CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE: Any ordinary fool can draw up a detailed road map showing how we’re careening to hell in the proverbial handbasket. But it takes a special fool to see things otherwise. Both being true, it’s all a matter of what kind of fool you choose to be. Today, I’m feeling special.
The outcome of the National League baseball play-offs may not prove the existence of karma, but it does suggest that justice on occasion still prevails. The Los Angeles Dodgers self-destructed in each of their three games against the St. Louis Cardinals, imploding always just after the seventh inning stretch. For my friends bleeding Dodger Blue, I feeeeel your pain. But rooting for the Dodgers in the current context would be akin to siding with the landlords evicting you after enacting a massive rent increase. This year, the Dodgers effectively imposed a blackout on about 70 percent of their television-viewing fan base by striking one of the grossest, greediest deals in media history. The Dodgers sold their souls to Time Warner Cable for $8.35 billion — over a 25-year contract — so they could underwrite the most expensive shopping spree of baseball talent in the world. Time Warner Cable proved so shamelessly intractable at the bargaining table with other carriers that even a few members of Congress felt compelled to make some half-hearted harrumphs about doing something. Professional football physically abandoned Los Angeles years ago when the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders took the Greyhound back to Oakland. By contrast, professional baseball has abandoned L.A. — only one of the world’s biggest media markets — without actually leaving. Whoever tells you capitalism is propelled by rational self-interest is clearly not paying attention. The Dodgers, it should be acknowledged, used that money to buy a damn fine, and at times, amazing team. That enabled them to get close to the top. But fittingly, close was all they got. On the field, it was the Cardinals who smote the Dodgers, but in reality they got hoisted by their own petard.
I have a close relative who, for a brief while, was fond of saying such things as, “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Translated, that meant gay people should have the good sense to shut up about all that stuff when in polite society. This week, the Supreme Court would turn that old-fashioned sentiment upside down and inside out, acting profoundly and powerfully by not acting at all. The Supremes declined to hear multiple challenges filed by several states insisting on their god-given right to discriminate against gay people when it comes to marriage. Various judges in those states had struck down such bans on the grounds that marriage and rights are distinctly human inventions — God presumably having other things to fret about — and that no evidence had yet been mustered demonstrating any damage that might possibly be inflicted should men and women be allowed to marry their own kind. By not acting, the Supremes effectively sanctified gay marriage in 30 states right now and maybe two more as the legal dominoes continue to fall. More than half the U.S. population now lives where gay marriage is legal. This transformation is nothing less than revolutionary, and while neither perfect nor complete, it’s already become so unremarkably normal as to be almost boring. That’s the definition of true progress. Some people have snarked that the Supremes have ducked their duty by not spelling things out. I get the point. But from where I sit, the Supremes proved the wisdom inherent in another of those old- fashioned tongue-cluckers: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t saying anything at all.” What the Supremes didn’t say, they didn’t say exceptionally well.
Another topic traditionally excluded from polite conversation has been mental health; like masturbation, it was to be dealt with in private. Clearly, that’s not worked out so well. Nationally, the National Rifle Association has put the topic on center stage, blaming the mentally ill for the ongoing eruption of mass shootings rather than the proliferation of firearms engineered to be weapons of mass destruction. Santa Barbara County, no stranger to such outbreaks, has long struggled to figure out how to treat its own mentally ill. Based on Grand Jury reports dating monotonously back more than 20 years, the answer has been not very well. In fact, things got so bad a few years back that federal regulators were threatening to shut down our Psychiatric Health Facility — where those posing an imminent threat to themselves or others are held — because of chronic problems that lead to the death of at least one patient. For the past two years, the county’s Department of Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Health Services has been the focus of massive reform efforts, and this Tuesday, the county supervisors selected someone with serious rock-star credentials to run the department. The supes managed to lure Dr. Alice Gleghorn, PhD, away from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, where she’s worked the past 19 years to run the show here. Gleghorn reportedly blew doors off the competition, and there was no shortage of seriously qualified contenders. Aside from her experience dealing with intense big-city craziness, Gleghorn’s defining talent has been in fusing programs that effectively provide treatment to people who are both mentally ill and who are inclined to abuse any substance they can get their hands on, otherwise known as the dually diagnosed. It’s this population that places the most intense demand on services. And reading the old Grand Jury reports, it’s this population that county programs seemed almost designed not to serve. I have not met Gleghorn personally, so I can’t say whether she really wears a red cape and has the letter “S” emblazoned boldly on her chest. But if she is half as good in reality as she looks on paper, we have cause for optimism.
I know we’re still going to hell; I’ve got the road map. But given the destination, maybe getting lost is not the worst thing to do. Or taking the scenic route. In the meantime, watch out for falling handbaskets.