Posts Tagged ‘Olympics’

Tom Wolfe, LSD, Orange Hair and Me

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

By Bob Gaydoskool-aid-book

I have been in a funk since Nov. 9. That’s the day I woke up with the realization that millions of Americans had lost their minds, if not their souls, and elected a man who is morally, psychologically, intellectually and spiritually unfit to be their president. The dumbest thing that has happened in my lifetime.

I stopped writing.

Finally, in desperation for inspiration, I turned to sports and that great philosopher, Reggie Miller (older Knicks fans can boo now.) For younger fans of the National Basketball Association, think Steph Curry. Shooters. Scorers. What do great shooters do when they are in a shooting funk, when everything seems to clang off the back rim or fall inches short of the basket? They keep shooting. They don’t pass the ball to someone else. They shoot themselves out of the funk.

Swish!

Now, I am not saying I am in the same class as a writer as Reggie and Steph are as shooters, but I have been writing for a long time and I think I have some skills so I figured the instincts would kick in once I started.

So instead of writing, I started reading. Tom Wolfe. Purely happenstance. I picked up some used books at the library because my son, Max, was looking for reading material. Short stories. He wasn’t interested in Wolfe’s “Hooking Up” and I had never read it, but had really enjoyed his “Bonfire of the Vanities.” So I ventured in. I quickly remembered why I liked him.

Then happenstance melded into serendipity. My partner and I watched “The Right Stuff,” the movie based on Wolfe’s book. Enjoyed it. There’s more. The last essay in “Hooking Up” detailed Wolfe’s assignment, with Jimmy Breslin, as the first writers/reporters for the Herald Tribune’s Sunday magazine, New York.

My favorite newspaper as a teenager and my favorite magazine. I grew up reading Breslin and, as it turns out, Wolfe. After a brief, there’s-no-way-in-the-world-I-want-to-do-this-the-rest-of-my-life flirtation with engineering, I started writing. In more than 50 years, I have only stopped for brief intervals. Going with the universal flow, I went back to the library and picked up a couple more used Wolfe books, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and “A Man in Full.”

By the way, this is by way of answering those sympathetic friends who have asked me what I’ve been doing since The Dumb Event. For one thing, I’m trying to do things that make me feel better, things I can control.

… But let me digress.

To all those who pooh-pooh the Russian election connection, who doubt the Kremlin hacked into Democrats’ e-mails and released them in an organized effort to elect You Know Who and who further doubt that Vladimir Putin had anything to do with it, I turn again to sports and the biggest story that got lost in the election — Russia’s decades-long government-sponsored program to cover up the use of performance-enhancing drugs by virtually all its Olympic athletes.

A report recently released by a Canadian lawyer, Richard H. McClaren, who works for the World Anti-Doping Agency, confirmed it all. McClaren and his team made short shrift of Russian denials. Medals were repossessed. Athletes were banned. A Russian official involved in the program said the direction came from the top. In Russia, there is only one top. This is the Russian way, or at least the Putin way. Of course he knew about the steroids. Of course he knew about the hacking. No Russian would dare do either without his approval. Not if he didn’t want to wind up with poison in his vodka.

… So where was I? Right, reading.

I’m learning much more about Ken Kesey and the acid/pot/speed hippie freaks of the ‘60s than I ever intended to. The meaning of life on LSD.  It’s a good read. I found it especially interesting how Kesey came to write “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Nothing like first-hand experience. I just started the book, so there will likely be more on this later.

What else? I started looking for local issues I might be able to help out with since I believe change starts close to home. I’ve also recommitted to my off-and-on interest in photography. Living in an especially scenic area of the Hudson Valley, it works well with my inclination to report on what’s going on around me. On my travels the other day, a farmer walked his cow across the road right in front of me, casual as could be. Nonchalantly, I missed the shot. But I know where he lives. Gotta keep shooting.

… Speaking of nukes, Putin recently said he wanted to beef up Russia’s nuclear weapons capability. Our soon-to-be Twitter-in-chief knee-jerkedly responded that he planned to do the same with the United States’ nuclear armaments and that no one would be able to keep up with the U.S. in a nuclear arms race. Be still my patriotic, tax-paying heart. Robert Reich, a voice of sanity on social media, reported the above and asked, “What do you think?”

Robert, I think Putin is playing his puppet for the fool he knows him to be. I think all the Republican officials who applaud every time their “king” says something insane are shameless toadies. I think Putin is setting Orange Hair up to act like a big hero at a summit conference in which Russia and the U.S. decide to stop the war of nuclear words and de-escalate, rather than escalate, the nuclear arms race. In exchange, of course, for U.S. concessions. Drop those sanctions for grabbing Crimea. Hold back support for NATO countries that don’t pull their own weight. Let Russia handle things in Syria. Buy some Russian goods (whatever that might be). Don’t retaliate for Russia’s hacking. Stop criticizing Putin’s treatment of dissidents. Give him the respect, he deserves. “Da da, you understand that, my presidential friend, I’m sure.”

I think Putin wants to increase Russian influence over the world, not destroy it. He knows he can do that by pushing buttons and pulling strings.

I also think it would be beneficial to Americans if Ivanka revoked Daddy’s Twitter privileges and read some history to him every day and tested him on it the next day.

And finally, I think maybe I’m feeling a tad better, but the funk is not defunct. Sorry, Reggie, I may have scored a couple of points, but I think I have to keep on shooting.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

  

 

And So it Went: A Sports Fan Desperately in Need of a Back Page

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Usain Bolt, enjoying himself

Usain Bolt … enjoying himself

I started reading newspapers from back to front pretty much when I started reading newspapers regularly. Eleven. Twelve. Little League age. I should back up a bit here and explain that in our house having a half dozen or so daily papers stacked on a chair at the end of the kitchen table was routine. My mother was an avid reader of newspapers, a fact which baffles me to this day because she virtually never discussed current events. She had to be the best-informed, least-opinionated person I’ve ever known. Kind of the opposite of what we have today.

At any rate, among those daily papers were two New York City tabloids, The New York Daily News and The New York Daily Mirror. For a boy whose life revolved around sports, they were required reading and sports, of course, was the back of the paper, starting with the back page. The papers had great reporters, columnists, photos, everything necessary to keep a blossoming Yankee fan from noticing that other Yankees — American GIs — were fighting in a war in Korea. An uncle among them.

As I grew older, my interests broadened, as did my appreciation of good writing. The pile of papers at the end of the table grew taller proportionally. What once consisted of The Bayonne Times, The Jersey Journal, The Newark Star-Ledger, The News and The MIrror, gradually expanded to at varying times include The Herald Tribune (my favorite), the Journal-American, The New York Post and occasionally even the World Telegram & Sun. If there was a sports section, I found it. If it wasn’t the back page, it was still the back of the paper. Fun and games. Batting averages and touchdown passes.

No war. No politics. No crime. No scandal. Plenty of time to read about that other stuff later in the day. It helped me ease into my day even as I began to realize there were other supposedly more important topics to read about. Sports was always an escape valve from the petty annoyances and major disappointments of the rest of life.

Maybe that’s why sports reporters always seemed to be so content, regardless of what was happening in the world. They got to go to a sporting event free, write a story about and do it over again the next day. And get paid for it. Sweet. I had a brief taste of this in my journalism career as a sports editor in upstate New York for a year or so. The heaviest weight the world put on my shoulders was how to play Mark Spitz’s record haul of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. As fate would have it, I worked for a tabloid, so I splashed a big picture of Spitz, his medals and the headline, “The Magnificent Seven.” I thought it was as good as any of the New York City tabs could do.

Later, as editorial page editor at a different upstate paper for 23 years, I wound up writing about all the other stuff. Stuff I still write about today when I feel the inspiration, which of late has been difficult to come by. All of which is a long way of saying that, while I still turn to the sports page to start my day today, it’s not nearly the same. First of all, on the Internet there is no back page. More to the point, the sports pages are no longer a sanctuary from the social problems of the day.

One of the biggest sports stories recently was the “retirement” of Alex Rodriguez from the New York Yankees. A-Rod got $27 million to go away. You don’t have to honor your contract for next year, Alex; take the money with our blessings. Rodriguez, of course, was a central figure in baseball’s steroids scandal. He was suspended for a year for cheating. Why he felt the need to cheat is beyond me since he was regarded as one of the best players in baseball without enhancing his performance with drugs. Instead of marveling at his skills, which is, after all, what sports is all about, fans are left to wonder how much his statistics were inflated by steroids.

I watched a movie recently, “The Program,” which details the lengths to which Lance Armstrong (If ever there was a name for a sports hero, that was it) went to win the Tour de France — seven times. Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer, apparently knew he was good, but not good enough, to win the legendary cycling race, so he signed on for a regimented doping program from the outset, recruiting teammates for the lying and cheating that brought him fame and fortune and ultimate disgrace. He made the front page.

It’s not just drugs. Last week, a kicker for the New York Giants was suspended for one game because of an old domestic violence complaint by his ex-wife. One game. The National Football League has been plagued with domestic violence complaints for several years and has yet to figure out a consistent policy on dealing with them. Then again, the NFL also had trouble figuring out how to penalize teams that deflate the footballs.

Of course, the biggest sporting event of the year has been the Olympics in beautiful Brazil, with its polluted waters, corrupt government, and economic problems. The event began with the Russian track team being banned because of a government-sponsored doping program. It featured a medal-winning American swimmer, Ryan Lochte, claiming he and some teammates were robbed at gunpoint in Rio, when they actually had gotten drunk and trashed a service station bathroom.

This was all back page stuff, but hardly a diversion from the travails of the day. Hardly uplifting of the human spirit, as the Olympics likes to present itself.

But then … there was also Michael Phelps, still swimming despite two DUI arrests, and his record haul of medals. Also: the other USA swimmers, male and female; the women gymnasts; the basketball team; Yusra Mardini, the Syrian refugee who swam as part of an Olympic Refugee team; the female runners who collided, fell down, helped each other up and finished the race. Literally uplifting.

Finally, there is the face of this Olympics, at least for me: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt blurring to victory for the third time in the 100-meter dash, permanently retiring the title of “Fastest Human Alive.” Bolt actually took the time in a qualifying race for the 100-meters to glance back to see if anyone was gaining on him. No one was. He smiled. Wow! Now that’s a back page.

Bolt won three golds. Of course, the Twitterverse could not avoid the question of the day: What drugs do you think he’s on?

And so it went.

Dedicated to: Jimmy Breslin, Jimmy Cannon and Jim Murray.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

And So it Went: Two dysfunctional political families trying to survive

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

 

Hillary and Donald ... heads of the families

    Hillary and Donald
  … heads of the families

By Bob Gaydos

The week began with Donald Trump making inane remarks about always wanting a Purple Heart and arguing with a crying baby. It ended with the Olympics opening to a samba beat in corruption-plagued Brazil. But something else has been rattling around in my brain and I finally figured it out.

For the past decade, the two subjects I have written about more than any others are politics and addiction. While each has its own niche and relevance in the world, I always knew there would come a time when the two merged seamlessly into one. I just didn’t think it would take the most tawdry, depressing, insulting, downright embarrassing presidential campaign in my lifetime for it to happen.

But here we are, my fellow Americans, three months away from having to choose between two of the most disliked candidates in our nation’s history to be the most powerful person on the planet. In 12-step program language: We have become powerless over our political process and our lives are becoming increasingly unmanageable.

At first, I thought this was just a problem for Republicans, many of whom are faced with trying to figure out how to detach from their utterly unmanageable presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Al-Anon, a 12-step program for families and friends of alcoholics, talks of trying to detach from the alcoholic or addict with love. Love the addict, hate the disease, is the rationale.

However, the group’s members also acknowledge that sometimes it is necessary — for self-preservation — to “detach with an ax.” A few members of the Republican family have done so with Trump and more are in the process of getting up the courage to do so.

More on this in a bit.

What finally alerted me to the dual dysfunction of our presidential campaign — my moment of political clarity, if you will — was the FBI deciding not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, for her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.

But they cleared her, you say.  Yes, they did. No crime was committed, they say. But they also said she and her staff were incredibly careless and she showed poor judgment in creating this system, which could have compromised classified information. The FBI and State Department both said it did not, but what struck me was Clinton’s need to ignore established — secure — protocol and install a system over which she, at least theoretically, had total control.

This, I recalled, was not new behavior for Clinton. Her political campaigns — for the U.S. Senate in New York and for president — are famous for her efforts to strictly control and limit all interactions with the news media as well as to carefully manage her public appearances. Not too much mingling.

It’s almost as if, when she feels she is in total control of the situation, she feels comfortable, but if she is not, well, who knows what might happen? There is no trust

Why would any intelligent, capable, successful woman have trust issues?

How about a husband who was a serial philanderer? A successful, charming husband who cheated and lied and paid no serious consequences for his actions, no less. This could prompt some controlling, seemingly arrogant, behavior in anyone who opted not to detach, with love or an ax.

Hillary stayed with Bill and today she is the center of attention. He remains visible and is still respected by many, but obviously is no longer a threat to her peace of mind. He may simply have aged out of the erratic behavior. That happens a lot in dysfunctional families. The “non-problem” spouse no longer has to devote all her energies to making things appear to be normal at home; she really is running things.

So when the “kids” in the Democratic family – the Bernie Sanders progressives — started demanding that things have to change at home, she was able to at least listen. Whether she is able, or willing, to make those changes, however, remains to be seen.

It also remains to be seen if she can let down those protective walls and show voters a more human side. To continue the arms-length behavior only breeds distrust among people she’s also asking to like her well enough to give her their vote. It’s foolishly self-defeating behavior for a politician.

If Hillary can recognize that shortcoming and if she can grasp that, as head of the family now, she can let up on some of those reins of control and trust others to help her make decisions, and if she can learn to trust herself in non-choreographed situations, life in the Democratic household will be much more serene. Her life will be more serene.

If she cannot, Bill will still be around, but those Sanders kids are likely to leave home, even if it’s a beautiful, white mansion in Washington, D.C.

For Republicans, the situation is starkly different. Daddy Donald has gone off the rails. He listens to no one, says whatever comes into his mind, insults his allies and attacks anyone who isn’t nice (deferential?) to him. His addiction is the constant need for praise. Where is the next applause line coming from? His erratic behavior is not confined to the home either, but rather is out there for the whole world to see. His buddies in the bar love his one-liners. They think he’s a genius. “Hey, Donnie, you oughta go into politics.”

For the family back at home, it is beyond embarrassing.

As  Al-Anon teaches, those who stay with the addicted individual too long can wind up even sicker than the addict. Today’s Republican Party offers ample evidence of that as party leaders on the one hand condemn whatever bigoted, misogynistic, hateful, utterly stupid thing Trump has said that day and on the other hand continue to support him as head of the family. Shhh, don’t make daddy mad.

Rehab is out of the question. Trump listens to no one. The only healthy way out is to remove the addict from the house, or, as appears to be the situation here, to leave him and set up a new house.

That takes courage and, so far, few Republican leaders — indeed few of the rank-and-file — have shown any willingness to do this. Denial is a killer. Inevitably, the detachment must happen if the family is to survive. How much more suffering the Republican family must endure is up to them.

… And so it went.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

And So It Went … A Review of the Events of the Week

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

Ridicule, lie, insult, lie, mock, lie, bully, lie. Hate.

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

White, white, white, white, white, white, white. Hate.

God bless America. God bless Donald Trump.

She said/she said. She said she said/she said.

Ego, ego, ego. Lies, lies, lies. Fear, fear, fear. fear.

Hate.

For those fortunate enough to miss it, the preceding is my synopsis of the Republican National Convention, which dominated the news last week. This is by way of resuming my contribution to the Internet dialogue with a regular Sunday collection of events that piqued my interest, tickled my fancy or struck me as almost too dumb for words (see above).

For this first installment, I’m going back more than a week because the major media apparently had no time to report on anything but the white supremacist rally in Cleveland. So …

  • Mick Jagger is going to be a father,
    Mick Jagger ... proud papa to be, again

                              Mick Jagger
                 … proud papa to be, again

    for the eighth time. Gathering no moss (sorry), Jagger, who is a great-grandfather, will be 73 when the baby is born next year. Mom-to-be is a 29-year-old former ballerina, who is said to be quite content with her relationship with the Rolling Stones frontman, which includes everything but marriage, living together and Mick changing diapers. Mine not to judge. I was 50 when my first son was born, 52 for the second. But I changed a s***load of diapers. Also, vasectomies are safe.         

  • Interesting footnote that occurred to me as I researched Jagger: He has four children, aged 18 to 32, with his former partner, Jerry Hall, 60. She and Jagger split 17 years ago. Earlier this year, Hall, a former model, married media mogul and billionaire Rupert Murdoch, 85. There’s no talk of additions to their extensive families, but Hall chose a favorite site of her old Rolling Stones days for her honeymoon with Murdoch, who just seemed happy to complete the climb to get there. Draw your own conclusions.
  • The Russian track and field team was disqualified from the 2016 Olympics because of what was described as a state-sponsored comprehensive doping program involving the 2012 Olympics and other competition. (The International Olympic Committee, never known for bold action, decided not to ban the entire Russian team, leaving that decision to the ruling federation of each sport.) The sports world was not shocked at the news, but, responding on social media, Russian fans criticized the author of the report that fingered the Russian testing lab and government officials by saying he was a typically biased American. He was, in fact, a typically neutral Canadian academic. Denial knows no nationality.
  • Pokemon Go. Why didn’t I buy Nintendo stock two weeks ago? I have no idea how the virtual reality game works, but these people should be working for the CIA. Maybe they are. (By the way, there’s a Charmander hidden in this copy, which you can find if you buy the app. Only $1.99. See the e-mail below.)
  • The National Basketball Association moved its 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans. The principled move was a response to North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law, which is a classic example of the fear-based legislation proposed in the Republican platform at that hate-fest in Cleveland. Well-played, NBA.
  • Terry Collins, manager of the New York Mets, had the honor of managing the National League team in this year’s baseball All Star Game. He had two Mets on his roster for this exhibition of the sport’s best. Players consider it an honor to be chosen. They consider it even more of an honor to actually play and when your manager is the All-Star manager, you figure on having a good chance of getting in the game. Go figure. Bartolo Colon, at 43, the oldest all-star and a fan favorite, never got to pitch. Neither did Jeurys Familia, the Mets’ star relief pitcher. They were not happy, but politely kept it to themselves. Collins managed to get players from the 14 other teams in his league in the game, but said his guys were only going to be used in “special” situations that didn’t arise. Terry, Terry, Terry, the whole game was “special” and it didn’t mean anything in the standings. These were your guys. Special treatment would have been letting each pitch to a couple of batters.
  • Roger Ailes was fired as the boss of Fox News, by Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News. Ailes was shown the door
    Roger Ailes ... Fox boss no more

                                Roger Ailes
                         … Fox boss no more

    (with a hefty severance check) when Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox anchor, filed a lawsuit  against him claiming sexual harassment. Other females then joined in to say Ailes had behaved the same with them. The move by Murdoch was swift. (It’s good to be the king and a billionaire.*) It was also without much controversy, probably because Ailes is well-known as a thoroughly despicable person. He is, in fact, in large part responsible for creating the orgy of anger and paranoia reported at the top of this   column by molding Fox News into an organ of fear, bigotry, misinformation, disinformation, and hateful, negative, bordering-on-compulsive propaganda directed at Democrats, in particular Barack Obama, the first black American president, and Hillary Clinton, who, if there really is some method to all this madness will soon become the first female American president.

R.I.P. GOP. Lincoln rolled over in his grave last week. So did Eisenhower and Reagan. John Boehner cried. Paul Ryan lied. And so it went.

* With a nod to Mel Brooks.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Ali, Me and Two Guys Named Frank

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Frank Giannino (left) and Frank Shorter

               Frank Giannino (left) and Frank Shorter                                                                  photo by Bob Gaydos

Muhammad Ali was the most famous person on the planet for much of his life and mine. It’s possible that, even in death, he still held that distinction, even though he had long ago lost the physical skills that originally brought him to the world’s attention as Cassius Clay. He was young, brash and, in his own immodest opinion, “the greatest” at what he did.

What he did, of course, was “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” while making his opponents in the most brutal of sports, boxing, look foolish. As Clay, he was unquestionably the best — the heavyweight champion of the world. The title itself conveyed a measure of fame. But it was as Ali that he became most famous and, eventually, beloved and respected by millions.

Not by all, of course. He was human, with faults and flaws. But also, as it turned out, he was a man with deep-rooted convictions. He demonstrated them as Cassius Clay by refusing to report for the draft during the Vietnam War, declaring that he had no argument with the Vietnamese people and would not kill them on the orders of a government — his own — that had denied, and continued to deny, him and other blacks basic rights from the very founding of this nation.

He was threatened with arrest and imprisonment, with the loss of his boxing crown and, as he well recognized, with the loss of millions of dollars. “Lock me up,” he said. In the end, as Muhammad Ali, a Muslim, he won his battle in the courts, reclaimed his boxing title in the ring, continued to speak out against bigotry and became a symbol of courage and respect worldwide.

Ali died last week, at 74, largely the result of the punishment he took in the boxing ring by coming back to prove he was still the greatest. Having just turned 75 myself a few days earlier, I was thinking about Ali and what we do with our lives after a certain point, but more specifically, about people who achieve something special, something unique, something that, if you really think about it, should make you stop and say, “Wow.”

As fate would have it (pay attention, fate is always having it), I found myself at an event in my area that offered up two men in one high school sports arena who’d had their own “wow” moments — Frank Shorter and Frank Giannino.

To say they are both former long-distance runners would be like saying Ali had good footwork in the ring. Shorter started running to school as a young teenager every day, from one side of the City of Middletown to the other, and wound up winning the gold medal in the Olympics marathon in Munich in 1972, a feat credited by many with sparking the running boom in the United States. He followed up with a silver medal four years later.

Giannino, who, despite success, described himself as a “no-talent ultra-marathoner” in high school, went a little farther. Actually, a lot farther. In 1980, he completed what remains to this day, the fastest run across the United States: 3,100 miles in 46 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes. It’s still listed in Guinness; you can look it up.

Both men were in Middletown, N.Y., on a warm Saturday morning, encouraging young runners, the men’s mere presence a testament that special achievements can be as close as your next-door neighbor. Hey, if Frank could do it … Unlike Ali, both Franks excelled in a sport that allows its participants to age more gracefully and sometimes still enjoy it. But they have not rested on their laurels.

Giannino, 64, owns a running store and has shown that determination and discipline that took him across the country 36 years ago in organizing and promoting local running events for years. In fact, he was instrumental in resurrecting the popular running event at which we were all present. 

Shorter, 68, appears at running events and is a motivational speaker. But he has also served as chairman of the United States Anti Doping Agency, the independent agency which has a stated mission of being “the guardian of the values and life lessons learned through true sport.”

Shorter stepped down as USADA chairman in 2003. He has testified before Congress and written articles about drugs in sports. He says he is still involved “unofficially” in keeping sports clean. “I don’t want to sound mysterious,” he said, “but I’m still involved. What’s going on with the Olympics today is that they’re finally doing what they said they were doing years ago. … They told us they couldn’t keep samples for any length of time. Now look. …”

“I don’t do this for the recognition,” he added.

No kidding. Rooting out cheaters in sports is as popular in some areas (Lance Armstrong fan clubs for example) as refusing to report for the draft on moral grounds.

I guess my lesson learned here is that, whatever you do, whatever you may have accomplished, for as long you can, you keep showing up for life. You lace up your running shoes and stay true to your principles. And don’t forget to acknowledge people who do special things. It never hurts to hear a little “wow” once in a while.

I think I may have read that before. I may have even written it before. But wasn’t this much more enjoyable than politics?

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Memorable Moments in Sports, for Me

Monday, February 9th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Frank Shorter, left, and Bill Rodgers, racing to the finish line in the first Orange Classic.

Frank Shorter, left, and Bill Rodgers, racing to the finish line.

The Super Bowl has been lost, baseball has yet to begin. The basketball and hockey professionals are passing the time until June, when their championships will be decided. lt has snowed three Mondays in a row. It must be February, the time of year when a lot of sports fans turn their attention to another favorite pastime — talking about sports.

Forget the dropped passes and ground balls that rolled through an infielder’s legs; this is the time of year I like to remember the good stuff, the memorable stuff, the stuff that makes someone a sports fan in the first place.

I found myself wandering into such a conversation the other day. What was the best single athletic feat ever? The greatest athletic accomplishment? Too arbitrary and prone to record-book chasing, I decided. For my February reminiscence, I’m going with the moments in sports that left an indelible mark on me — the tImes when I experienced something in person or on TV and went, “Wow!,” if just to myself.

The hope here is that you readers will share your own special moments in sports so that we can have an old-fashioned Hot Stove League discussion. Mantle-Mays-Snider? Montana-Unitas-Brady? The “Immaculate Reception?” Willis Reed’s entrance? What special moments in sports are still with you?

  • I’m starting my list of most memorable moments with an effort I have often called the best single performance by any athlete — Secretariat’s 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes in 1973. In winning the Triple Crown and dominating the best of the rest of the three-year-olds, he set a world record time for the 1 1/2 miles distance – 2 minutes 24 seconds. Awesome. Check it out on YouTube.
  • Also in the category of “can you believe it?” was a more recent display of excellence in the moment — Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit on July 9, 2011. With all the baseball world waiting for the hit that would guarantee the Yankee captain a plaque in Cooperstown, Jeter just wanted it to not be an infield grounder that he beat out. No worry. He laced a home run into the left field seats at Yankee Stadium, trotted around the bases with a big smile on his face and proceeded to go five-for-five, including hitting the game-winning single in the eighth inning. Then there were the dives and the flips, the final hit, etc. A memorable career in toto.
  • Willie Mays, another New Yorker, of earlier vintage, was also a player who rose to the moment. I have plenty of special memories of Willie, including a day at the Polo Grounds in the 1950s when the Giants’ center fielder hit three triples in a double-header (they used to play them for the price of one game). I can’t find anything on Google to confirm this, but that’s how I remember it and I’m sticking to my memory.
  • Since this is just my personal recounting of memorable sports moments, I have never seen anyone better than Mickey Mantle at dragging a bunt past the pitcher and getting to first base before the second baseman got to the ball. Every single time.
  • When it comes to pure excellence, for me the performance by 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal is in a class of its own. The tiny Romanian gymnast scored the first perfect 10 for a gymnastic event at the Olympics and added four more perfect scores that year while winning three gold medals and dazzling the world TV audience. Since the scoreboard makers didn’t think a 10 was possible, they only allowed for a 9.9. Four years later, there were updated scoreboards in Moscow.
  • The fastest I ever ran was in 1956, sprinting home six blocks from Bayonne High School, where we had been listening to the game on transistor radios, to see the final outs of the Yankees’ Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. On our black and white TV. It’s the highest Yogi ever leapt, too, I think.
  • In 1981, the Times Herald-Record newspaper sponsored the first Orange Classic, a 10K race around the City of Middletown. It invited local hero Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic gold medal winner and 1976 silver medal winner, and his chief rival, Bill Rodgers, Boston and New York CIty marathon champion, to headline the event. They did not fail to deliver. The two turned the corner on the final stretch of the race well ahead of the field, running neck and neck for more than a quarter mile as the crowd cheered. Shorter edged Rodgers out at the end. It was as perfect a finish as the crowd could hope for and, no, I’ve never thought Rodgers held back because it was Shorter’s hometown. A truly classic moment.
  • The Miracle on Ice. I admit it. I was swept up with the rest of the crowd chanting, “USA! USA!” when a team of American college all-stars defeated a team of Russian professionals, 4-3, in ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Winning the gold medal that year was almost an after-thought for the American team following that emotional upset. An unforgettable moment.
  • Finally, a purely personal moment that came far from any athletic venue. In 1973, while covering a sports-related conference in Binghamton, N.Y., I shook hands with Jackie Robinson and told him what a pleasure it was to meet him. It was more than that. It was memorable.

***

That’s it. Just a few moments that have nourished my love of sports over the years. I’d really like to hear some of yours. C’mon, folks, it’s February. The Knicks are dismal, it’s snowing and the Stanley Cup final is months away. Reminisce with me.

 rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

The Fruits of Obama’s Syria ‘Defeat’

Thursday, September 19th, 2013
President Obama ... his Syria policy may be more than it appeared to be

President Obama … his Syria policy may be more than it appeared to be

By Bob Gaydos

In the category of Things Are Never Quite the Way They Appear (especially in international diplomacy), I give you what many “pundits” regard as President Barack Obama’s humiliating defeat in getting Syrian President Bashar Assad to: 1. Admit that his country, contrary to all his previous claims, has a stockpile of outlawed chemical weapons; 2. Agree to promptly provide an inventory of those weapons and 3. Turn the weapons over to a United Nations delegation for the purpose of destroying them all by next year..

This humanitarian feat, which will save countless thousands of lives, was accomplished without firing one missile in righteous anger or placing one set of American GI boots on the ground in the midst of Syria’s brutal civil war. Stay out of Syria is what a solid majority of Americans said they wanted ever since Obama broached the subject of a punishing strike against Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people. It is also what most Republicans in Congress insisted they wanted, contrary to their usual position on military intervention, but consistent with their policy of opposing anything Obama proposes. In this case, to the president, Republican motives didn’t matter; end results did.

This is strictly my opinion. I have no special insight into White House strategy, no one leaking me information on the president’s intentions. Rather, I have my own version of common sense and what I believe is a willingness to judge events by outcomes rather than political bias.

One of the things I believe may not necessarily be as it appears — or as many critics would have it be — is the president’s intent. I do not believe Barack Obama is so dumb as to submit a proposal to Congress that he wants passed if he knows it will be defeated. He is a biracial man living in a racist country who earned degrees from two Ivy League schools — Columbia and Harvard Law, where he was editor of the Law Review. He got elected president. Twice. Having made history, he also has guided the country slowly out of a devastating, largely Republican-created recession and got a health care plan for all Americans through a Congress that can barely agree to meet. This is one smart man (although I think his “red line“ on chemical weapons was a tactical mistake).

So, I have serious doubts that the president ever intended to launch a military strike against Syria, precisely because of the opposition he knew existed among average, war-weary Americans, as well as entrenched anti-Obama, rank-and-file Republicans. He signaled that when, after days of threatening a strike, he agreed to ask Congress to debate and vote on the issue, without even asking members to cut short their vacation to do so. That made the proposal DOA, with even many Democrats opposed to U.S. involvement in Syria because of their constituents’ opposition to it.

Ironically, with the disarmament agreement now being finalized with Syria and Russia, Obama’s continued threat to use military force if Syria fails to comply with the agreement gains much more validity and support among Americans than his original threat. Assad has admitted he’s got the weapons. French, British and American experts, as well as Human Rights Watch, say, based on a United Nations report, that there is no doubt it was Assad’s troops, not rebel forces, that used them. The U.S. Navy’s continued presence in the Mediterranean Sea now takes on even greater import to Assad.

Then, of course, there is the disarmament agreement itself. Americans are strongly of two minds on this:

1. One group, that didn’t necessarily want to attack Syria, nonetheless thinks it is embarrassing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting credit for the plan and that he lectured Americans (in the New York Times no less) about thinking they had to act as morality policeman of the world.

2. Another group feels it is high time America stopped acting as morality policeman of the world, focused on domestic issues instead and enlisted other countries’ help in finding diplomatic, rather than military, solutions to international crises.

I don’t think Obama cares that Putin is getting most of the credit for the chemical weapons agreement. I also don’t think the agreement just sprang into Putin’s head in a dream one night. In fact, Russian officials have acknowledged such a plan was discussed months ago with American officials. Just as Obama is no clueless patsy in this, Putin is no hero. He is no champion of human rights and Americans shouldn’t really pay serious attention to what he has to say about life in the U.S.

In fact, Russia has been the main supplier of arms for the Syrian Army, enabling the civil war to drag on and produce more than 100,000 deaths and a flood of millions fleeing their country. But it is precisely for the link with Syria that Putin had to appear to be the primary force behind the non-military plan.

Of course, this helps Putin gain even more political stature at home. As mentioned previously, Obama has been elected president twice. He cannot run again. His place in history is forged and his future as a statesman guaranteed. But Putin has an Olympics coming to his country next year and has stirred worldwide condemnation for Russia’s anti-gay laws. I wouldn’t be surprised if Russian authorities were tolerant of demonstrations supporting gay rights next winter or if Barack Obama were among the world leaders being most vocal about demanding such behavior. And, while he won’t show it, I don’t think Putin will regard his apparent backing down on gay rights as a “humiliating defeat” on the international stage.

Meanwhile, a major store of chemical weapons will be destroyed, a potential threat to Middle Eastern neighbors of Syria will have been removed, rebel forces in Syria will know they don’t have to fear facing such weapons, not one American soldier will have set foot in Syria, not one Syrian citizen will have been listed as collateral damage in a strike by American “smart” missiles, the United States will have shown cynical countries that it really can use diplomacy, rather than military might, to resolve a crisis, Assad will have been shown to be a murderous liar, Putin will have had some of his Lone Ranger image stripped away in international diplomacy, President Obama, counter to his image in some corners as a reluctant warrior, will have appeared to be willing and eager to use U.S. military power, and Republicans will have emerged as a party opposed to war. By the way, the overwhelming majority of Americans support the non-military resolution of the Syrian crisis.

Humiliating defeat my ass..

bob@zestoforange.com

Putin on Gays: A Russian Fable

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos 

Russian President Vladimir Putin ... some of his favorite Russians were gay.

Russian President Vladimir Putin … some of his favorite Russians were gay.

There’s an old Russian proverb that goes something like this: “How do you know when the president (prime minister, czar, party chief) is lying? His lips are moving.”

OK, so it’s not an old Russian proverb, but you get the gist. Today, it means if Russian President Vladimir Putin is speaking, the words emanating from his mouth are subject to change at any moment according to whatever he thinks will best suit his ultimate goal. That goal seems to be to consolidate his grip on power through whatever repressive measures he can get away with while pretending to support democratic principles of government.

So when Putin says, for example, that there is no discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia — despite recent passage by the Duma of a law banning any public mention of homosexuality that could be construed as propaganda supporting it — one can assume it’s a lie. One can further assume that he thinks he has a good reason for making what common sense declares to be a bunch of bull.

That reason, of course, is the looming presence of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort city of Sochi and Putin‘s desire to avoid a boycott of the games and/or worldwide condemnation of the Russian law and measures that might be taken to register protest against it. There are hundreds of millions of rubles at stake and Russia can ill afford to lose any of them. So don’t worry, folks, in keeping with the Olympic spirit that forbids discrimination of any kind, there will be no discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia during the Olympics, Putin says,

Afterwards? Well, that’s another matter.

And that’s what needs to be remembered. In Russia, Putin faces no serious challenge to his words from a free, vigorous press (he’s worked hard at squelching that) and, in this case, most likely has the support of a majority of Russians. In a country with a poor history of tolerance for minorities, few are going to point out any inconsistencies between his words and actions regarding homosexuality in Russia, during and after the Olympics.

President Obama, angry that Putin granted temporary asylum in Russia to Edwin Snowden, who made public voluminous files on the U.S. government’s efforts to spy on ordinary Americans and also upset that Putin has resisted taking military action against Syria for use of chemical weapons against its own people, canceled a meeting with Putin in Russia during this week’s G20 summit. Instead, Obama met with gay activists in Russia, a double insult.

No sweat for Putin. He softened his stance on Syria and said some of his favorite Russians –Tchaikovsky, for example — were homosexuals and yet are still loved by Russians. Whatever suits his need at the time, the former KGB chief will say, usually with a smile.

The anti-gay law has led to calls to boycott the Sochi Games, but such actions always hurt far more than their intended target. In this case, thousands of athletes — including countless gay athletes — who have worked for four years for this honor would be denied what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Gary Kasparov, former world chess champion and an outspoken Russian critic of Putin, says there are other ways to protest. In an interview with Huffington Post, he says the protest are not about the athletes, but rather “about Putin and his repressive regime.” He says world leaders (presidents, diplomats, royalty, etc.) should boycott the games, denying Putin their implied support for his policies and perhaps weakening his resolve to pursue similar ones.

Kasparov also thinks Olympic sponsors such as Coke, McDonald’s, Visa and other major companies should recognize the views of their main customers and express opposition to the Russian law by adorning their products with rainbow flags or other symbols of support for gays. And he says NBC and other broadcasters of the Games should use their freedom and their platform to do stories about, not only the anti-gay law, but other repressive measures taken by Putin. A little press freedom in Russia would not be such a bad idea.

Admittedly, a boycott of the games would be dramatic, but would likely only stiffen Putin’s us-against-the-world resolve and not sway Russian citizens, a difficult task under any circumstances. Moving the games from Sochi (now under martial law) is impractical given time constraints. That leaves broad public condemnation of Putin and education of the Russian public — by previously mentioned means and the use of social media — as the most effective way to make Putin eat his words. It may also wake up the Russians and make him less likely to pursue future oppressive measures.

There’s another old Russian proverb. Something about sleeping dogs and lying. OK, it’s not Russian, but you get the gist.

 

Didn’t ‘You People’ Get the Retweet? We’re All ‘Anglo-Saxons’ Now

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Ann Romney/Photo illustration by Samuel Wynn Warde

By Emily Theroux

Across the digital divide that polarizes online political adversaries into two camps — “libtards” and “wingnuts” — the Leftie cyber-rabble prowled the #Interweb, brandishing “twitchforks” and calling for Marie “Ann”-toinette’s head. The #TwitterRumble went down shortly after Ann Romney called all those pinkos “you people” on national TV.

On Twitter, clashing hashtags trended ever higher — among them, #MittHatesThisHashtag (because, e.g., “he can’t make it stop asking for his tax returns”) and #YouDidn’tBuildThat, a gag line favored heavily by @Reince, @GOP, and @NRCC, the last of which tweeted this zinger: “We didn’t build this tweet. Somebody else made that happen.” (No one said conservatives couldn’t ever be clever — as long as you remember to count out #Wittless Mitt, whose brain has remained “severely scrambled” ever since Eric Fehrnstrom ran corrupted Al Green files from iTunes during Mitt’s last #Etch-a-Sketch erasure.)

I haven’t found a similar hashtag yet for Willard’s imperious wife — although #YouPeople think of everything, even #FreeStuff ! Here’s a good one — Dogs Against Romney @Grrr Romney: BREAKING: Dogs across America have volunteered to help Mitt Romney find his tax returns (photo). http://pic.twitter.com/jCKNeIMH #YouPeople aren’t #Anglo-Saxon.

Back to Lady Ann, who lost her patience in a very public forum over yet another request that #The Mittholder release more tax returns. At first, Ann played along when Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts grilled her about money (which is so tacky!). The couple’s’ philanthropic donations, she conceded, consist of  a modest 10 percent standard tithe to their church (chump change for the fabulously wealthy.) “Do you think that is the kind of person that is trying to hide things, or do things? No,” Ann asserted, as if someone who “gave back” so bounteously couldn’t possibly ponder a little #BarelyLegal tax avoidance, if not white-collar shenanigans, to make back his investment in the hereafter.

 

What Ann Romney said next dripped entitlement

Then Roberts pried just a tad too long, and Ann lost it.  “We’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and … how we live our life,” she snapped.

The Cybertubes lit up like a Roman candle over what virtually everyone heard her say. Like Ross Perot 20 years earlier, Ann Romney had apparently had the execrable taste to utter the words “you people” (the subject of a longtime movie meme, “What do you mean, ‘You People’?) — and even worse, she said it to an African-American TV anchor. (Whether her intended target was “you media people” or “you class warmongers” became grist for the late-night irony mill.)

Mrs. Romney stumbled a little over the tactless taunt, almost choking back the “you” part, but I, for one — along with Joan Walsh of Salon.com, several bloggers, and countless anonymous comment posters — definitely heard the “ooh” sound after the “y–.”

Even with the “you” left out, her statement dripped entitlement. She sounded snarky, put-upon, rude, and arrogant when saying her husband had disclosed quite enough, and nobody was getting a single page more.  As of the latest count, at least 20 prominent conservatives and a National Review editorial begged to differ. All of them called for the very arrogant Romneys to release their tax returns for multiple years. “There’s no whining in politics,” said Republican strategist John Weaver. “Stop demanding an apology; release your tax returns.”

 

The cardinal rule of blog threads: ‘Never feed the trolls’

One extremely persistent “fib-flogger” spent the weekend haunting the Salon comments section, repeatedly posting  some variation on the following theme:  “Pardon me? This article is based on Joan Walsh’s claim that Ann Romney used the term ‘you people’ during an interview. ABC, the network that actually did the interview, reviewed the tape, and it’s (sic) verdict: ‘Our ruling after reviewing the original audio is that she did not include the you.’ And The New Yorker agrees. Joan Walsh was wrong. Joan Walsh should apologize. See how simple that is?”

I really did try to refrain from posting a reply, but it was a losing battle. I ended up storming the rhetorical Bastille with a rant that I’m hoping might have pleased my late father, a professor of symbolic logic and the philosophy of science:

I see how simple it is, and that’s the problem. Your argument is fallacious.

The flaw in your reasoning is that you continue to assert that ABC’s decree about what Ann Romney said was a matter of fact, not self-serving opinion, and that Joan Walsh was therefore wrong — even though ABC had neither the objectivity nor the omnipotence to make that stubborn little word, however badly it was enunciated, vanish into the ether.

Your implication that because the interview was hosted by ABC, their “verdict” must be correct, represents a “false attribution to a biased source.” Tacking on another media outlet’s opinion offers evidence that you are additionally making an “appeal to authority.” (If a big TV conglomerate and a glossy magazine say so, they must know better than we mere mortals do. That would make them the final arbiters of empirical truth — which is complete nonsense.) Opinions are like ***holes; everybody has one.

(FYI: Each time you repeat this post, you include, “And The New Yorker agrees.” It wasn’t The New Yorker; it was New York magazine. Please, before copying and pasting yet again, correct your template.)

 

No hiding Mama Romney’s ‘Leona Helmsley’ snobbery

Ann Romney’s attitude came across loud and clear, whether she said “you people” or, as New York magazine suggested, “(stumble) people” — which reminds me of Rick Santorum’s pathetic attempt to convince his critics that he really said “blah” people, not “black people,” the last time Republicans tried to backtrack when one of their anointed “misspoke.” (This Old English term has, since the Watergate era, been appropriated by politicians caught making demonstrably false statements they soon live to regret — not because they didn’t mean whatever weasel words they used, but because all those people who are now howling in indignation about such “untruths”  might actually have voted for these idiots, had they simply kept their lying mouths shut).

Mitt Romney is running for president, not Holy Roman Emperor; he has no “divine right” to unilaterally change the conventional rules about what information voters are entitled to see — at least not if he wants to win. If the Romneys have nothing to hide, then why have they remained so adamant about concealing their financial records from voters in every election since Mitt’s failed 1994 attempt to take down Teddy Kennedy?

Sorry to have to break it to you, Princess Ann, but if your husband wants to be president of all of the people, “how you live your life” is probably going to be more of an open book than a permanently sealed ledger of potentially dodgy financial dealings, stashed in the offshore bank vault where you both deposited what was left of your moral compass so many moons ago.

 

Crikey! Romney adviser makes racial ‘gaffe’ in London

This just in from across the pond: The Atlantic Wire, ThinkProgress, and Slate have reported that an unidentified Romney foreign policy adviser made an astonishing observation about his boss to Britain’s Daily Telegraph: “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that ‘the special relationship’ is special. The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” So Mitt’s “special” — and frankly, #WeAreGobsmacked, as they say in the Old Dart.

The Telegraph warned readers that the adviser’s statement “may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity,” as this obvious diplomatic neophyte suggested that “Mr. Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr. Obama, whose father was from Africa.”

The Romney campaign’s reaction to The Telegraph’s story was categorical denial. “It’s not true,” declared Romney’s press secretary, Andrea Saul, in an email to CBSNews.com. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Gov. Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”

As you might have expected, Saul “did not comment on what specifically was not true” — or whatever became of that hapless policy advisor, who must have come down with the equine epizootic from flying over in cargo with Ann Romney’s dancing horse. Hysterical at the thought of Rafalca having to tangle with Edward Gal, the gay dressage champion, the poor sucker didn’t know what he was saying. (Can’t say I’ve seen him around the Olympic stables lately, either.)

 

And the rest, comrades, is revisionist history!

One intolerant cretin who spoke his mind in the comments section of The Atlantic Wire story actually had the cojones to inquire:  “Does the writer have no clue?  Romney’s adviser was speaking of the long historic ties between the U.S. and the U.K. which Obama has downgraded. … What is racist is denying the fact that the U.S. was settled primarily by English followed by other Europeans who remain the overwhelming majority.” (I wouldn’t be so sure about that; 2040 and the demise of “majority-white ‘Amercia’ ” is just around the corner, if we can make it past 2012 without a second Civil War.)

Of course, Genius-Boy just couldn’t resist topping off his #ReverseRacist shout-out with: “The multiculturalists may want to change this fact by flooding these countries with Third World immigrants but that doesn’t change history.”

“You know what’s really clueless?” I asked him (rhetorically, of course, as I would hate to run into “his kind” some night in a dark alley). “Denying the fact that President Obama is also ‘part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage.’ The president is a 13th-generation direct descendant from genuine Mayflower Pilgrims, as Anglo-Saxon as someone with your prejudices might ever feel comfortable meeting — including his maternal ancestor, Deacon John Dunham of the Plymouth Bay Colony.

“Can Mitt Romney say that? Can you?”