Monday, February 27, 2006

Why Sasha Cohen matters

The big news in Olympic figure skating: Sasha Cohen fell - not once, but twice - and didn't win Gold. Another missed opportunity.

The news reports asked the typical brain-dead-media questions. Was she hurt? Was she tired? Was she nervous? Did she choke?

Her polite replies? No, No, A little (it is the Olypmics after all), No.

Oh, and by the way... she won the Silver medal.

And I mean she WON the Silver. It was not handed to her. No, she fought for it and she won it. And for this reason, Sasha Cohen is a bigger winner than she would have been had she won the Gold.

Huh? Am I crazed? Not at all. Our obsession with Gold makes us all forget about a lot of things. What Sasha Cohen showed us was that she didn't forget them. She didn't forget what it is to be an athlete. She didn't forget about taking pride in her performance, about doing her best to the very end, and about not giving up. And she didn't forget that being second can be just as great an achievement as being first.

And in her not forgetting, she gives us all the chance to learn from her.

Every child athlete participating in any sport should be forced to watch Sasha Cohen's free skate program from these Winter Olympic games.

No, make that everyone should have to watch it. Every athlete. Every coach. Every parent. The lesson is far to great to be overlooked.

When she went on the ice, after a trying warm up session, you could see in her eyes the look of nervousness - of doubt. Thirty seconds into her program that doubt bore itself out as she fell on her first two jumps.

Three and a half minutes, 85%, of her program remained - with many more jumps and difficult skating. Her dreams of Gold were obviously gone. Too bad we all told ourselves. Well, there's always next time...

Look away for a moment to the majority of today's athletes - especially our young ones - and you'll see why we all think that way. A dropped ball, a missed shot, a lost game... all are cause for shut down, tantrums, poor sportsmanship and giving up. When the chance for winning and personal perfection are gone, we have taught them that it's okay to quit or to be little monsters.

Flash back to Sasha Cohen. Something was wrong. Look at her eyes now. Gone is the doubt - replaced by, of all things, a smile. She apparently missed the lecture where quitting was discussed. Not only did Sasha not shut down - she took herself to a new level - and the smile said it all.

The remaining three and a half minutes of her performance were the most beautiful and close to perfection ice skating I think I've ever seen. And she knew it too. She never wavered again. She fought with all her might - giving up was absolutely NOT an option for her.

Great athletes know that even with exceptional skills perfection really can never be obtained. You'll never be "on" all the time, and you can't do everything right all the time. But what makes a great athlete great is their ability to carry on and give 100% even when their skill has briefly let them down.

Tiger Woods is a great example of this too. When he's on, he's on. But when he's off - wow, clear the fairways! What makes him great is that he walks after that bad shot and shoots again. And again. And always with 100% effort.

I don't know that I've ever seen a skater fall twice, on their first two (and largest) jumps, and still win a Silver medal. If a medal could be given for effort, Sasha would have won the gold. And I think that's what Sasha Cohen gets.

It's time a lot of us get it too.

That's why Sasha Cohen matters.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Ahhh... Winter and kids

Here's a quick snip of my recent reality...

Three kids age 10 and under.

Three different schools.

Cold weather and indoor-only activities.

What do you get?

Two weeks of mind-numbing, and gut-wrenching, illness being handed from family member to family member like a baton in a relay. And even when the race is finally over, you're all still exhausted.

Oh am I looking forward to springtime....


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Guns, girls, and weekends without wives

You know, I initially didn't care at all about the Dick Cheney shooting incident - just a piece of bad luck I assumed.

And it still doesn't compare in my estimation to the thousands who have been killed on both sides in Iraq, or the continuing asinine riots and killings over cartoons in the Islamic world (all in the name of God of course), or the deteriorating situation in Iran, or the deteriorating state of our own government.

But... now it looks like the VP's little misfire may show some sporting fun after all.

First we have the renunciation of the description of Cheney's outing as "hunting" by "real" Texas hunters.

Then we have the reports of various reports... all leading to our favorite topic: conspiracy to coverup.

Next we have reports of the 14 hour delay in reporting the accident, and Cheney's refusal to talk with law enforcement officers until the following day, stemming from the fact that he may in fact have been a bit tipsy out in the blind.

And lastly we now have reports coming in that the real kicker is that Cheney was on this little bird hunting excursion with a female "friend" (Pamela Willeford) who naturally wasn't his wife, and the Secret Service were trying to figure out how to get her out of the picture before anyone knew.

One thing's for sure. As with everything in this administration, things are most likely not as they appear.

They're probably worse...


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Midas Touch

It's all about the Gold.

I hate to admit it, but as a former (much former!) athlete, I've lost my taste for the Olympics.

Well, that's a bit misleading. I've actually lost my taste for following the Olympics on TV or in the newspapers or other media outlets.

As an All-League/All-City athlete way back in my youth - 25 years way back to be precise - I remember the joy of competition. Yes, I played to win, and I was (I believe) a fierce competitor - albeit always a sportsman. I wanted to win - but not at all costs. And when the other guy, or other team, won... well that usually meant they were the better athletes that day. But that didn't diminish the thrill of the competition for me, nor the sheer love of sport.

And to be honest, the local media was happy to report on our accomplishments, regardless of the outcome. It was fun to be an athlete.

But not today.

Today, what we see in the media is a travesty. As far as I can tell, there are only three sports any more in the Winter Olympics: Figure Skating, Downhill Skiing and Hockey. That's all we hear about. That's all we read about.

And that's all we see on television - hour after painful hour of figure skating. Preliminaries, technical, short program, long program... we get it all.

What about the other sports? We have hundreds of athletes at the Olympic games and yet, we will watch two weeks of television and hear the names of maybe 15... if we're lucky. Maybe we'll hear about another sport if an American wins the gold - or America dominates (like the "new" sport of snowboarding). But all in all, the Olympic coverage was written long before the games ever started.

But what's even worse than completely ignoring the majority of athletes and sports involved in the games is America's new found philosophy of "Gold or Goat". You either win a gold medal, or you must have screwed up. And if you were never in contention for a gold medal, then why on earth are you there in first place?

Let's look at a few of today's top reports on the Olympics from the adoring and supportive American media

From ESPN:
Alpine skiing starts with slow race, a tepid crowd - and no medals for the United States.
Out of eleven stories on ESPN's Olympic home page, eight were about gold medals - either winning them, or not winning them. The lead story:
Stymied in his attempt for Downhill Gold, Bode Miller....
As I recall, Bode Miller wasn't favored in downhill, and his own comments were that he couldn't care less about medaling in the downhill. So, how exactly was Bode "stymied in his attempt" at a gold medal?

The most prominent item on ESPN's Olympic Site: Medal Tracker

From Sports Illustrated:

Poll of the Day: Which U.S. gold medalist have you found the most captivating?
And then, this little gem from Newsweek/MSNBC:
If those of us on the bus (including folks from The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, USA Today and more) had any sense that overheating and coming up well short of the goal were going to be the themes of the day, we might've called it quits, too. Instead, we Olympic lemmings waited an hour for a replacement bus and arrived at the men's downhill with an hour to spare. All that schlepping for ... what, exactly?

In the first marquee events of these games, the U.S. Ski Team, which has labeled itself "Best in the World" whiffed big time. Bode Miller skied well but finished just 11/100ths of a second off the podium, settling for fifth. Daron Rahlves, who was anointed the favorite by the American media on the strength of a blistering practice run, finished a distant 10th - his second straight disappearing act in an Olympic downhill.
Ouch! Can we be any more condescending to an athlete who has trained for years to get to this event and has competed with all his soul, while these reporters have done what exactly? Gotten an all expense paid trip to Italy to be a bunch of asses?

I could go on and on about the endless television coverage rants, and newspaper reports about American athlete's "disappointments, and heart break, and disaster, and embarrasment, and... all for having not won medals - and in most cases, specifically for having not won Gold.

We have become the East German athletes of the 70s. It's all about winning. Second place is no better than last. Sport, teamwork, participation, sportsmanship, years of commitment, practice and dedication mean nothing if you haven't brought home the precious gold.

And what of our athletes who participate in the games but were never meant to place higher than middle of the pack? As far as the media is concerned they should have stayed home. They're not worthy of any mention, much less any actual coverage of their sport or their achievement. The media implies, by its omission, that it doesn't understand why an athlete would even compete if they have no chance of winning. And they certainly have no intention of covering these silly mediocre athletes.

Yes, that's what we're telling them all - make no mistake about it. If you don't win, you've lost. There is no playing the game that counts. There is nothing to be happy about. And if you have no chance of winning, well then you weren't any good to begin with.

We Americans have forgotten what the Olymipcs are all about. It's about the athlete. It's about the competition. And it's about Sport itself.

What a shame for all our athletes who won't win gold. They should be celebrated for their achievements as much as anyone who wins gold. But in reality they will be labeled as losers - athletes who couldn't win. Athletes who let us down simply by doing their best.

Is it really any wonder why we lost our seat on the IOC?


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Doing the Math

Recent world events have led me to believe that the Bush Administration needs a little math refresher.

So, here we go:

Equation 1:

     free elections ≠ democracy

Fact: Ensuring free elections does not in any way guarantee the implementation of a democracy. There are more fundamental social and political requirements that must be met.

Equation 2:

     democracy ≠ freedom

Fact: Having a democracy, or a democratically elected body, does not guarantee that any freedoms will exist.

Equation 3:

     freedom = tolerance

Fact: Freedom is centered around the principle of tolerance of differences. Differences of opinion, differences of religion, differences of race and culture. Without tolerance, freedom cannot exist.

So, that leads us to our final equation for the day:

     freedom + democracy ≠ forced free elections

In other words... you can't force democracy on a country, or a people, who do not already have a culture of tolerance - and just making elections available doesn't accomplish anything towards the goal of freedom. And you cannot reject a tolerant society as "unjust" simply because its leaders weren't democratically elected.

End of lesson. That's all for today class.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Ethics as usual

Another lovely day in the hallowed halls where "ethics have been returned."

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

Somehow, we again turn a deaf ear as the White House breaks the law and threatens Republicans taking part in the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation against President Bush for the administration's unauthorized wiretapping.

The White House has literally threatened any Republican member who votes against President Bush.

Since the Senate Judiciary Committee is the "court" hearing the case, and Senators are the "jurors", this is the equivalent of outright, and blatant, jury tampering.

It's utterly amazing... Are we not going to do anything about this?

By the People, For the People

And in another stunning display of disregard for the American populace, the education cuts in President Bush's 2007 Budget were called "scandalous" by Republican Senator Arlen Spector and his cuts in Medicare and Medicaid stunned Republican Senator Olympia Snowe.

In the meantime, the US Treasury claims that one of Bush's main priorities in the 2007 Budget - making the tax cuts to the wealthy permanent - will cost the US billions of dollars, at the expense of other programs. This for a budget that will extend the already out of control deficit.

So... on we trudge... showcasing ethics to the world.


A state of exhaustion

I'm tired.

I'm so tired that I've found it difficult to write for a few days.

But my exhaustion isn't physical. No, I'm psychologically fried - I'm tired of the lunacy that seems to guide our world in the early part of the 21st century. A lunacy that promotes narrowmindedness, celebrates self-centeredness, refutes reason, insults intelligence and breeds contempt for everyone and everything that isn't me or done my way.

It's the lunacy that believes "having an election" equates to democracy and that this democracy is a cure-all for every nation's civil ills.

It's the lunacy that votes terrorists, the murderers of women and children, into power in the name of freedom.

It's the lunacy that calls for the public defiling of the "infidel" nations and their religions, and then also allows rioting and acts of violent vengeance over satirical cartoons - thereby in some almost comical, yet very sad, way validating the entire point of the publication of the cartoons (ie. if you don't want to be considered barbaric, unintelligent, unreasoning, unthinking, fanatical and uncivilized, then don't act that way).

It's the lunacy that makes nations act like delinquent school children when negotiating nuclear proliferation. "Will so, will not, will so, will not, WILL SO, WILL NOT, GO AHEAD AND TRY IT, OKAY I WILL! ..."

It's the lunacy that still claims Iraq was involved in 9/11 and that a desire to bring our troops safely home is akin to being a traitor.

It's the lunacy that listens time and time again, with unfailing loyalty, to the words of a deceiver and believes every word of it without any regard to the deeds being done and actions taking place before their eyes.

It's the lunacy that still believes this administration supports the sick, the homeless, the elderly, the poor, the learning disadvantaged, the disabled, the middle class, the little guy, the veteran... the common American.

I'm tired.

How many times can a person smack themselves in the head and say "My God! Can't they see..."

Yes, I'm tired...

And my head hurts.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Losing Our Shades of Gray

What makes America great?

Is it our democracy? Our freedoms? Our diversity? Yes, all of those are part of the whole, but is there just one key characteristic you could name that in itself sets America above all other nations? I would say the answer is yes.

And I'd call it Freedom of Reason.

Yes, we have many freedoms, but so do other nations. But there has always been one unwritten, yet inherent, freedom that is the basis for all of our other freedoms - the freedom of reason. This means at its core that we are free to use our beliefs, intellect, and diverse philosophies to debate and discuss and compromise and coexist.

In the color-world, freedom of reason is best represented by shades of gray. It's not full-color because it's not always joyous and bright and colorful. It can be dreary and drab and serious, but it can show variation and smooth gradients just the same as color. And when compared to a monochromatic image, it is as beautiful a leap forward as any color image you could imagine.

But we are losing our shades of gray.

The death of any great society has been a regression into a monochromatic state where everything is black and white. Reason no longer matters, only adhesion to rule without allowance for rationale or circumstance. We seem to be headed there, and it is a frightening journey.

When did this start? Is it new?

No there's nothing truly new here, and there's no starting point because we have fluctuated back and forth through various shades of gray throughout our history. It's the degree of fluctuation that occasionally sticks its ugly head out.

Usually, when this happens, there is an auto-correction. Our society and culture react and bring the pendulum back to its rightful center location. One glaring example of this is the era of McCarthyism. We jeopardized our freedom of reason by making an issue black and white. You either publicly denounced communism or you were a traitor. There was no middle ground. No discussion, No reason. But eventually, the pendulum swung back.

But not today. America is becoming a more and more monochromatic society.

It started with our politically correct, and intelligence lacking, crusade of the 1990's: "zero-tolerance". Zero-tolerance has become the catch phrase and the excuse for every ill-conceived, ill-implemented, logic-less policy implemented in the last 20 years. Zero-tolerance means zero thinking and zero intelligence.

In the land of the world's best and most revered legal system, where circumstance is *the* critical and overriding piece of evidence, we have somehow bought into the unreasoning and ludicrous idea that not allowing circumstance is an acceptable policy. Somehow we believe that suspending a second grader for pointing a potato chip at another student and saying "Bang" is the right thing to do because we have a zero-tolerance policy with regard to guns. Or suspending a kindergartener for kissing another because of our zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. Or suspending a high school student because there was a butter knife found in the bed of his truck in the school parking lot - because it fell out of his mother's catering box. These are not the stories of a reasoning society.

But the pendulum has not swung back. Instead we see zero-tolerance in every walk of life triumphing over reason on a growing basis. We see eighty year old women with nail clippers or knitting needles who can't get on airplanes. We see people not being able to oppose the war in Iraq without being painted as traitors. We see the argument over abortion becoming free abortions for all versus no abortions for any reason. We see three strikes and your out, regardless of the degree of your crime. We see mandatory life imprisonment for drug crimes. In everything related to foreign policy we're told you're either for us or against us. And children are still being suspended for saying "Bang" in school.

It's all very black and white. We're losing our gray.

History is full of lessons about societies that lost their gray - one of the most notorious being the disgrace of Germany.

But history also shows us that societies can embrace gray in profound ways. The ultimate document portraying an understanding of shades of gray has to be the articles of the Geneva Convention. Think hard - what is the largest omission in the Geneva Convention? It is the condemnation of the act of war itself. The convention instead accepts that war between nations is inevitable and yet compromises that while death and killing are tools and outcomes of war, the rules of engagement, and treatment of those in its pursuit, should still conform to some standards of humanity. Which one could argue are absent from the sheer act of war.

As our country slips ever more into furthering polarization, and our political system and legislative mandates begin to narrow themselves into black and white definitions and choices, we as a people must decide whether or not we want our shades of gray back.

Or whether we want to have zero-tolerance for reason. At which point America will no longer be the land of the free.


Slam Dunk?

Just one day on the bench and newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito got a chance to rule on his first case - a chance to show what he's made of.

How did he do?

He ruled with Anthony Kennedy and the four liberal judges in opposition to conservative justices Roberts, Thomas and Scalia.


Those who are Alito supporters will say this proves he is a man not resigned to an "ultra-conservative" agenda. Those who are ultra-conservative will say he obviously was being overly cautious in his first day on the job. And those who are cynical will say that his ruling in this case, which is of no significant consequence, was probably done intentionally to squelch continued discussion and let him quietly begin his conservative march without anyone paying too much attention.

There is some truth in all of those statements. He did in fact not just fall in line with the conservative justices. That may indicate that he at least isn't a total "Yes-man." It also was his first day, and he truly may have wanted to err on the "safe" side (but he does have 15 years of experience as a federal judge, so the notion that he was somehow "nervous" doesn't appear to hold much water). And, while it's true the case may have no constitutional consequence, it was pretty important to the individual whose execution was stayed.

So, maybe there was thought put into this decision, or maybe it was just the "easy" one to make. I really don't think we can decide if this provides any indication as to the future direction of Justice Alito's leanings.

But one thing does seem to be certain. As of this particular mooment in time, no one, conservative or liberal, can now say they know exactly how Sam Alito will rule. Maybe that will change.

We'll all have to wait and see.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The State of the Union is...

... what? No really, what is it?

I know what they told me, but what is it really? I'm looking for the truth here - if we can find any.

But truth is hard to discern in a culture of lies.

The Truth

This is an administration that has lied about bi-partisanship (remember Bush in 2000 saying he would bring the parties together - and now we are the most divided we've been in decades), lied about Iraq (they were no imminent threat), lied about education (No Child Left Behind is the biggest disaster in education in the last 50 years), lied about the budget (we're bankrupting the country to finance the war, period), lied about taxes (the tax cuts support businesses and the wealthy, not the middle class), lied about Medicare (the prescription drug plan is already a financial disaster), lied about Katrina (the government is more worried about rebuilding Iraq than taking care of its own), and lied about homeland security (the administration has been graded a "D" and "F" in implementing the changes recommended by the 9/11 Commission).

So where do we get that the State of the Union is... Strong?

Even after the make-believe that was recited last night, we might conclude the State of the Union is "determined" at best, right? Or maybe cautious or resolute. But Strong?

How about comical, frustrating, outlandish, or depressing?

What about bullying, arrogant, devious and untruthful?

I don't know if there's one perfect adjective, but I do know that no matter what we are told out of the left side of the mouth, it is not in sync with the right side of the mouth. And that makes the state of our union frightening.

More of the same.

I tried.... I really tried.... But try as I may, I could not bring myself to watch the entire address last night. It was just too painful - my head actually hurt.

In fact I made it through only about 10 excruciating minutes. What did I learn? Hmmm... it seems we're at war with terror and we have some troops in Iraq who need to stay there till their mission is complete. And apparently anyone who opposes this is an isolationist, is unpatriotic, and is a detriment to our "mission."

Wow, really? I hadn't heard. When did that happen? I'm glad I found that out - I feel so well informed.

Now where's the remote...

Send in the Clowns

And what's with Congress? Why the Hell don't they just all stand up the entire time? Apparently if it's worth clapping about, then it's worth standing about. And every sentence this President states is apparently worth clapping about. They ought to just remove all the chairs, it would save time.

Maybe everyone claps because he completed a sentence without making up a new word in the process. Yeah, I'll clap for that too.

But what a bunch of bloviating blowhards this batch has become. "Let's make it a show, shall we." This isn't an honest speech to the nation anymore, it's an effort in narcissism. How pathetic we have become.

The bottom line

In the end, last night we were told that the economy is great, even though all indicators point to a looming recession. We were told that we're winning the war on terror, although how exactly does one win a war on an idea? We were told that education is one of our most important goals, although we've seriously cut education funding and forced ridiculous testing programs on schools that can't afford it and must cut real educational programs to fund the testing programs.

But we were also chastised time and time again for not being a unified voice - for not towing the "company line" just because. We were being told in no uncertain terms that we are now a strongly divided country.

Maybe there was a little truth squeaking out last night after all.

You just needed to listen closely to hear it.