It’s Your Call
Tennis is played on a so-called court. As a matter of fact, when tennis began, it was literally played in a courtyard and people could hit the ball off roofs, etc. But, now the game has become much more regular. Historians believe tennis began in the 12th century. At that point, the ball was hit with the hand. At what point does it become close enough to modern tennis to deserve the name? I don’t know. My cats have been known to play a kind of primitive tennis with me and, more rarely, with each other.
The most elaborate example of the latter was something I walked in on. Under the kitchen table were three of our cats batting back and forth the lifeless body of a small lizard who had unfortunately managed to sneak into our house. The cats are well-fed so there was no rushing or fighting over the meat. No, they were batting it back and forth. I don’t know how long they had been playing this little game, but at the point I observed them, they seemed rather bored. I can tell you that when I play tennis, almost all the time, almost all the players exhibit enthusiasm for the game.
Tennis, it turns out, is much like the game my cats played. Just as the cats did, there is a defined space within which a small object (lizard, tennis ball, etc.) gets batted back and forth. Sides (one or two people to a side) take turns batting the ball over to the other side. This back and forth continues until one side is unable to return the ball into their opponents side of the court. The ball must pass over the net before bouncing and it must land in the opponent’s side of the court. In tennis, as in baseball, if a ball hits the line (even a little) it is “in.” So, knowing when the ball is “in” or “out” is quite critical for scorekeeping purposes, just as it is in nearly every game or sport. “Baseball,” they say, “is a game of inches.” And so is tennis. And football, and hockey, and gymnastics, and basketball, and golf! There are boundaries — and often it is both critical and hard to determine where something falls with respect to those boundaries.
For that reason, professional tennis tournaments have not just one, but several people whose sole responsibility is to determine whether balls are “in” or “out.” There is also a “chair umpire” who has several roles but one of which is to serve as a kind of “over-judge.” He can “overrule” one of the linesman as to whether a ball was in or out. More recently, technology has added yet another layer of “presumed certainty” about whether a ball was in or out. Everyone assumes — or has agreed to act as though they assume — that the technology is perfect. As someone who spent many years working with technology, I think it is perfectly safe to assume that the technology is not perfect. But it is, in pro tennis, the final arbiter.
The kind of tennis I play, “Club Tennis” or “Friendly Tennis” is quite another matter! Our prize money is nil. Our trophies are nil. That doesn’t mean people don’t play their hearts out! But who gets to say whether a ball is in our out? We don’t have technology or line judges; we make our own calls. Here is the over-riding rule of “Friendly tennis”: people call the ball “in” or “out” on their own side of the court. There are three major reasons for this. First, when you hit a ball, you intend for it to be “in.” Second, if the ball is “in” that is to your advantage in winning the game. Both of these are “psychological” effects that impact everyone to a greater or lesser degree and will tend to make them “see” their close shots as in that are really out. The third reason, however, is much more important and it is purely physical. In nearly every case, the person who is attempting to hit the ball is way way closer to the ball (and the line) than anyone else.
Sometimes, however, there are mitigating circumstances. The person hitting the ball may be running hard and tracking the ball in order to hit it. It sometimes happens that they will admit to having no idea whether the ball was in or out. The first recourse is to ask their partner whether they saw the ball clearly. They might also ask their opponents. Remember: it’s a friendly game. But that does not mean it always stays free from controversy.
You are supposed to call a ball “out” only if you are sure it was out. What “sure” means though can vary quite a bit from person to person. There are also physical reasons why some people’s line calling is better than others. Many players in our games wear glasses. I won’t go into all the various issues with glasses. If you wear glasses you already know and if you don’t, you couldn’t care less. (Unless you’re extremely empathic and then, you might want to read “The Myths of the Veritas” which delve heavily into empathy; go ahead; give it a try; it’s free with no ads). People also differ in how much they compensate for the effect of parallax. If I am receiving a serve, for instance, I am likely to see a ball that’s slightly long as “in” while the server will tend to see it as “out” even if it is barely in. If a serve comes to my side and lands near the line, the effect of parallax is to make them look “out” even when they are slightly in. Some people are aware of these effects and some aren’t. To make a long story short, people don’t always make the best call.
We have the exact same issues that we had when we played baseball, football, in grade school. The only difference is that now that we are in our 70’s we don’t spoil our day and tell Johnny we’re not going to play with him any more. Instead, we revert to “It’s your call” even when we “know” that our opponents have just called one of our hits that was really in, out.
In the same way, in life outside the tennis realm, we can sometimes see problems that the person nearest to their problem cannot see. We may know that you are eating too much for your own good, or drinking too much, or would be happier in the long run if you studied harder. We might say that, under the right circumstances, to a good friend. But — at the end of the day, it is “their call.”
As I’ve argued elsewhere, there seems to be an urban/rural difference in how hard one pushes to let people know they are screwing up. It isn’t only an urban rural split. It seems to me, that many conservatives are afraid that liberals want to make them do and be and like all the things they do! But liberals, you see, by the very nature of the word “liberal,” don’t want to have everyone the same. It’s okay with almost all liberals if you go bowling, or play tennis, or watch NASCAR. We’re not going to force everyone to eat quiche or adopt a “gay lifestyle.” I have to admit, I do think there are some liberals who would be happy to write you an extremely detailed “prescription” for your life. But they are really rare exceptions, in my experience. Liberals, just like conservatives, do want to have laws that prevent people from hurting others for no reason.
There are interesting edge cases that people may differ on. Is this “your call” or “our call”? That has changed over time as people have multiplied across the earth and as science has understood more and more of our interactions. In the middle ages, when people began congregating in large cities, they lived in (what we would now call) disastrously unsanitary conditions that were ideal for plagues. Dump your sewage into a place that flows into the water supply? Sure. It’s your sewage after all. But now we know that is not a good idea.
When I was a kid, my dad and my grandpa would “rake the leaves” in the fall; rake the leaves into a big pile; and then burn them. And, everyone was doing that. Now, I would guess that such is illegal in most places in the US. We realize that the smoke doesn’t simply “disappear” but is, in fact, bad for other people. You are burning the leaves on your land, but the smoke doesn’t stay there. Now, we’re more savvy than when I was a kid. But it’s much more than that. There are also a lot more of us! When I born, there were about 2.4 billion people on earth; now there are more than 7 billion. But it isn’t only the number. Many of us around the earth, including me, are using up a lot more resources than we did back then. We are using materials like plastics and sending more and worse chemicals out into the environment we all share. I still believe in the general principle that it’s your call, in terms of how much pollution you are willing to live with.
As I’ve mentioned before, Air Fresheners are a good example of a bad example. So-called “Air Fresheners” do nothing of the kind. They make you think the air is fresher because they have perfume in them. Not only that; they typically include carcinogens, a chemical to mess with your hormones and another chemical that deadens your sense of smell! You see? Air Fresheners, some people might call the “Bill Barr” of household products. They label themselves as “Air Freshener” but they are really noxious stuff that only makes the whole situation worse.
I’m afraid that what is “your call” will continue to shrink in some ways if humanity keeps expanding the population and using up more and more resources. On the other hand, the space of what is your call is also expanding. Whether it is sports, clothing, food, games, movies, TV, books, experiences — even with the choice of burning autumn leaves in your backyard gone, you have way more choices available to you than your parents or grandparents had.
If there is one person in a car driving alone, they can pick the music they want and play it loud. They can change stations every two seconds. Or not. But if there are six people in the car, it’s going to be more complicated. That’s not because people hate your music or hate you. Now, you could take the attitude: “It’s my car, so I’ll pick whatever music I please!” And then, you might choose to play disco music at full blast. You could. But if you do that, then as soon as possible, people will choose note to ride with you. That’s okay. But don’t complain that you’re ever more isolated. It’s not your choice of music that isolates you. It’s your insistence that everyone is subjected only to what appeals to you.
And, then we come, at last, as we seem to inevitably do, to the crisis at hand.
It’s our collective “call” to determine who our leaders are. Some prefer someone who is stately, intelligent, and diplomatic. And, some prefer Donald Trump: bombastic, often inarticulate, and crude. Styles and tastes differ. It’s your call. Personally, I don’t think style is irrelevant, but I don’t think it’s vital either.
But being an agent, witting or unwitting, of Vladimir Putin, rather than of America, is not a question of style. Doing what is in Russian interests and against the interest of America over and over is not a matter of style. Nor is dividing the country against itself. Nor isolating us from our allies. Nor destroying the morale of our intelligence agencies, our military command, our State Department, and the Justice Department.
If it were possible for you to have a dictatorship and for me to stay in a democracy, that might be fine. I would caution you that you wouldn’t really be the least bit happy about living in a dictatorship, but in the end, that’s your call. Also problematic is the fact that dictators are almost never satisfied with the absolute power they have and want to keep extending it to other areas.
Donald Trump doesn’t want to just be dictator of the Republican Party (which he pretty much already is). He wants to be dictator of the entire country. That is destroying and will continue to destroy everything good about America. It’s the whole country. It’s not just your car. Before finding out just how horrendous it is for everyone to live in a dictatorship, go live for a few months at least, in a cult that has a dictator and see how you like it. You might like it. You might not. It’s your call.
But America is not going to let our entire country go to ruin. No-one has the right to make that call.
That would be like one of my tennis opponents saying, “The ball was “out” and furthermore, from now on, everyone’s tennis rackets are mine and you can only play when I say so and I win every game no matter what happens!
You know. It’s possible it could happen one day. We’re old. People have strokes. People get dementia. I hope none of my regular tennis players go insane like that, and if they do, I hope they get appropriate care.
We’re not crazy enough to “give in” to such absurd demands! Not even if he yells and screams and says, “It’s my call!”
Because it isn’t.
It’s our call.
Why the Rule of Law is important
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