Friday, July 31, 2009

Big Papi Hypocrisy

It's sad to hear that yet another star baseball plan has been "outed" for his steroid use. As I had mentioned in a previous post, I can't say that I'm terribly surprised. But the revelation that Red Sox slugger David "Big Papi" Ortiz was implicated on PED-use frankly irritated me a bit, as did his predictable "surprise" that the positive test was true. You can pretty much bank on a prepared statement in the next 24-48 hours talking about an "over the counter supplement" that must have been tainted to his shock and dismay.

Yes, it bothers me knowing that it's not at all a stretch to assume that a 'roid-fueled Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were largely responsible for the Red Sox team which (perhaps now not so cleanly) broke the curse in 2004. Red Sox superfan Bill Simmons' nightmare has essentially come true. His 2004 Red Sox, the plucky team that shocked the Yankees by coming back from a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in the ALCS and then swept past the Cardinals, did it largely on the back of cheaters. I fully admit that me being a fan of the Yankees makes this a little more bitter to swallow.

What I find a little more galling is Ortiz's public pleas that he not get implicated by association in the midst of all of the other sluggers that were caught - McGwire, Giambi, Bonds, Manny, A-Rod - they shamed the game, but he was clean, he insisted. Listen to this impassioned plea to a reporter:

"I know what it is for my son to have Big Papi as a father. There are a lot of people who do great things for him because he's my son. His life is going to be easier because he's the son of Big Papi. And that is the biggest reason why I have never used steroids. Because then he would have to go to school and have to listen to all the kids say that his dad is dirty, a cheater, and everything for him would be taken away from him and he would be ruined. I make sure I don't do those things, for him."

Listen to the claptrap that Ortiz spewed back in February when A-Rod was revealed as having tested positive:

"I think you clean up the game by the testing. I test you, you test positive, you're going to be out. Period. If I test positive using any kind of banned substance I'm going to disrespect the game, my family, my fans and everybody. And I don't want to face the situation so I won't use it. I'm sure everybody is on the same page."

You "disrespected the game, your family, your fans, and everybody", David Ortiz - and you had the audacity to lie about it. Or were you trying to be cute with the nuance that testing began only in 2004, so your new line is that you've been clean since then? It's pathetic to stand there and comment and pontificate on others' issues with performance-enhancing drugs while you're fully aware that you're not being upfront about being a cheater, yourself.

What he's done, at best, is stand silently in the jury box nodding his head in outrage as a murderer gets sentenced to death while his closet contains dozens of dead bodies. Simply awful.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Amazin' Mess

The New York Mets are clearly having a season they'd like to forget both on and off the field. The Mets, who I picked to win the World Series this year (I'm forthcoming about my wildly inaccurate predictions), have stumbled to fourth place in the National League East far behind the division-leading Phillies, and have underperformed largely due to a roster decimated by injuries. Core members such as Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran have missed large parts of the season, and their fans can only be grateful that they are unlikely to endure another painful late-season choke to miss the playoffs. At this rate, they'll be mercifully mathematically eliminated before September.

Off the field has been just as ugly if not worse. Special assistant Tony Bernazard was outed as being an out of control executive from hell, verbally abusing contemporaries and tearing his shirt off while challenging Met minor leaguers to a fistfight. If that embarrassment wasn't bad enough, GM Omar Minaya, during a news conference held to announce Bernazard's firing, found it fit to throw NY Daily News beat writer Adam Rubin under the bus, implying that Rubin had portrayed Bernazard in a bad light in order to supplant him in the Mets' front office. The bewildered press corps (including Rubin) were incredulous, and a few hours later, another press conference was held where Minaya issued an apology... well, sort of.

Here's an excerpt of the "apology" news conference:

Question from Reporter: "Omar, when you regret saying..."

Omar Minaya: "No, I mean... uh, well, no I don't regret, I... I don't, I don't regret saying... I mean I regret saying what I'm saying, you know what I'm saying... I mean I stand by the things that I said, but uh, I don't, uh, but I don't regret. I... I regret saying it in that forum. That was not the proper forum to say it."

Huh? That's just about as confusing as "I actually did vote for the $87 billion (for funding the Iraq war) before I voted against it.

What a mess. My condolences to all of my friends who are Mets fans.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Papal Politics

There was a good op-ed recently from Ross Douthat about the politics of Pope Benedict XVI. And I was surprised that this New York Times-published editorial actually put the juxtaposition of religion and politics in a good light given that the podium of the op-ed page is largely filled with likes of Paul Krugman, Frank Rich and Maureen Down.

Douthat nails on the head the common phenomena of partisans selective listening and highlighting of certain papal positions and selecting downplaying of them when it suits their purposes. He writes:
When a pope criticizes legalized abortion, liberal Catholics nod and say that yes, they agree, it’s a terrible tragedy ... but of course they can’t impose their religious values on a secular society. When a pope endorses the redistribution of wealth, conservative Catholics stroke their chins and say that yes, they agree, society needs a safety net ... but of course they’re duty-bound to oppose the tyranny of big government. And when the debate isn’t going their way, left and right both fall back on flaccid rhetoric about how the papal message “transcends politics,” and shouldn’t be turned to any partisan purpose.
But the sweet spot which gets neglected is that there's absolutely a position (Douthat calls it "left-right fusionism") which articulates well where critical thinking people of faith should stand when it comes to matters of political platforms. It goes beyond the partisan and increasingly polarized factions that our two-party system has wrought. Or as Douthat writes:
Why should being pro-environment preclude being pro-life? Why can’t Republicans worry about economic inequality, and Democrats consider devolving more power to localities and states? Does opposing the Iraq war mean that you have to endorse an anything-goes approach to bioethics? Does supporting free trade require supporting the death penalty?
He correctly points out the two-party system has created an often unhelpful "bundling" of positions which leaves voters holding their nose while pulling the voting booth lever knowing that there's a handful of positions their candidate holds which are completely at odds with the voter's conscience. Or as my buddy, the Urban Christian, once said during a conversation about supporting candidates which aren't 100% aligned with your personal platform: "It's not a buffet."

The good news is platform breaking is happening in Congress. Recently, 19 members of the House wrote letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to remind her that in the midst of healthcare reform, "plans to mandate coverage for abortions, either directly or indirectly is unacceptable" and gave notice that they would refuse to support "any health care reform proposal unless it explicitly excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan."

Did the letter come from bitter Obama-hating Republicans still smarting from their whipping in the last two elections, trying to hold together a fragile party, representing right-wing religious simpletons who live in rural backwaters?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Encouraging Childhood Small Business

Last week as I was walking home from my suburban train station after a busy day at work, I had one of those "feel good" moments in the neighborhood.

I was pacing quickly and just passed a young girl, perhaps no older than seven, standing in front of a foldaway table with a pitcher of lemonade. The table had a homemade posterboard sign clearly letting me know that the lemonade was being sold for 25¢ for a cup. A few feet away, the little girl's parents and baby brother sat in lawn chairs enjoying the beautiful 70-degree sunny day.

I had just about passed by when I stopped in my tracks and turned around and slowly walked towards the table. The father, who was acting of something of a spokesperson for his shy daughter, obviously thought he had reeled one in. "Hi! Would you like a cup of lemonade?"

"Sure!" I said, "As I opened my bag and fished for some change."

The little girl proudly said, "It's homemade... and only 25¢."

As I continued to fish for change, the father said, "That's okay, we'll still give you lemonade even if you don't have any money. Right?" turning to his daughter, who nodded her assent.

I objected with mock outrage. "Oh no, if she's going to give me some of that delicious lemonade, she deserves to get fairly paid. Don't you think?"

Her father laughed and said, "I guess you're right."

So taking a dollar from my wallet, I bought a cup of lemonade and the girl, coached by her father, dutifully pushed towards me three quarters.

We exchanged good-byes and I walked away with my cup of lemonade, with just a little more spring in my step. It was a good cup of lemonade that could have used a little more sugar for my taste, but there was something really beautiful that I felt I got to witness. The thought of a family sitting together in the front of their house enjoying the weather while encouraging their daughter in the glorious tradition of sidewalk lemonade sales just made me warm and fuzzy.

The offer to give me lemonade for free was also a really nice touch, and I sensed a powerful coaching moment between father and daughter around generosity and charity (whether the guy wearing the Brooks Brothers shirt deserves charity for 25¢ lemonade is a different story).

Speaking of which, my sardonic sense of humor was smartly suppressed. After the offer for free lemonade, I could have said, "You're going to give it to me for free when I can clearly afford it? That fiscal irresponsibility plus that Prius in your driveway make it obvious that you're Democrats." That surely would've ruined the moment.

But joking aside, the concept of getting something for nothing isn't a Liberal or Democratic Party concept, nor should it be mocked. As Pastor Charlie Drew would say, "getting something for nothing", as ridiculous and even offensive as it sounds, is exactly the point when it comes to the Gospel message of grace given which is unearned and mercy granted which is undeserved.

Thanks for the lemonade, folks.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Someone Has a Case of the Wednesdays

A recent article in the Hartford Courant reported on a national study revealing that Wednesday is the most likely day of the week for suicides in the United States. The article talks about how the report bucks conventional wisdom that Monday would be the most likely day to commit suicide - after all the joy and freedom of the weekend is over, and one might find themselves facing a daunting five days of work-fueled stress.

Or to use an analogy, it seems more likely that a person would succumb to despair looking up while standing at the base of a mountain, as opposed to while the climber has already climbed up halfway. Then again, one might surmise that consistent with the report finding, after going through an awful first two days of the week, the realization that yes, life is really as bad as it's perceived, and this engenders a feeling of doom.

It's interesting that the article notes that the real driver is ultimately job-related. I suppose it's something I never really thought about in detail, but the whole construct of five days of labor and a two-day happy respite is something that exists only because of our tradition of the five-day work week punctuated by two days of no work. I'm sure my view of work influences my attitude towards each day of the week. If I lose sight of work being toil, but at the same time something which God has provided as a means of both mission and purpose, my dread should diminish.

I'd like to think that a healthy, balanced and Biblical view of work would remind me that my job is something that can and should be a venue of worship and of ministry. I can honor God by having the fruits of my labor contribute to something redemptive and by embracing the relational aspects of my work. C.S. Lewis once spoke of the importance of every human interaction - that there was no neutral ground, but rather a weight of importance that brought the other person closer to eternal glory or monstrosity. Of course, I also work to provide for my family. But instead of being crushed by the pressure of these responsibilities, can I instead be freed by the knowledge of God's sovereignty over all of these things and rejoice that He has already secured me a treasure which is imperishable, even if my job is not?

Monday, July 20, 2009

W is for Walter Cronkite

Godspeed to legendary journalist Walter Cronkite, who passed away last Friday at the age of 92. Cronkite, who served as the anchorman for the CBS Evening News, was arguably one of America's most trusted men during his era and famously choked back tears when breaking the news of President Kennedy's assassination and made waves when he declared that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.

Walter Cronkite was the anchorman of my early childhood, and since the family tradition was to watch the evening news while eating dinner (I still think this was highly educational and developmental for me, regardless of what the "dinnertime for famiy conversation only" pundits say), it was Walter Cronkite that delivered the news to our family.

He obviously had quite an impression on me as a young tyke, because when I was in kindergarten, our teacher, Mrs. Weinthal asked us for words that started with the letter "W". After my classmates and I ran through words such as "walk", "wet", and "wind", I thought really hard and blurted out "Walter Cronkite".

Mrs. Weinthal was apparently so impressed that she told my parents about this episode. To game the system, I'm going to get Daniel to memorize "Katie Couric".

Friday, July 17, 2009

Defending the Sanctity of Marriage by Staying in One

The movement for the "defense of marriage" has been a hot topic of late, and much of it revolves around the debate between the legalization of gay marriage. While I resonate a great deal with efforts to uphold marriage as something that is sacred and foundational to the health and well-being of children, families and ultimately, society, I appreciated a recent editorial penned by an outgoing state judge which confronts the attack on marriage on another front - the prevailing culture of "disposable" marriages.

The author, Leah Ward Sears, speaks eloquently about her own family views of marriage and how, both as a judge and as a sister, she had a front-row view to the devastation wrought by the rending of families. She gives a even-keeled discourse on the existence of legal divorce as a necessary evil, while at the same time pulling no punches about the carelessness inherent in making such grave decision so casually, when there are grave consequences for other human beings, especially the children whose lives are turned completely upside down. She criticizes the callous disregard for others, almost as if the death to the ego-centric former self, as I had written in a past post, never came along with marriage and parenthood as it should have.

And is our society actually making the problem worse? Sears writes:
This may sound like heresy, but I believe the United States and a host of Western democracies are engaged in an unintended campaign to diminish the importance of marriage and fatherhood. By refusing to do everything we can to stem the rising rate of divorce and unwed childbearing, our country often isolates fathers (and sometimes mothers) from their children and their families.
I'd say that's probably true. And regardless on what your position is on gay marriage, we can all agree that stepping up to the responsibilities inherent in healthy marriages should be something that is encouraged. In a culture where financial success and career development are seen as worthy mountains to climb no matter the pain and sacrifice involved, there isn't a sufficient parallel societal message that encourages us to keep commitments to make every effort to make a marriage work - even at the expense of career ambition or other self-focused goals.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Our Workplace Bottled Water Controversy

Since 2004, my workplace has provided a nice perk of free bottled water in our pantry. I believe that it came in response to many people ordering bottled water for themselves on the company's tab. Buying in bulk was cheaper, after all, and given our healthcare company background, it would seem reasonable to encourage more drinking of water given its health benefits. Some egghead probably argued that if free bottled water increased water consumption and thus better health and thus less absenteeism leading to $X millions in saved labor productivity, it was worth us having the water.

As the years went on, colleagues have wondered when this perk would be eliminated based on the presumably high cost. While we surely weren't being charged $1 a bottle, ample supply to quench the thirst of 5000 or so on a daily basis seemed like and expensive proposition. But while other perks slowly disappeared, the bottled water stuck around.

Recently, I had a friend visit me at my office, and he refused my offer of bottled water on ethical grounds, citing the environmental damage associated with the packaging, creation, and disposal (even if recycled) of bottled water. It's something that I wasn't completely unfamiliar with. A number of articles have been written citing the negative environmental impact, with pithy examples blasting the harm that Fiji-brand bottled water commerce inflicts upon Fiji's ecosystem.

A small but growing group within our company are beginning to question the rationale of our free bottle water benefit, resulting in a survey sent to all employees in our location gauging comparable willingness to drink water that was filtered from the tap, from a water fountain, or from a communal bottled water cooler. I can only assume that this is part of an evaluation from our site operations group to determine whether we'll stick with this.

In addition, placards were recently mounted on all pantries right over our stacks of bottled water with facts and figures about bottled water. Apparently, our site consumes over 2400 bottles of water per day or more than 600,000 bottles per year. And then came the impact figures, such as the 1000 to 2000 time increase in energy consumption over tap water, and the incremental oil consumption due to American bottled water consumption - enough to fuel three million cars for a year.

Finally, the placard extolled the virtues of New York City tap water, which was lauded as among the best in the world. So good, in fact, that companies are exploring opportunities to bottle it and sell it on the open market.

But what didn't happen was an announcement that the company would stop providing free bottled water.

It seems to be taking a page from a form of evangelical outreach: I'll lay out the facts for you and I'll tell you the ramifications of each choice. The choice should be fairly obvious at the end of the day, but go ahead on choose what you will. And a cynic might add: you'll just feel really guilty if you choose wrong.

I still drink the bottled water.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Judging Judiciously

As I was writing a previous post on hypocritical judgment, it dawned upon my that there is a often an unhealthy extreme in the other direction, which is the failure to speak prophetically in warning to those who a erring in their ways.

In the South Carolina governor Mark Sanford's admission that he had an extramarital affair, he was skewered in the media, and appropriately so - to commit adultery is both sin and still considered a violation of a social norm. Liberal-leaning columnists were particularly vicious in their treatment of Sanford, citing that his championing of family-values stood in contrast to his misdeed. For example, Karen Heller, a columnist from the Philadelphia Inquirer blasted as Sanford as a hypocrite, and then turned her guns towards the Republican Party:
Finally, it's time to concede that organized politics and religion are seriously flawed bedfellows. The Republican Party is in free fall partially for trying to stake impossibly high moral ground, then falling far below it, whether in an airport bathroom or on a hike on the Argentine love trail.
Certainly Sanford's affair is inconsistent with the family-values that he champions politically, and yes, there's hypocrisy there. What I find a little troubling is the implication that people, including politicians, shouldn't call people and broader society to high moral standards which we all acknowledge are hard to achieve. Or put another way, some columnists would argue that unless you can live a sinless life, you're in no position to encourage larger society to live free from sin. Or put another way, "I'm okay, you're okay, and nobody should impose their moral standards on anyone else."

People, ironically non-religious types, often cite the Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, lest ye be judged" as a weapon against moralists, especially evangelical Christians to "stop telling other people how to live their lives". But that's a gross misinterpretation of the verse. The rest of the passage appeals us to take the plank out of our own eye so that we can remove the speck out of others'. The passage doesn't say "everyone is okay, so leave them alone." The passage acknowledges, yes, there's actually dirt (sin) in one's eye (life) and we need to get that out. It's just much more effective if we do our best to remove our sin as well. This bears true practically as well - when confronted about sin, I've taken it much better from one who acknowledges their own struggles and failings than one who confronts self-righteously.

It's much more of a call towards humble love in discipline, not a judgment-free society.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Recently while putting Daniel to bed, I had sternly admonished him to take prayer seriously (he was giggling and saying 4-year-old-type irreverent things), and expressed my dismay that he either wouldn't or couldn't think about things for which to give thanks to God. In the midst of my admonishment and subsequent discipline, I felt the Spirit appropriately reminding me of the Matthew 7:1-5 passage warning against hypocritical judgment.

It's not that I shouldn't correct Daniel - it's proper for me to do so, and to not do so would be a failure in my responsibility to shepherd his heart. However, I should do so with the reality that I - like Daniel - am very much a work in process, and thus my discipline must be one of shared grief and hope that we both are in the process of sanctification, not of indignant self-righteousness.

I don't take prayer seriously enough. The lack of urgency to pray, the duration and frequency of my prayers, and the weak content of my prayers reveals that. I am not nearly as thankful as I should be for what God has given me. I do not acknowledge sufficiently the depths of his grace and blessings. These sins I share with my son - it's just that I'm more savvy at hiding it and faking it.

I think we need to pray for each other.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

At That Cost, She Could Hire the Bands to Play Live

In a case of major overkill, a federal jury recently ordered a woman to pay $1.9 million for illegally downloading 24 songs from the Internet. The article is unclear about the breakdown of the fine, though it seems that given the 99¢ cost of each song on iTunes, to have a punitive component 80,000 times the value of the of the asset seems a little over the top. I'm not a lawyer, but I don't believe fine for shoplifting a Thomas the Tank Engine (a $10.99 value) toy train would be around $880,000.

I remember the days of Napster back in the 1999-2001 when downloading was rampant. It coincided with the explosion of broadband access in universities and I remember the screeches from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) that its industry was absolutely doomed if illegal downloading continued. I'm not going to fault them for crying "Chicken Little", but they rightly changed their business model by moving their assets to the digital marketplace (iTunes and Amazon, for example) and the industry is holding course. Yes, there were parallel actions taking in terms of shutting down rampant illegal downloading, but the key to success was mostly around providing a reasonably price point where customers were willing to pay.

It's fair to say that illegal piracy still occurs. But it's been driven underground to a level of technical complexity (and illegitimacy and fears of downloading malware) that most people would rather just fork over the 99¢. Fines of $1.9 million don't serve as a deterrent as much as make people question the sanity of the judicial system and the heavy-handedness of the RIAA.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Challenges and Joys of Fatherhood

A few weeks ago, my good buddy sent over a "belated" Father's Day musing which I thought was phenomenal and captured the emotional angst and joy of fatherhood perfectly. It's rare to find words which resonate feelings that are so difficult to describe, so I'll give props to Andrew Peach, who apparently was the author of these words. Here's the excerpt that my friend sent that hit my like a bag of bricks:

Most fathers-to-be suppose that their old ego-centered lives will continue more or less unabated after the child arrives. With the exception of a few more obstacles and demands on their time, their involvement with their children is envisioned as being something manageable and marginal. Nothing like a complete transformation—an abrupt end to their former life—really enters men’s minds.

But then the onslaught begins, and a man begins to realize that these people, his wife and children, are literally and perhaps even intentionally killing his old self. All around him everything is changing, without any signs of ever reverting back to the way they used to be. Into the indefinite future, nearly every hour of his days threatens to be filled with activities that, as a single-person or even a childless husband, he never would have chosen. Due to the continual interruptions of sleep, he is always mildly fatigued; due to long-term financial concerns, he is cautious in spending, forsaking old consumer habits and personal indulgences; he finds his wife equally exhausted and preoccupied with the children; connections with former friends start to slip away; traveling with his children is like traveling third class in Bulgaria, to quote H.L. Mencken; and the changes go on and on. In short, he discovers, in a terrifying realization, what Dostoevsky proclaimed long ago: “[A]ctive love is a harsh and fearful reality compared with love in dreams.” Fatherhood is just not what he bargained for.

Yet, through the exhaustion, financial stress, screaming, and general chaos, there enters in at times, mysteriously and unexpectedly, deep contentment and gratitude. It is not the pleasure or amusement of high school or college but rather the honor and nobility of sacrifice and commitment, like that felt by a soldier. What happens to his children now happens to him; his life, though awhirl with the trivial concerns of children, is more serious than it ever was before. Everything he does, from bringing home a paycheck to painting a bedroom, has a new end and, hence, a greater significance. The joys and sorrows of his children are now his joys and sorrows; the stakes of his life have risen. And if he is faithful to his calling, he might come to find that, against nearly all prior expectations, he never wants to return to the way things used to be.

Reflecting upon this transformation, it must be concluded that virtually all of the goods that fatherhood has to offer originate outside of or are only tangentially related to the will and rational planning of a father. All of the Norman Rockwell moments in fatherhood—watching a son cleanly field a ground ball or a daughter sing in the school choir—are real, overpowering, and ultimately not of a man’s doing. In some nominal sense, of course, men give consent to be fathers, which is to say that they willingly hold their post while a swarm of unforeseen contingencies relentlessly comes their way. If they choose not to escape this form of bondage, most fathers, I would hazard to guess, would rightly regard themselves as “the luckiest men alive.” In their hearts they know that the goods of fatherhood are among the highest available in this life and that those goods are principally the result of forces—tradition (and perhaps even Providence?)—outside their rational plans.

But in our unconstrained age, tradition is, at best, a quaint relic, a lifeless curiosity gathering dust in an unfrequented museum. At worst, it is synonymous with oppression, the destructive force that brought us slavery, misogyny, and imperialism. Seeing farther now than our ancestors ever did, we are no longer burdened by the prejudices of the past or bound by promises that linger long beyond the point of their initial inspiration. We are now entering a brave new world, where marriage is easily dissolved before it becomes tyrannical, where parenthood is the product of choice not mere biology, where reproductive technologies allow us to have the children of our own making, and where fathers have finally earned the hard-won freedom to follow their dreams and leave their children behind.

That's great stuff. As a relatively new dad, I completely resonate with the (often unwilling) death of ego-centrism in my life. Much of this death is painful and admittedly comes with its share of bitterness and resistance. But by God's grace this transformation, like many aspects of sanctification, begins to bear great fruit of joy. The burdens become privileges, and as the author states: "And if (the father) is faithful to his calling, he might come to find that, against nearly all prior expectations, he never wants to return to the way things used to be."

He closes with a cautionary look into our present and near-future, in which I feel there is a subtle call to action. The wonderful qualities inherent in the institutions of marriage and parenthood are being cast away as outmoded and even worse, oppressive. Let's hope that as our great society marches forward that the importance of family is not marginalized or left behind. I hope and pray that I do my part by being the best father and husband that I can be.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Celebrating Independence

The fourth of July is an interesting holiday, in that we are commemorating the independence from a country that today is arguably our closest ally. We enjoy a special relationship with them as Americans which makes watching scenes of Mel Gibson butchering British redcoats in "The Patriot" somewhat awkward. Umm... should we be cheering an American killing people who helped establish our nation and our closest current allies? Watching an Australian actor portray an American killing English soldiers is emotionally confusing.

Many years ago I had asked a friend from the UK what British expats living in the United States did during the July 4th holiday. "We sulk," he joked - at least I think he was joking.

Certainly we're not the only nation that celebrates independence, but there's something distinctly about the American holiday. I wonder if the "independent spirit" is so often considered an American attribute. I'm not sure that's necessarily a compliment. Even if it's intended as such, I'm not sure if it's a good thing.

I wonder if over time, the independent spirit of America has involved from a focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and "can do" attitude to an anti-interdependence spirit, which isn't the same thing. Has our society put too high a premium in the refusal to engage in deeper cooperation with others, the bravado associated with "Lone Ranger"-type attitudes, and a general disdain for community good? Has independence become an isolationist trait where people have no regard for the impact of their words, actions and decisions upon others in society? Is the spirit of independence no longer "can do", but "I'm going to do whatever the hell I want?"

Friday, July 3, 2009

Athlete Caught Using Steroids, Dog Bites Man...

In another earth-shattering development, another athlete was suspended for violating a league's performing-enhancing substance policy. The most recent case involves New York Jets linebacker Calvin Pace, who in a burst of originality cited that he had innocently taken a dietary supplement and was shocked to find out that he had he inadvertently taken an illegal substance. In a show of remarkable character, Pace will selflessly submit himself to the justice of the league despite absolutely no intent to do wrong on his part.

I'm being sarcastic, for those of you who can't tell.

Pace said the suspension stemmed from his use of an over-the-counter dietary supplement that contained a substance he did not know violated the policy but acknowledged that "I am responsible for what I put into my body and I should have paid closer attention to the League's guidelines. I regret that this has happened and apologize to my teammates, the entire Jets organization as well as the fans."

I just wish some of these athletes would release more honest statements such as "Yeah, I was trying to cheat so I could gain an unfair advantage over others. I'm bummed that I got caught, and I'll have to be more careful to use more masking agent in the future. I'm disappointed that I'll be suspended, largely because those games come out of my paycheck."

Now that would be novel.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"I'm Smug and Self-Righteous Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC..."

While channel surfing this past week, I caught Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC doing one of his patented "hidden camera" confrontation shows. After taking on pedophiles. con men and identity thefts, Hansen is taking on an assortment of bad guys in Las Vegas, such as pimps. Now I find the crimes of pedophiles, identity thieves, and pimps absolutely detestable, so I wonder why my dislike for Chris Hansen almost equals that for the perpetrators of these crimes when I watch these shows?

Hansen really bust into the scene with his "To Catch a Predator" series, where he partnered with Perverted Justice to lure pedophiles into a home to have sex with an underage child. The "bait" kid asks the enthusiastic pedophile to wait in the kitchen while he/she "gets ready", and then Chris Hansen walks in to confront the pedophile and proceeds to humiliate the guy by interrogating him and often catching him in lies around his intentions, armed with sexually provocative transcripts of past instant message chats. When Hansen has sufficient footage of him making the guy squirm, he lets the guy leave the house where he is taken down by waiting members of the local police force. His other series around identity thieves and Vegas bad guys are more or less variants of the same schtick.

So having established that I'm not a big fan of criminal activity, what is it about Chris Hansen that rubs me the wrong way?

I wonder if it's his smug and self-righteous confrontations, where he seems to enjoy almost too much that he's caught a bad guy sticking his hand in the cookie jar. Maybe it's his bravado which seems false, confronting bad guys with tough talk with the knowledge the local police are monitoring their verbal exchange through the hidden cameras should the perpetrator decide to pull a weapon of come out swinging. Maybe it's the fact that Hansen and "To Catch a Predator" cohorts have already been accused by many of taking shortcuts in judicial due process if they can get the dramatic effect they want.

Maybe it's the reality that as grave as these crimes are, Hansen seems to believe strongly that they are worthy of national public humiliation beyond criminal persecution, with him being the face of justice. He has become the face of righteous indignity, and I wonder should he ever make a terrible mistake to do something scandalous (e.g. cheat on his wife) or commit a crime, would he still feel that his trial and shame should be held in full view of television viewers all over the world? Can Chris Hansen cast the first stone?

Maybe even worse, his purported outrage against these crimes might be totally insincere, and he's simply a hack journalist which has conceived of a notion that people are voyeurs who will boost the ratings of a network when they can see an acceptable form of vigilante justice. Maybe he could care less about these crimes or their victims. He just wants to know that NBC can keep guarantees to their advertisers that they have sufficient share of the 24-49 adult demographic.

Again, I'm not a fan of pedophiles, identity thieves and Sin City criminals. But there's something unclean (although admittedly alluring) about Chris Hansen's work.