I lived in England for five years, over half my life ago, and I loved it. There were so many things I enjoyed about that ancient, beautiful country, and many things I learned to love. Cricket was one, and the mixed grill another. One of the consummate comfort foods in the UK, a mixed grill is also known as a "fry-up" because almost everything is fried: sausage, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, perhaps a chop. To this add toast (and marmalade, yum), baked beans (not so much), and, of course, tea. Sit around the table with family and friends and a proper mixed grill, and all is right with the world.
The only reason I bring this up is because I have two topics this morning. Two dissimilar topics tossed onto the same plate, yet, for me, combining to create a lovely, comforting goodness. (I apologize for attempting to mimic Joss Whedon and Jason Linkins at the same time; I should aim for t.a. barnhart instead. But that's the fried tomato portion.) (Btw, the tomatoes are not battered; actually they are frequently canned stewed tomatoes; it's better than you think.) So, pour another cuppa and grab the last piece of toast.
A-rod, Barry and the Greatest Player of His Generation
Through the 90s and early 00s, Barry Bonds was considered by almost all baseball observers to be the Greatest Player of His Generation, one of the best of all time. It was hard to argue. He not only hit an ungodly number of home runs, he hit for average, he stole bases and he could play the outfield. He had the whole package, albeit wrapped up in total jerkwaddiness. Then came the understanding how he did it: He cheated.
The mantle of GPoHG then fell on Alex Rodriquez, again a player with the whole package but, thankfully, not quite as jerky as Bonds. But he did own his own special dickiness, especially after he bailed on the Mariners saying he wanted to win a championship -- and then signing with Texas for $250 million, thereby robbing them of any chance to pay for enough quality pitchers to even contend, much less win. I still cherish his first visit back to Seattle after his dishonest escape: fans around the stadium rained Monopoly money on his greedhead. But he was a damn good player, with one slight caveat: It looks like he cheated, too.
(Interestingly, both Bonds and A-rod are, for the most part, post-season failures. Bonds had one good post-season, during Jeff Kent's MVP season when the Jints lost in the World Series to the Anaheim team; but that was at the height of his steroidy powers. A-rod, in 2004, was an integral cog in the Greatest Collapse in Playoff History. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Except Bonds.)
Which brings me to the man who was, and remains, for me not merely the actual greatest of his generation but only a step behind Willie Mays (and Joe Dimaggio, loathe as I am to praise any Yankee) as the greatest ever. Mays was, I believe, the greatest baseball player of all time; take him out of Candlestick and he hits 900 home runs. Ken Griffey, Jr, did not cheat; his history of injuries and other demonstrations of physical mortality are proof that he decided to stick with the capabilities he was born with. And what capabilities they were. The ease with which he hit 400-foot home runs (and lest anyone give the Kingdome credit for his numbers, most of the homers he hit there went way past the wall; they were gone in any park -- and hundreds were hit in other parks). He was one of those rare players you looked forward to watching in outfield as well, slamming into, or leaping high upon, walls to take away home runs. The grace with which he turned sure doubles into easy, lovely fly-outs. But more than anything else, what made Kid Griffey so special was the joy with which he played the game. The ultimate Griffey image is his huge smile as his team dogpiles on him at home plate after he scored the Mariners' series-winning run against the Yankees on Edgar Martinez's double in 1995. That is the essence of baseball greatness: he did his job, won the game and had a great time doing it.
Sadly, his refusal to give less than 100% -- I was at the Kingdome when he slammed his wrist into pieces catching a Kevin Bass blast off Randy Johnson; he made the catch, kids -- and the years of running on that heinous Kingdome padded concrete took their toll on his body. He won't break Aaron's record -- or Bond's fake record -- but it won't matter. When he enters the Hall of Fame, people will recall that he played the game right. His love for the game, for playing the game, will always dominate any discussion of the Kid, and the fact that injuries kept his numbers down will be irrelevant. Playing in the midst of so many high-profile cheaters, to be able to realize we saw true greatness, pure and unsullied, will bring tremendous comfort to those who love baseball -- or any human endeavor. Cheating is eternal, but so are those who accept and make the most of their natural-born talents.
They are the ones we will remember with pride. Ken Griffey, Jr. More than a great athlete. A human being we should emulate and honor for living his life right.
And speaking of "natural-born"...
Happy birthday, Chuck.
The 200th birthday of Charles Darwin's birth, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species", comes at a profound moment in history.
The unconstitutional, immoral, illegal and anti-science, anti-reality government of George W Bush has been replaced with that of Barack Obama: a man who believes in both God and science. As we celebrate Darwin, we can do so in an atmosphere where the work he is known for is returned with honor to its proper place in the determination of human affairs. Once again, science will be the basis of what our government decides to do rather than the superstitions and misguided religious beliefs of a powerful few people (willing to trash the beliefs of even other Christians).
I'm not good at science. I appear to lack the mental ability to actually comprehend and recall the details of scientific theory. I do get the general idea behind most science, however, and I know enough to recognize when the science is done right and can be trust. Such is the case with evolution. When I think of evolution, I think about how so much more than the development of species is evolution-based. I see the process of evolution in virtually all aspects of human life, and not just our ability to create humans who are stronger, smarter and more able to cheat the bounds of nature for greater glory and bigger contracts ... sorry. It's not an exact parallel; after all, in the development of species, there are so many factors not present in human social and political affairs: genes, physical birth, asteroids striking the planet, etc. But it's close enough for a Sunday morning mixed grill at Cafe BlueOregon.
The thing about evolution that seems to escape its enemies, or perhaps which frightens them into incomprehensible stupidity, is its slow, inevitable pace throughout the history of the world. It's neither accident nor the hand of god that the horse was once tiny and is now both large and able to converse with certain human beings. The ability of a life form to pass along genetic traits that enable at least some of its offspring to survive a world that changes slowly but inexorably is amazing and undeniable. To deny the science of evolution requires self-inflicted blindness, a willingness to decide that unprovable belief -- faith, which is meant to create spiritual enlightenment and not a diminution of the capabilities with which one was born -- leaves no place for rigorously demonstrated science.
I see the evolutionary process in so many areas. Throughout the world, we have seen people develop from isolated, ignorant hut- or cave-dwellers into civilizations of culture, knowledge, conquest and greatness. Over and over, each generation developing its capabilities to exist and prosper in the geographical, political and historical niches in which they found themselves. Some failed. Some rose and collapsed. Contingencies of birth and nature hindered and assisted. A nation is not a species, but the basic process holds and is evident.
Within a nation, the basic beliefs of the people evolve. At our nation's founding, neither women nor the negro was considered fully human (and homosexuals were not even part of the discussion, despite their undeniable presence). Each successive generation of Americans has come to believe differently. This is for the benefit of us all: As the planet gets smaller and all people find themselves either dependent on or threatened by other peoples, the most important lesson we need to learn is that what we decide separates us will end up destroying us. The ability to accept other human beings as your equal is the ability to not want to kill them -- and induce them to kill you.
So here in America, we've developed the ability to know that women are fully human. We've developed the same ability regarding those of African descent; hell, we went and elected one president. Many of us, and in particular the generation now coming into adulthood, have experienced the same evolutionary step regarding GLBT people. This is not an accident (nor, of course, is it a finished project; evolution never stops because evolution is a process, not an objective). America has, from the beginning been a land where all kinds of different people were close enough to one another to stir up fear, hatred and violence. Once upon a time, humans did need to fear one another, but, like any recessive trait, this reaction to members of the same species lost its original efficacy over time. It is a trait that needs to be eliminated, the same way we no longer need a tail for hanging in trees or gills for living underwater.
So we evolve and are losing that part of our psychic/physical make-up that decides skin color means a difference to be feared, hated and killed. This is not merely a matter of social norms that have been passed along; it is also, I am sure, a matter of our brains changing. I'm not a geneticist, but I fail to see how such a profound change in how we brain-based creatures conceive the world cannot be, in large part, due to a change in that organ which holds and processes concepts: our brain. We are getting bigger, our skin colors are changing (omg miscegenation, oh noes); of course, our brains are changing, too. We don't need to evolve to find new sources of habitat or food as "lower" animals must; we need to evolve to find new sources of our own humanity.
We need to evolve to survive. That's what evolution does: enables those creatures that have the right combination of genetics and luck to survive the changing universe. The dinosaurs had the genetics, of course; their luck, however, sucked (frakking asteroid). Human genetics have always been borderline. We are fragile physically; we do, however, have a brain that makes up for a lot of other shortcomings. If we can keep up with the changes we have dumped upon ourselves, our brains may be able to evolve sufficiently to help us survive. Many of us have evolved enough to understand the commonality of all human beings, and that's absolutely critical to avoid the number one threat to our species: our owndamnselves.
We need to evolve to survive. That means we need to survive long enough to evolve. We have to give our offspring a chance to produce offspring that are more adapted to life on earth than we are. If we, those who control power at this point in human history, end up demonstrating our unfitness for life on earth, we will die and take our species (and many others) with us. That's the way it works. Nothing magical about it. You either have what it takes to survive or you die. Sometimes externalities take you out -- I nearly got removed from the equation by a bad driver, but then again, I've already reproduced -- just as they can benefit the genetic traits you are able to pass along to your offspring. But for the majority of creatures within a species, you either make it or don't based on what you were born with.
The dinosaurs had trouble with non-tropic weather. Humans seem to have trouble with being too smart for their own damn good.
So as we contemplate Darwin and evolution this week, right before we go nuts and celebrate our state's 150th anniversary, realize this: You are part of evolution. Somewhere in the past, a few creatures found the ability to breathe air; the migration from sea to land began, and the world changed enormously. Evolutionary processes may start small, but if they do not get halted by the contingencies of uncontrollable forces in the universe (those frakking asteroids!), they have a single outcome: life. When a species' evolutionary process fails, the outcome is singular as well: extinction. We humans have been fortunate to get where we are, but we can no longer rely on mere evolution to save our species (and the world). Now we must take what evolution has given us -- our intelligence and the understanding that we have to stop slaughtering one another -- or we will indeed face that least desirable of evolutionary outcomes.
We'll all be toast.
(Yes, I know: a very lame way to end back at my mixed grill.)