Saturday, April 08, 2017

Baby Steps

In our impatient world, people understandably want to see excellence, they want it clearly manifested, and they want it now.   But excellence is a rare bird.   Progress, more often than not, comes incrementally and in camouflage form.   Still, when it does arrive, it is worthy of note.  Allow me to cite a couple of examples from the past week.

     Give Donald Trump Credit 

That’s right, you heard me.  Give Donald Trump credit.   Syria has been gassing its citizens again, and finally, an American President stepped in and said “enough.”   Let me translate that for you:  Arab lives matter.

From listening to MSNBC, you wouldn’t know that Trump did anything right.  That channel would no more praise Trump for anything than Fox News would criticize Bill O’Reilly.   But if you take a step back from the incessant Trump criticism – much of it well deserved – you might recognize some very reassuring developments on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  First, Mr. Bannon has been removed from the National Security Council.  Second, notwithstanding all the “America first” rhetoric and all the “Trump is Putin’s Minion” mockery, our President authorized a slew of missiles to be launched against Putin’s puppet regime in Syria.  This doesn’t look like the act of an isolationist or an Alt-Right ideologue.  It looks like the act of a humanitarian who says “the hell with our parochial interests, we can’t just sit back and watch as innocent people are poisoned to death.”

Last evening on my way home from work, I was listening to WPFW, Washington D.C.’s station “for jazz and justice.”  The DJ, Garland Nixon, lambasted Trump for striking back at Assad’s airfields and playing the “world’s policeman.”  Speaking as a “progressive,” Nixon said that America has no right to intervene in other countries’ business when our own interests are not being threatened.  Really?   Is that what progressivism stands for?  The duty to stay away from the next World War long enough to enable the next Hitler to slaughter six million more Jews?   Because if that’s what progressivism means, sign me up for the neo-con alternative.  

Believe me, I’m no fan of war.  I still haven’t forgiven the Democratic Party – let alone the Republicans – for the insane misadventure known as the Iraq War.  But sometimes, a humanitarian disaster reaches a point where the United States can no longer justify sitting back and doing nothing.  Syria has more than reached that point.   As the nation with the most powerful military in the world, the United States is uniquely positioned to beat down a bully that uses chemical weapons.  No, I’m not suggesting that we take over Syria the way we took over Iraq, but I am saying that just as our military can do too much in Syria, we also can do too little.  In fact, we have been doing too little for too long.  Give Trump credit for taking that first baby step away from the ideology of isolationism (and America first-ism) and toward global humanitarianism. 

    Yes Virginia, Women Can Play Golf Too

This weekend, the eyes of the sports world will be focused on Augusta, Georgia and arguably the most beautiful golf course on the planet.  You hardly need to be a golf fan to love Augusta in the spring.  You need only appreciate trees, bushes and the occasional pond.  It’s truly gorgeous.  The fact that the best golfers in the world will be whacking balls beside these pines, oaks, magnolias, and azaleas is but a bonus.

In comparison to Augusta National, the golf course at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California is merely pedestrian.  Similarly, the quality of golf that was played there last weekend is not as high as we would expect from this weekend’s Masters.   Not surprisingly, the women who were competing at Mission Hills were relegated all weekend to the Golf Channel (and its fringe audience) because a men’s tournament was being played at the same time and, as everyone knows, men’s sports is still the “king” when it comes to the ratings. 

Well, I’m proud to say, I was part of that fringe audience watching the Golf Channel last weekend.  This was, after all, the first major tournament of the year, and I’d rather watch a major women’s tournament than a minor men’s tournament.  The overall quality of play might not be as good, but the quality of the drama is far better -- and besides, those top LPGA players are still amazingly skilled.  They might not drive the ball as far, but they can putt, chip, and hit a short iron with deadly accuracy.  If you’ve never watched them, give these ladies a chance – you won’t be disappointed.  

Last Sunday, with only about six holes to play, the LPGA tournament turned to the theater of the bizarre.  American Lexi Thompson was making her way to a decisive victory at Mission Hills when a sheepish announcer told the TV audience that Thompson would be assessed a massive four stroke penalty for inadvertently placing a ball literally one inch too close to the hole on a two-foot putt.   For those of you who follow football, that’s like being assessed a three touchdown penalty in the fourth quarter for inadvertently lining-up offsides.  What’s more, the infraction happened a day earlier.   Some Einstein noticed it on TV and reported it to the tournament officials, who then assessed Thompson a two stroke penalty for her innocuous ball placement and an additional two stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard.   As it turned out, that four stroke penalty was just enough to kill her chances.  Her three stroke lead immediately turned into a one stroke deficit, and even though she valiantly fought back on the last several holes to force a playoff, she lost on the very first playoff hole.    

Like most golf fans, I was livid when I watched this spectacle unfold.  I was pissed at the rules of golf that apparently allow for no “prosecutorial discretion” or make room for a de minimis/immateriality threshold.  I was pissed at the obsequious Golf Channel announcers who didn’t dare wax indignantly about the sickening bureaucratic rigidity that was on display (Howard Cosell would have screamed bloody murder).   And I was later annoyed at Thompson’s Korean competitor who took the customary plunge into the pond as if she deserved to win the tournament when, in fact, this was a robbery worthy of Jesse James.  But days later, I realized that perhaps this was all for the best because at least people now are talking a bit about women’s golf.   Decades of exquisite play hasn’t put the sport on the map.  Maybe it needed those Kafkaesque officials to remind the sports world that women play golf too. 

Thompson may have hit a loose putt on the 18th and a loose iron on the first playoff hole, but her part in this drama was nothing short of magnificent.  After she was hit with the absurd penalty, she proceeded to nail birdie after birdie – all the while fighting off tears.   And then, once she lost, she just went about her sportsmanlike business -- signing autograph after autograph.   She never whined.  Instinctively, she must have understood that that this was a teachable moment, and the lesson was all about class.  Perhaps she also recognized that being the top-ranked woman golfer in the United States at the tender age of 22 is probably a decent enough consolation prize.  

Thompson has already won one major tournament, and something tells me that more championships are yet to follow.  Plus, given what happened last week at Mission Hills, more people will be watching.  And besides, golf is just a game.  Chemical weapons – either using them or turning a blind eye when others use them?  Now that’s real life.   

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