Friday, September 29, 2006

Powerfully Stated

A reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog writes:

"It would seem that all political discourse is now deteriorating into taking sides - not in the context of a particular issue, but in the Manichean sense of are you a supporter of the administration or you are against it. It is increasingly difficult to take a nuanced stance on any topic. For the record:

I do not support the war in Iraq but I fully supported the effort to topple the Taliban and rebuild Afghanistan. I oppose a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman but fully support states' rights to amend their own. I fully support the need for the West to stand up to Islamic religious extremism and forcefully espouse the virtues of the Western Enlightenment, but oppose the contorted lengths that the administration will go to justify torture, suspend Habeas Corpus for legal aliens and ignore the checks and balances of the founding fathers.

I do believe in moral values such as honesty, forgiveness, trust and tolerance but oppose the religious extremist's (of whatever faith) right to define morality for me. I do believe in the capitalist system of competition but oppose the corrupt cronyism that passes for an entrepreneurial culture in the current times. I do not believe in the phrase "if it feels good, do it" but oppose the government deciding what is moral.

I do believe in the fourth estate, but I am frustrated that the press wants to present every side of a debate as if it carries equal weight. I do believe that Western countries should have a strong military but do not believe that diplomacy is a weak option. I do believe that the UN has become a bloated body incapable of making hard decisions but do not believe that the UN is an evil conspiracy out to destroy the USA. I do believe that society, via Government has a duty to help ameliorate poverty but do not believe in massive entitlement programs.

What label should I self apply? I no longer know."

Andrew says it sounds like a party he'd be a part of. Me too. I also agree when he says "Pity it doesn't exist."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Paragons of Mendacity

Watching "The Control Room" tonight. It's a fascinating documentary from 2004 that looks behind the scenes at the Al-Jazeera network during the early days of the Iraq War. In it, Bush gives at least one big lie, and Rumsfeld is (I hope) prophetic -- though not in the way he imagines.

In a press conference early on in the way, a reporter asks him about reports of American POWs in Iraqi hands: "I expect them to be treated humanely. Just like we're treating the prisoners we have captured: humanely." Notice he doesn't say "we expect them not to be tortured." Nor does he say "we expect the Iraqis will be using coercive interrogation techniques on our brave soldiers." No, he says America is treating Iraqi prisoners humanely. Even under the new Senate language I don't think waterboarding falls under the heading "humane."

Earlier in the movie there is a quote from Rummy where he's accusing Al Jazeera of bussing women and children in to bomb sites to make it look as if they were the victims of the attacks. He says: "It's up to all of us to try to tell the truth. To say what we know, to say what we don't know, and recognize that we are dealing with people that are perfectly willing to lie to the world to attempt to further their case. And to the extent people lie, ultimately they are caught lying and they lose their credibility."

I hope the loss of credibility is expressed during the mid-term elections.

Ratchet Up That Rhetoric

Check out these comments from a supposed Christian minister speaking at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. The Rev. Dwight McKissic said it was “insulting, offensive, demeaning, and racist” for the the gay rights movement to compare itself to the civil rights movement. He even fell back on the old (and fully discredited) claim that "gays can’t reproduce so they have to recruit.”

He claims the gay rights movement was inspired “from the pit of hell itself,” and has a “satanic anointment,” that this struggle for equality was "birthed and inspired by the anti-Christ." And he wasn't even close to alone in voicing these sorts of comments at the VV Summit. How about this from Bishop Wellington Boone:

"Back in the days when I was a kid, and we see guys that don't stand strong on principle, we call them 'faggots.' A punk is — and our people, I'm from the ghetto, so sometimes it does come out a little bit. I got another one I'm gonna say in a minute — [laughter] — that don't stand up for what's right, we say, 'You're sissified out!' 'You're a sissy!' That means you don't stand up for principles. And I just believe that God hasn't called us to be sissies on a principle level. We're called to be, to stand up and be men. I'm not talking about as in gender. I'm talking about man of God, men in the marketplace, and when a U.S. senator or congressman says that he wants me to vote for them, and he's not biblically based — if he doesn't have God as his Lord, how can somebody that doesn't feel the need for God lead me?"

Monday, September 25, 2006

Scariest Thing Ever?

Consider this: Iranian President Ahmadinejad is praying for the end times. He craves Apocalypse. George W. Bush, to judge by the Christianist company he keeps, wouldn't mind a little Armageddon himself if it meant the return of Jesus. These two guys aren't thinking of this as a fight between two countries, they're anxious for Allah and Yahweh themselves to mix it up. One has more nukes than he knows what to do with, the other wants them badly and will likely get them. Sleep tight.

Hillary is Worse Than The Devil

At least according to Jerry Falwell, who said at a private prayer breakfast at the Value Voters Conference, "I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate. Because nothing will energize my (constituency) like Hillary Clinton." Falwell added that even Lucifer himself wouldn't engage the base more than a Clinton candidacy. According the reports, the room rang out with cheers at these remarks.

One-Eyed Justice

This article in today's New York Times outlines the often horrific state of justice at the local level in New York State. It's a long piece, but deeply fascinating. The stories of defendants being denied bail or due process or simply being subject to the whims of judges who aren't even required to have a high school diploma, let alone a law degree are chilling.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Choosing the Battlefield Redux

A perfect example of the sort of thinking I posited in my previous post just popped up on CNN: an American tourist in Rome, outside the Vatican, expressing his support: "He apologized for what he said, but mostly it sounds to me like it was misinterpreted, 'cause the Pope don't have a bad bone in his body, you know what I mean? He's so pure and beautiful."

The Vatican is a political organization, and people don't lead powerful political organizations by remaining pure. Committed? Sure. Zealous? Probably. Sincere? Maybe. Pure? Not a chance.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Choosing the Battlefield

It's a maxim of military strategy that the side that dictates where a battle will be fought has a distinct advantage over its foe. And right now, radical Islam is establishing the arena of combat in the war on terror. Not the physical location of any one engagement necessarily, but that of a broader battlefield.

Al Qaeda and its ilk say they stand squarely behind Mohammed and the Q'uran. However twisted and tangled a knot they have made of the message of mainstream Islam, they believe -- with the devotion of martyrs -- that all mankind must accept that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet and that any method is acceptable in pursuing this goal. We, the sworn enemies of Al Qaeda have developed -- as we must -- a counter position. But the position we seem to be taking is not liberty vs. tyranny, but Yahweh/God vs. Allah. Our God is bigger/better/righter than your God, so shut up and let us at the oil.

It seems to me a better battleground would be to fight (truly) for freedom, support of family/tribal/community/national bonds and tolerance for all willing to follow the rule of law.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Political Correctness in the Huddle

Check out this story in the New York Times. Seems a Connecticut high school athletic league has adopted a rule to prevent lopsided scores in football games, and now a coach faces a suspension because his team won 56-0. I'm sorry, but high school sports teach some valuable lessons, and one of them is that if you are outclassed on one or more levels of a game, you're going to get your ass handed to you. We don't protect self-esteem by manipulating outcomes. Self-esteem is something each child has to earn on his or her own. This sort of thing isn't helping.

Monday, September 18, 2006

"Free Speech"

One of the new features of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric is a regular segment called "freeSpeech." According to the CBS News website, "freeSpeech" is intended to be "a segment of opinion and commentary from a wide range of Americans. This original segment is intended to create a candid and robust dialogue among viewers about issues important to them, their families and the nation." It goes on to say: "The segment will be a real attempt to reflect what Americans are thinking and feeling, as people from all parts of the country representing all perspectives and points of view will be able to speak their minds -- uninterrupted."

The key word there is "uninterrupted." In the world of televised shouting matches (that are laughingly called "debates"), the chance to say one's truth in as complete a fashion as 90 seconds will allow is certainly compelling to anyone with a passionate opinion.

The key word NOT there is "uncensored." For in a segment called "freeSpeech," one would think it ought to be practiced. But when Bill Maher wanted to talk about religion, CBS demurred. CBS denies that the subject of religion was off-limits. My guess is that the broad subject was fine, but how Bill probably wanted to approach it specifically was not. I can imagine Maher wanting to say something like (and I'm only guessing here): "Get over it, there is no God." I can also imagine CBS having an issue with an approach of this sort.

"Doesn't CBS have the right to edit its own show?" you might ask. Certainly, but if you're going to sell the segment saying the goal is "to offer a new and TRANSPARENT outlet for the incredible variety and diversity of voices in this country" (emphasis mine) it really ought to be transparent. Otherwise, why not call it "Opinion Corner"? Especially when Katie Couric introduced the segmentby saying: "Expressing your opinion is one of the privileges of living in this country." Maher rispostes: "I'm sorry -- I thought it was a RIGHT."

On one level Maher is being completely naive -- editing is not censorship per se, and simply because they decided not to air your views doesn't prove they are censorious. But on another level he is absolutely right to be incensed. Is CBS truly offering a voice to people to say what they think is most important in the world? Or is it simply a way for them to say what THEY want to say, but put the words into other people's mouths?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hubris on Parade, Part 2

After my most recent post about the turnaround of my golf game, I go out and shoot my worst score in more than two years. Perhaps it was because I had only two hours sleep, but I can hardly imagine stinking it up any worse than in this last round. 57-52 for 109. It was on a tough course, and from the back tees, but still, oy.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Becoming a Golfer, Part 2

In an earlier entry, I spoke that I was on the road to becoming a golfer, but hadn't quite achieved that status and was still just someone who plays golf. Although I cannot yet take that mantle upon myself, I'm coming ever so much closer to self-identifying as a golfer, because my game is changing. I'm swinging the club better and my handicap trend is down. I'd gotten stuck shooting in the mid- to high-90s, sometimes lower, but sub-90 scores were rare. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I'd had only one sub-90 score all spring and summer.

Then I went out and shot an 87 on one of the two toughest courses in the area -- where my previous low had been 96. A couple of weeks later (with rounds of 92 and 96 in between) I went to my favorite course in the county and shot an 84. Had I not closed triple bogey, double bogey, I could have broken 80 for the first time. I was hitting it better off the tee: longer, and not so far off line (though still drifting right too often to please me). I was striking my irons better, too, and hitting more solid chips. Putting remained about the same -- still the strongest part of my game.

Then, in my most recent round, site of the recent 87, I shot 99. Thing is, it didn't feel like I was hitting the ball that much worse. Looking back, I think the major mitigating factor was the condition of the greens. They had just been aerated, meaning they are covered with a pattern of indentations the size of a quarter that make it almost impossible to predict either speed or line. I remarked to my playing partner that we ought to give ourselves three strokes a side to compensate. (As it turns out, I took exactly five more putts that round than my average, so the estimate wasn't too bad.) That would make it a 94. Put me back at the 6400+ yard tees (instead of the 6800+ yard tees I played) and it might have been 92 or 91. More respectable.

I also seem to be making fewer mental errors. I don't mind making physical errors so much. I'm not that great an athlete, so I don't expect that much out of my body. But I do think I'm relatively bright, so it peeves me no end when my mind lets me down on the links. After all, it doesn't take any special athletic skill to align yourself at address so you are actually aiming at your target, or to remember to take wind and elevation changes into account when choosing which club to hit.

Then I remembered one of my favorite quotes about golf: that the game is 90% mental, and 10% mental. The golf swing is not a reactive motion. It is triggered by my mind consciously telling my body to begin firing the neurons that will stimulate the right muscles to contract and release to turn my shoulders, fire my hips and bring the arms and hands back down and through to the other side of my body. I can't say I don't know what a successful swing feels like, because I accomplish one several (to several dozen) times a round. I cannot, therefore, let myself off the hook with the excuse that I'm not much of an athlete.

It's up to me to figure out a way to not only continue to reduce mental errors, but to also learn how to condition my mind to fire the neurons in the right patterns in order to achieve the sweet, smooth motion I emulate and am occassionally able to accomplish.

Another Report from the Department of Ignorance

Officials in Australia have recently found nearly a dozen stingrays, the species responsible for the death of Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin, dead on the beaches of Queensland, the Australian province where Irwin lived -- and died. The supposition is that deranged fans of Irwin's (I'm sure he had several) are murdering stingrays in some twisted form of revenge for his death. As Irwin would say, "crikey."

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Great Deal

If you're interested in a luxury getaway at a bargain price, check out the Spa Junkie Package at the Parker Palm Springs. Stay on a Sunday through Thursday between now and the end of the year and you'll pay only $179 a night -- but get $200 credit in the hotel's reknowned spa, the Palm Springs Yacht Club. Hard to beat that.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Give it up, Michelle

Golf's female phenom, Michelle Wie, has been playing in several men's events (primarily on sponsor's exemptions), trying to prove she has what it takes to play with the best. At one tournament, she missed the cut by just one stroke. But in her previous outing with the boys, she finished near the bottom of the field. This week, at European Tour event in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, she struggled to break 80 both days, finishing next to last at 15 over.

Michelle talks of one day making the Ryder Cup team or playing in The Masters. I defended Michelle's decision to try her hand at PGA events, and certainly don't blame tournament organizers for riding her publicity coattails to increase the draws at the events in which she plays. But I think her recent results show it's time for her to leave the men's tournaments behind for a few years and concentrate on winning on the LPGA tour, where she has come close to several titles. Start dominating the LPGA tour, Michelle, then go and actually try and QUALIFY for a PGA event if you like. Earn your spot, just like everyone else.

The Rove Effect

Fond as I am of Karl Rove (the closest thing we have to the Anti-Christ), his approach to campaigns (trading on fear and base instincts) has brought him outstanding returns. He does, after all, sort of rule the free world. So I wasn't surprised to see an ad against California's Proposition 87, which taxes oil companies in order to fund alternative energy resources in order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, using Rove-like techniques.

The ad shows a man in a yellow firefighter's coat. He says Proposition 87 is a bad idea that will increase our dependence on foreign oil and increase fuel prices. (Increased dependence on foreign oil seems an unlikely result, and though it will likely increase fuel prices, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. And it will actually reduce dependence on foreign oil.) Then he goes on to say "that's why" an organization representing 85,000 public safety workers is opposed to it. "Gee..." the ad wants you to think, "I trust public safety officials -- they save our lives when terrorists attack." The ad brings it home in the final line: "It's a bad idea -- at the worst possible time."

Oh my god, you tax the oil companies (who brought this on themselves by treating their executives so lavishly -- primarily Exxon Mobil CEO Lee Raymond's $400 million retirement plan) and now you're giving terrorists the upper hand? That's a Rove-ian leap -- that I'm afraid will work for a certain segment of voters.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Golf in Thin Air

Playing golf at the Lake Tahoe Golf Course recently, I hit what was for me a most impressive shot: a 270-yard drive with a 3-wood. Even with a bit of wind behind me and the thin air at 6200' above sea level, I was quite proud. I hit my wedge to the middle of the green and two-putted for par.

Then, a few holes later, after making a double bogey, I decided to re-attempt the shot that had put me into trouble and caused the extra strokes. I looked back down the fairway to make sure no one was approaching, but the next group was still back at the tee, 390 yards away. I swung the sand wedge, connected cleanly and executed the shot that WOULD have likely saved my par had I been able to do it properly when it counted. I walked onto the green, and as I was bending over to collect my ball, I heard a gentle thump behind me and turned to see a golf ball coming to rest, pin-high, just in the fringe of the green. One of the golfers had just struck an almost 400-yard drive, directly on line. Suddenly my 270-yard 3-wood didn't seem like all that big of a deal anymore.