Friday, February 24, 2006

A Team of Tin Medalists

I’m not a fan of winter—biased, as I am, against the prospect of freezing one’s ass off. I’m not a fan of falling on one’s ass. I’ve fallen on my own so often, over the years, I seem to have lost my taste for it. It’s no surprise, then, that I’m not a Winter Olympics fan. After all, what is the common denominator of Winter Olympic sports? The danger of falling on one’s ass while in the process of freezing it off. ‘Nuff said.

Still, I remain a connoisseur of cultural crap. I felt obligated, at least in a casual way, to keep up on the American team’s progress at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. While I don’t care for winter sports, I am an American. Thinking back, I recalled Dorothy Hamill, Bonnie Blair, Eric Heiden and the 1980 U.S. Men’s Hockey team. Their achievements generated such goodwill for this country, both at home and abroad. In these troubled times, we could use a dose of that goodwill. I sincerely hoped this latest batch of Olympians would represent America well.

Dumbass me.

Hannah Teter, Shani Davis, Rosey Fletcher, Julia Mancuso and Apollo Anton Ohno. That’s it. The rest, as far as I am concerned, is a complete washout. And it’s not about medals. It’s not about winning, or even athletic ability. It’s simpler than that. It’s about one fundamental trait: attitude.

Attitude alone distinguished these Americans from their fellow competitors. While the 2006 U.S. team came up short in the skill department, it had ample supplies of insolence and braggadocio. If pettiness and infighting were Olympic sports, many more gold medals would be dangling from American necks. Yes, this band of Uncle Sam’s finest will go down in sports history. For all the wrong reasons.

I’m half-inclined to petition the International Olympic Committee to change its rules. Its three-medal award system—gold, silver and bronze—is no longer adequate. For this group of trash-talking crybabies, one additional medal is required. The tin medal.

The tin medal would not be an indication of physical prowess. Rather, it would certify an Olympian’s complete and utter lack of modesty, common sense and sportsmanship. It would signify the Olympian’s willingness to snipe, backstab and bicker with teammates and competitors. The tin medal would betoken the Olympian’s failure to deliver on public promises resulting from his or her blatant and shameless egotism. Any and all recipients of the tin medal, in order to participate in forthcoming games, would be required to make sincere, public apologies to their fellow citizens on national TV. Should they refuse, tin medal winners would be permanently banned from future Olympic competition.

Who, among America’s 2006 athletes, should receive the tin medal? Bode Miller? While this slaloming shmuck fits the criteria (Hell, he is the criteria!), we must remove his name from contention. In true Olympic tradition, we have to keep the playing field even for the other whining, bragging dunces. Still, his outstanding contribution should be recognized. On the tin medal itself, next to the Olympic logo, there could be an engraved picture of Miller, giving the Finger with both hands. He might as well be on an Olympic medal, because it’s damn sure he’ll never win one. And the tin medal could be given an appropriate nickname: "the Bode". All righty then!

Since Bode’s out, who’s left? Here’s the ballot:

Chad “Shani Won’t Play with Me!” Hedrick: This Texan speedskater publicly blamed Shani Davis’ refusal to participate in a men’s team “pursuit” event for the Americans’ failure to win the gold. Never mind that Shani hadn’t trained for men’s pursuit. Hedrick also promised to tie Eric Heiden’s record of five gold medals. This boasting made the one gold, one silver and one bronze medal he did snag look piddling by comparison.

Lindsey “Look Ma, No Hands!” Jacobellis: Lindsey’s a 21-year old snowboarder from Vermont. She’s also a titanic spaz. Within spitting distance of a first-place finish, she tried to pull a showboating move to impress the folks back home. Lindsey stumbled and fell, thus surrendering a 140-foot lead and the gold medal, but forever ensuring herself a spot on the Christmas card list of Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden, who sped past her to victory. Lindsey settled for the silver (Gyp! Gyp!) and a lifetime of explaining herself at every social event she’ll ever attend.

Johnny “Maybe, Maybe Not” Weir: Here’s a Pennsylvania figure skater who grabbed a lot of headlines for raiding Michael Jackson’s wardrobe and hinting at, but never admitting to, an alternative lifestyle. He did, though, readily confess to loving Christina Aguilera—which, in Pat Robertson’s Bible, is also a sin. You'd think all that hype would amount to something. At last, headlines were all Weir grabbed. He finished fifth in his event.

Sasha “Practice Shmactice” Cohen: They called her the “Silver Belle” because she habitually came in second place. But “experts” touted Sasha to be the next Peggy Fleming. Entering the Torino games, the 22-year old California figure skater declared that she was “ready for some gold”. Evidently, not ready enough to show up for her last practice session before competing. Sasha took the day off, and then showed up at her event cold and rusty. Two spinning butt-falls later, this belle was silver again. Thus was proved the old adage: “Practice makes. . .you less likely to fall on your ass and look stupid in front of the whole world.”

Michelle “In Again/Out Again” Kwan: If only she’d been a Dirty Harry fan! In “Magnum Force,” Clint Eastwood utters a piece of evergreen advice: “A man has to know his limitations.” So do California skating queens. After winning silver and bronze in ’98 and ’02, Kwan went on to rake in the Benjamins on the pro circuit. As the ’06 Olympics approached, it was assumed that nagging hip and groin injuries would force Kwan, now an old-for-skating 26, to forgo Torino. But stubborn pride and a hunger for gold wouldn’t let her. Kwan petitioned the Olympic big-wigs for a spot on the team. Deferring to celebrity, they booted contender Emily Hughes out to make room for her. But Father Time would not be denied. The day after the Torino games opened, Kwan’s injured groin told her what everyone already knew—she was too damn old and had to go home. Emily Hughes was recalled at the last minute, which gave her no time to prepare properly and totally screwed her chances to win a medal (she didn’t). Michelle Kwan limped back to California, comforted by her memories. And of course, a boatload of cash.

There are probably more I’m not aware of. Feel free to chime in with your favorites.

These U.S. athletes had a valuable opportunity. They had the chance to represent their country on an international stage. They didn’t have to win a medal in every event to do so. All they had to do was exhibit good sportsmanship. Well, they didn’t. They squandered that opportunity in favor of all the greedy, petty and egotistical Cuba Gooding/”Jerry Maguire”-type horseshit that has turned so many people off of professional sports. None of the Americans was shouting “Show me the money!” But they might as well have. It was that obvious.

It’s been said that Americans are hated across the world. I always laughed at that assertion. I thought it was just an unfounded bias that was held by small-minded people who never met any Americans. For two weeks in February, to audiences around the globe, our Winter Olympic team was America. And our Winter Olympic team confirmed this bias beyond denial. I’m not laughing anymore.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Other Blogs I Enjoy

Here is a much-belated list of other blogs I regularly read and enjoy:

Happyville Library

Le Chameau Insatiable

Married with Children

i don't care

Peace in Your World

Dissertation Recovery

Kiwi Nomad's Wanderings

I Am Fuel, You Are Friends

Please check out these blogs. These are talented, original voices who have great stories to share.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Request From the Connoisseur of Pop Culture Crap

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a connoisseur of pop culture crap. That said, let me ask you to do one thing: vote for Lisa Rinna on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars". You see, I've fallen in love with her.

Yes, wrestler Stacy Keibler was my first choice. It's easy to love a tall, shapely blonde who can shimmy like nobody's business. But Ms. Rinna, a 42-year old soap opera actress I didn't know from Eve before seeing this show, has won my heart. She just seems to try so hard. You can see it on her face when the fey-n'-catty dance judges hold up their score cards, "Gong Show"-style. Lisa's need to succeed is so intense, she even pulled out a photo of her young daughters, a few episodes back, and dedicated her performance to them. This lady WANTS that cheesy glitter ball trophy. Badly.

Besides, Stacy Keibler is 25 and, thanks to "D.W.T.S.", has already landed on the cover of Stuff magazine. The same magazine Adam Sandler has probably sent to the casting director of his next movie. Stacy's salary will soon be light years beyond "Dancing With the Stars'" budget. As wonderful as she is, she doesn't really need to win.

So this middle-aged guy is throwing his support behind a middle-aged gal with a work ethic. I encourage you to do the same.

I always had a soft spot for the underdog. Especially underdogs with toned figures and the sexiest lips this side of Angelina Jolie. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go empty my drool bucket.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Gen Y's Fear of Thinking & Reading

AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! The meaning behind this anguished roar will become obvious as you read on.

I usually address these posts to any and all intelligent people who donate their valuable time to reading my humble little blog. But in particular, I’d like to slant this dispatch to the age 16-25 crowd, the group currently populating our nation’s high schools and universities. Dudes and dudettes, as Neil Young once sang, this note’s for you.

As you can tell from some of my earlier posts, I am a reader. Yes, I’m one of those types who actually likes deciphering words printed on numbered pieces of paper. Much of my time in school was spent doing this archaic activity. No, I don’t make my living doing it. I do it for fun, to exercise my mind and my imagination. To some of you, this means I’m either A.) a senile old fart or B.) mentally ill. Possibly. But humor the old man, won’t you?

I don’t dislike Generation Y. You guys got stuck with a lot of things us Gen-X’ers didn’t have to deal with. A war, a crappy economy, reality TV and Baby Boomer parents, among them. You’ve done an admirable job dealing with this stuff, really. In general, you’re a bright bunch of kids. But there’s one thing about you guys that just puzzles the shit out of me. Why, oh why, do you hate/fear thinking so much?

I first thought of this question after reading a January 31st editorial in the Chicago Tribune, “Just Look It Up”. Long story made short: many schools and colleges allow, and even encourage, students to use laptops, PDA’s, graphing calculators and other technological doo-dads on tests. It’s part of a growing trend toward “legalized cheating” in school. The article took the middle of the road: “[t]echnology,” it stated, “can be a tool or a crutch.” The Tribune asked readers if they viewed this practice as dishonest and invited them to write in with their opinions. Many, as expected, called it cheating. But just as many declared that it was a perfectly acceptable practice. “Who cares where they get their answers?” asked reader Cindy Peyton. “More reading and research. . .more knowledge. I don’t consider it cheating.” A Chicago elementary teacher assigned the question as an essay topic to her 5th Grade class. “It will help students get better grades,” wrote one kid, “and make test-taking more enjoyable.” Out of the mouths of babes.

A day or two later, I ran across a phenomenon online that I wasn’t aware of. It’s called “Rocketbooks: Classic Literature Visualized.” In short, Rocketbooks are DVD’s that summarize works of classic literature that are commonly assigned in high school and college classes. Several key scenes from each book are dramatized, Hollywood-style, with actors. Other segments include critics and scholars talking about key themes and characters in the books. Evidently, Rocketbooks are very popular. The company’s website,, is full of glowing testimonials. “Rocketbooks are here to save all students from the trials of classic literature,” gushes Kimberly Oakley, a student at Western Washington University. “This really helps me. . .appreciate literature more than I would from reading the book,” claims Bobby Sterling, a 16-year old at a California high school. Read Bobby’s comment again, slowly. What is he really saying?

Maybe it’s me. I thought the point of education was to become educated. To learn how to think, reason and interpret. You do that by using—by challenging—your brain. Reading works of classic literature is one way to do that. Obviously, I’m wrong. The point of education is to find the right answer, as easily as possible, and pass the test. And of course, test-taking should be as entertaining as a trip to Disneyland, or else it isn’t worth it. I graduated college just over 10 years ago. What in hell has happened since then?

I’m not saying that education should be punishment. It shouldn’t be as laborious as breaking rocks with a hammer. But since when are teachers obligated to be entertainers, too? What happened to the sense of satisfaction that came from accepting and meeting a challenge? Has college simply become a vocational school? You just go there, put the round pegs in the round holes, get the diploma and toddle off to the job? If it has, then students are being cheated out of the small fortunes they pay for the privilege of attending college.

Then, there’s reading. I don’t mean to criticize young Bobby or Kimberly. I’m sure they’re nice kids. But when it comes to the purpose of fine literature, they’re as clueless as Paris Hilton. Reading is not a passive activity. You have to invest time and effort in reading the books. You must actively use your imagination to bring the stories to life. But it yields a fantastic payoff. Your brain provides an entertainment experience greater than anything Lucas, Spielberg and their army of special effects technicians could hope to put on a movie screen. You transcend time and space, attain direct access to the author’s mind and the world that only exists there. You change and expand your own mind in doing so. But Rocketbooks can’t do it for you. It’s like going to a restaurant and simply looking at pictures of food on the menu, instead of actually tasting the food. To appreciate literature, you have to read the words and turn the pages.

I think the high school and college students of today are being cheated, by themselves and by the teachers, professors and administrators that are catering to the Rocketbooks mentality. They’re being cheated out of the skills they need to give them a leg up in the working world, regardless of what field they’re pursuing.

Chew on this for a minute:

''… A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.''

That’s a quote from Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. It’s one of the greatest American novels, and it has, most especially, appealed to people on the high school-college cusp. If the quote doesn’t touch you in some way, if it seems a ‘trial’, then you’re intellectually lazy and very hard-hearted. And you’re denying yourself one of the most enriching experiences the world has to offer. It’s as plain and as simple as that.