence political outcomes through lies.

Who is spending their money for the good of society and humanity in these examples? And what would YOU do in these situations?

Paying taxes is pro-America. Only luck allows people to be born into wealth. If your wealth came about through hard work, innovation and effort, then at one time you were just a lowly plebe like the rest of us.

I'd love to go to the government and say "You know, if I didn't have to pay taxes, I would be a job creator, because I would spend more money and stimulate the economy."

Sounds great. But communism "sounded" great. In practice, neither of these things work.

Taxes pay for all these things we take for granted. We're such spoiled brats in this country. We have infrastructure -- roads, power grids, public buildings like schools -- through the collective. The collective pays the taxes so that we have these things that stimulate our economy, provide incentives for businesses to start and thrive, for people to have jobs to pay taxes!

Those taxes also protect our property and our rights by paying for law enforcement and firefighters. Like many Americans, I have family members who have been in law enforcement and fire departments. These people work long hours, under the most stressful conditions, and for crap salaries. They're never paid like so-called "stressed out" workers such as banksters.

Teachers are paid by us too. Or rather, underpaid by us.

Having these things are all pretty obvious benefits to our shared society. The idea of using our collective effort, energy and a portion of our money in the form of taxes to enhance our infrastructure and communities is a powerful thing and something that shows the best of how we can work together to create equal opportunity. It's an example of how we can be good.

Our emphasis as a country should be more toward working together and showing what we can accomplish. In a way it's like baseball.

Last night was a thrilling night in a game that has too many non-thrilling moments. Four teams were fighting for their lives. Four others were jockeying for position to help their causes down the road.

Baseball has long been a great metaphor for some of the values we cherish. The literature and history of the game is uniquely American. Part of this is because the game has remained fairly intact throughout its history, a history that ran side by side with the blossoming of the U.S. on the global stage. It's a link to our past that remains true to itself.

Baseball has been used to make us think about country, family, honor, duty... it's also shown us mirror images of our dark side with its scandals concerning greed, lust (for power), drugs... baseball has pitted rich against poor, with (predictably) the poor getting screwed more often than not. Baseball has exhibited racism and discrimination, sexism, class warfare. It's so American.

Pro football's my game of choice. But I'm a sports nut, so I follow a lot of the athletic world. For a lot of people today, baseball's charm is heavily tied to its familiarity and history. But also for a lot of people today, we've mostly left baseball behind. The unquestioned king of sports until about 1960 (not surprisingly, about the time pro football made its quantum leap), baseball has seen an erosion of its fan base.

Why? Because it's slow and deliberate, and requires a big investment from its fans. In another way that's very American, baseball means getting up and going to work every single day. That grind is a realism that a lot of us aren't comfortable with any more... going to work isn't an "event" the way a weekly buildup to a single game is. For the modern generation, the attention span is too short to see the nuance and delicacy of a season that emerges in February and finishes within a few weeks of the holiday season. We need our attention-deficit brains to be stimulated more than baseball provides.

I'm as guilty as anyone on this. Where I grew up, we didn't have a nearby team to root for until 1972. And for most of the next 30 years, that team was inept. As a result, baseball was something you paid attention to until football started. You never expected your team to be involved in the playoffs.

So now, even though my team is strong, I haven't fully given in to it until late in the baseball season. It's kind of like being interested in the political fates of the country but only voting in presidential election years. That's going to yield iffy results.

But the fantastic drama from the games last night and in the last month, and the imminent drama when the playoffs start tomorrow, reminds me of the greatness we can achieve as a nation. Yes, there are winners and losers, and for those who fall short the pain can be a lingering heartache of lost opportunity and broken dreams.

BUT even in that sadness is a positive: they had a chance. The rules were known, the teams were built, and over the long months of striving, the possibility for greatness was there. Even though the Evil Empire -- the team with the biggest payroll -- is in, another deep-pocketed bunch crumbled in the clutch. Small-market/small-revenue teams in Tampa, Milwaukee and Arizona made the cut. Baseball-proud Detroit is also in, a boon to a city that I love but a city that has been devastated by an economic calamity much like Katrina ravaged New Orleans.

Everyone had a shot. That's the American way. That's really what baseball is all about. And to win, you've got to slog it out every day, just like you do at YOUR job.