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Wayne Greene: From Yogi Berra to Anatole France to the governor's office

Wayne Greene: From Yogi Berra to Anatole France to the governor's office

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I grew up thinking that the phrase “errors of enthusiasm” was the coinage of Yogi Berra or maybe Casey Stengel.

I’d blame Tony Kubek or Joe Garagiola on the Game of the Week, which is where I think I first heard it, but I might be compounding my error of ignorance and misattribution with an error of blame-shifting. I’m not really certain where I heard it.

So, I’ll just say I was wrong, which is the best thing to do when you are.

The internet tells me that the phrase was the work of Anatole France, the 1921 Nobel Prize-winning French novelist and a guy given a lot more honor for his thinking than Casey or Yogi, even if he he never won a pennant.

Here’s the complete quote: “I prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the wisdom of indifference.”

It’s a interesting choice that deserves some consideration.

We don’t want decisionmakers to make errors of enthusiasm or display the wisdom of indifference. We want them to get it right every time.

But they will screw up sometime. To err is human. (That one comes from Alexander Pope, it turns out, not Shakespeare, which is what I had thought. I’m 0-2 today.)

So when our human leaders screw up, do we want them to screw up because they’re trying too hard or do we want them to fail to act — and thus screw up — because they’re too smart to care, or perhaps, too smart to take a chance.

Think about your own answer to that one before you go any further.

As for me, I’m with France. I prefer the errors of enthusiasm.

Which is what I was thinking as I read Oklahoma Watch’s interesting tale of the long, strange trip taken by 1.2 million doses of hydroxychloroquine into our state.

At a time when the FDA had OK’d an emergency use authorization of hydroxychloroquine from its own inventory for some hospitalized COVID-19 patients, Oklahoma got aggressive in trying to buy a lot of it. Legally going around the usual purchasing rules, the state Health Department spent $2.6 million and had the drugs shipped to a Pryor pharmacy.

Then it turned out that the drug wasn’t really much of anything concerning coronavirus. The FDA retracted its authorization, the drugs sat in a warehouse, and Oklahoma lupus patients — people who really did need hydroxychloroquine — were having a hard time getting it.

Oklahoma is trying to return the drugs and get its money back.

When he was confronted with the mistake, Gov. Kevin Stitt explained the circumstance and said, “I was being proactive to try and protect Oklahomans.”

It was an error of enthusiasm.

Let’s go back and play it again only with the facts swapped.

Imagine that the health department had a chance to buy a state-sized shipment of hydroxychloroquine, but the decision was to wait until there was more conclusive evidence that it was effective.

While the state waited, a more aggressive state gets the drugs, and when it turns out to be the miracle cure, there isn’t any more to be had on the market.

Oklahomans with COVID-19 are desperate for hydroxychloroquine. They end up driving to other states trying to get it, spreading the disease. The market price skyrockets. People are getting sicker, ending up in hospitals and dying because Oklahoma doesn’t have enough hydroxychloroquine.

And then it comes out that the state turned down 1.2 million doses.


We’ll call that an error of wise indifference, and, in my completely fictional scenario, it ends up costing lives instead of money.

The best alternative always is to make no errors, of course.

And when you do make one, you should own it, and still expect to be ridiculed for it. That’s especially true in the adversarial atmosphere of politics. That tension probably keeps people honest, but probably also promotes the wisdom of indifference: Better safe than sorry.

I made an error earlier in my citation of Pope (0-3). It was an error of omission.

Pope’s complete thought was: To err is human, to forgive divine.

Affording grace isn’t in the nature of politics, but I think it’s more natural to ordinary citizens, most of whom, like me, have made plenty of mistakes.

Word of the week: eleemosynary — an adjective describing charitable acts, especially those that support the indigent or who have disabilities. When I was in graduate school, the Iowa state regents for higher education were also responsible for state schools for blind and deaf children, termed the eleemosynary institutions. A big issue among the regents was how to pronounce the word. The dictionary says ella-MOSS-a-nary, although more then one Iowan has been heard to say E-leo-MOY-sinary. Several years ago, Heller Theater did a memorable performance of the play “Eleemosynary,” by Lee Blessing. Perhaps not surprisingly, it focuses on a young girl who is a champion speller.

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Wayne Greene reads the April 25 Tulsa World editorial, “We're skeptical about initial plans for a new home for city courts, jail and public safety leadership”

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Editorial Pages Editor

I'm the editorial pages editor of the Tulsa World and a political columnist. A fourth-generation Oklahoman, I previously served as the World’s city editor for 13 years and as a reporter at the state Capitol of four years. Phone: 918-581-8308

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