The news quite often causes us to wonder just how low human beings can go, and how insane elements of our culture can become. "Curiosity" about these is likely a big reason the internet is what it is these days. I'm not generally in sympathy with this obsession for the darkest and most bizarre to tweet and tsk tsk about. And as farcical as it gets, I don't look for my laughs there either.
But sometimes such evidence is unavoidable, as in the aftermath of the death by suicide of Robin Williams. Based on very early reporting, the internet and its established news sites (including those associated with long established if now desperate print publications) were flooded with analyses and especially first person comparisons, opinions, etc. of all kinds. All based, as it turned out but not surprisingly, on incomplete information. Thursday his wife revealed that he had known he was in the early stages of Parkinson's Disease, of which depression is a common symptom.
But the usual range of opportunism and self-aggrandizement (along with sincere remembrances) were utterly innocent in comparison with the hateful and hate-filled comments by rabid right extremists, including so-called leaders and so-called Christians. I won't dignify their repulsive and cynical and corrupt commentary by repeating any of it or identifying any of them, especially since their primary goal is to get named.
On top of this, the tendency of internet sites and social media to attract those most twisted with hate, ego and myriad delusions, culminating in one of Robin Williams' daughters being so bullied and abused that she quit all of her social media accounts.
Yet the news also provides us with contrasts, which may be straws to grasp but definitely are loci of hope. This past week provided at least these:
won for the first time in history by a woman: Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who was born in Iran. Her work is called boldly original and it appears to cross boundaries between traditional mathematical disciplines. To somebody who couldn't understand trig, it sounds as if it can be significant beyond academic math.
The victory of course is as well for all the women who were told, and all the girls who still are told one way or another, that girls aren't good at math, it's for males only. For them this is the academic equivalent of Lisa Leslie's first WNBA slam dunk. And that's before the significance of her work itself can be evaluated in the future.
Then there's the Little League World Series, and the victory of Jackie Robinson West of Chicago in their first game, sparked by three--count 'em, three--home runs (plus a triple) by leadoff batter Pierce Jones. Representing Great Lakes Region as the Illinois state champs, Jackie Robinson West from the South Side of Chicago is the first all-black team to make it to the LLWS in "over a decade" (according to this ESPN report) and the first Chicago team since the 80s. The team is part of the league's urban initiative program begun 15 years ago.
Best of all perhaps, they are the toast of Chicago. The Jackie Robinson West team doesn't know, said their coach, how big they are back in Chicago. Another ESPN piece quotes: Gabe Bump, fiction writer and Chicago resident, said of this JRW run for the right to do something seldom seen by any Little League team from Chicago, "It's important because they are the kids Chicago wants to forget about. These are the kids that get their schools closed. I'm rooting for them because they're South Side kids, but it's much more to it than that."
The story concludes: "here's almost a feeling that what is happening now has nothing to do with sports. It's something much bigger. At least, that's the way it is being taken in; that is how it is being embraced. Basically, calling this a feel-good story is underselling the true nature of the weight this story carries at this moment."
Update: On the second day of the Little League World Series, Pennsylvania team pitcher Mo'Ne Davis threw a two-hitter to become the first female pitcher to win a LLWS game. She's also black. Apart from the extra-sports significance, these stories are big deals for baseball because the proportion of African American MLB players has been diminishing.
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