Friday, April 30, 2010


Last week, we examined why Americans shouldn’t so easily tolerate the use of the medium of television to show the way the Prophet Muhammad looked or spoke. But this week, I’d like to address some comments that were even more offensive than anything that has been aired on South Park. I can’t even repeat these comments without shaking my head in disbelief. They are a perfect example of one human being treating another purely as an “It” instead of a “Thou.” Indeed, it is difficult to envision a clearer instance of how mere speech can strip a human being of his humanity.

I’m referring to an incident that occurred during a meeting between a football player, Oklahama State wide receiver Dez Bryant, and Jeff Ireland, general manager of the Miami Dolphins. At the time of the incident, Bryant was just a kid with a dream. He had finished his college football career and was attempting to entice an NFL team to draft him. One of the teams that expressed interest in Bryant was the Miami Dolphins. Therefore, when it came time for Bryant to sit down with Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland, it’s not hard to imagine who had the power in that relationship. Bryant was desperate to make a great impression so he could realize his lifelong goal: to become a professional football player. And Ireland knew that he could say just about anything he wanted to Bryant and continue to be treated with the utmost respect and deference.

So here’s the question that the well-heeled white businessman, Mr. Ireland, popped to the poor young black man, Mr. Bryant: Is your mother a prostitute?

If you don’t know anything about football you might think that Bryant would have responded by popping Ireland in the mouth. Nobody would have blamed him if he had. But in the context of a pre-draft interview, Bryant could not possibly do anything to insult Ireland and lessen his chances of becoming a Dolphin. “I got really mad, really mad,” Bryant later told a reporter. “But I didn’t show it.” Presumably, he answered “no” to the question and Ireland continued along with his “due diligence” interrogation as if no boundary had been crossed.

After he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant revealed the conversation to the media. Needless to say, it caused many a jaw to drop and many a finger to point in Ireland’s direction. And here was Ireland’s obligatory response: "My job is to find out as much information as possible about a player that I'm considering drafting. Sometimes that leads to asking in-depth questions...Having said that, I talked to Dez Bryant and told him I used poor judgment in one of the questions I asked him. I certainly meant no disrespect and apologized to him."

It sounds so matter-of-fact, doesn’t it -- like he overslept, was late for a meeting, and was attempting to explain why. But at least there was some expression of regret. Here’s how the Dolphins’ owner, Stephen Ross, characterized the incident: "As an owner of many companies and organizations, including the Miami Dolphins, I have always strived to comply with the highest standards in all aspects of my businesses including recruiting. In interviewing employees we always look to obtain relevant and appropriate information in adherence with the best industry practices."

Is Mr. Ross single-handedly attempting to disapprove the hypothesis that human beings have a soul? Perhaps so, because his comment epitomizes what it means to be soulless.

If this were The Godfather, you’d know exactly how Michael Corleone would explain Ireland’s little gaffe: “it’s not personal, it’s just business.” And in fact, that pretty much sums it up. Ireland is a businessman doing the job he was paid to do. Bryant had a “history” and apparently, so did his mother. And the Dolphins were considering whether to invest millions of dollars – not to mention their first round draft pick – in his future. Understandably, they felt the need to evaluate his character.

Fine. But what can you possibly learn about someone’s character by asking whether his mother is a prostitute? Besides, even if she were a prostitute, why in hell would you expect her son to tell you? If Ireland knew anything about Bryant’s cultural background, he would have realized that Bryant would have rather been called a “nigger” ten times than to address Ireland’s question. You just don’t mess with a man’s mother. You just don’t.

In the title of this post, I framed this issue as one of free speech. Implicitly, that suggests that I don’t think Ireland’s question is the kind of offense that should earn him criminal prosecution. But isn’t it ironic that while Ireland has yet to be disciplined by the NFL, that same league is constantly fining players for the way they celebrate touchdowns? Consider, for example, the many times that Chad Ochocinco has been billed for “excessive” celebrations – such as the $30,000 he had to pay for putting on a poncho and sombrero on the sidelines. If Ochocinco had to pay $30,000 for his statement, Ireland and his team should be socked $30 million for his.

Clearly, something is amiss in the NFL. When you can’t dance on the sidelines after a touchdown, but you can ask gratuitous, degrading questions about someone’s mother, methinks that we’re talking here about an abuse of power. And I’m not the only one who sees this abuse in the context of race. The image of black people celebrating on the sidelines – humorously and creatively, in many cases – shouldn’t bother anyone. But who can help be offended when a prospective white employer can, with impunity, make a poor black kid practically lick his boots during a job interview? I’m not one to yell “racism” at the drop of a hat, and yet this incident easily crosses the line. The implication is that Bryant and his mother weren’t people, but rather commodities, and Ireland felt free to poke and prod them however he pleased in order to evaluate the merchandise. Sound familiar?

Is Jeff Ireland really a racist? Might he have asked the same question to Dez Bryant if Bryant was a poor WHITE football player? Since I don’t know Ireland, I couldn’t possibly answer those questions. But they are not the most important ones, now are they? The focus here should not be on Jeff Ireland or Stephen Ross. It should be on how it is that our society produces so many Jeff Irelands and Stephen Rosses. It’s not just in the world of sports, either. It’s all over the world of business -- and yes, in Government too. These days, too many powerful Americans feel free to say and do whatever could possibly advance the interests of their company, their political party, or their own careers, regardless of who they have to step on along the way.

Yes, you’ve got to “crack a few eggs to make an omelet.” But you never have to ask anyone if his mother is a prostitute. And when we’ve reached the point where respectable people are doing just that, it’s time to take a breath and reassess. The NFL can and should take this opportunity to celebrate its Players, not its Suits. Let ‘em dance on the sidelines. Let ‘em wear their socks as low or high as they like, and stop fining them when they fail to tuck in their uniforms. And most importantly, start drafting up policies to reign in abusers like Ireland. When all is said and done, we want him to feel honored to be able to interview Bryant, and not the other way around. After all, Bryant is the one with all the talent.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


When I was a teenager, there were few inviolate principles among my friends, but this was one of them: as long as you express yourself in the form of a joke, you can be as tasteless as your imagination or your memory allows. Bathroom humor? The best! Racist humor? A close second. Gay jokes? Talk about mother’s milk.

How about Holocaust jokes? Yes, my friends and I were aficionados of those too – the sicker the jokes, the harder we laughed. (And no, this isn’t something that makes me proud.) There was a point where I couldn’t think of a pizza without hearing the line in my head about what makes a pizza different from a Jew -- it doesn’t scream when you put it into the oven. And then there was that line about how many Jews you can fit in a Volkswagen – four in the seats and six million in the ashtray. That one was told on a number of occasions.

Yeah, I remember those days. Funny, but as an adult, I don’t hear that trash so much any more. I guess that’s what growing up is all about – we learn not only that there’s more to life than off-color jokes, but we’re thankful for that fact. And this is precisely why we all need to reflect a bit before taking on the topic that so many people are talking about this week – South Park’s decision to edit out scenes depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a bear mascot costume.

You’ve presumably heard the story by now. A website called posted a statement saying “We have to warn Matt and Trey [South Park’s creators] that what they are doing is stupid. They will probably end up like Theo Van Gogh [the murdered Dutch filmmaker] for airing this show.” And what happened as a result of this thinly-veiled threat? The suits at the Comedy Central network, valuing the lives of their employees, decided to cut the scene at issue.

So what was the general media reaction? First of all, it is de rigueur to point out that only a savage would threaten violence to someone merely for poking fun at religion in the form of a cartoon. Secondly, some have complained that by removing the references to Muhammad, Comedy Central is guilty of encouraging terrorism; once people know that this kind of threat can be effective, why shouldn’t terrorists threaten violence whenever they want to get their way about something? But the reaction that I found most interesting was the one presented on what is probably my favorite current TV program: Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. While the segment will derive its notoriety primarily from its ending, a choir singing “Go Fuck Yourselves” to, what I found most notable was the way the segment began. Stewart, in one of his self-congratulatory moments, played a montage of Daily Show jokes at the expense of religion – jokes aimed at Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists … even the Amish – with the point being that making fun of religion on TV is itself a holy enterprise, and who the F are these “Revolutionsmuslim” people to tell us that we have to stop.

My take on this situation is different than Stewart’s in some respects, and similar in others. Obviously, the folks at are indeed savages. Violence is NEVER an appropriate response to humor, however tasteless that humor might be. It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist, or Jon Stewart for that matter, to figure that out.

In addition, Stewart is surely correct that there is something sacred about the ability to use humor to take on even the most sacred of cows. It’s called freedom of speech. And it, perhaps more than any other principle, is what has made America great over these past 2 1/4 centuries – and why censorship dens like the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, or Plato’s Republic are so offensive to us. Those of us who appreciate freedom of speech are going to have to understand that, like all liberties, this one comes with a price: no matter who you are, there’s going to be some speech you’re not going to like. In other words, to live in a free society, everyone is going to have to be offended now and then.

Still, when I watched Stewart’s glib montage of religious jokes, I couldn’t help but wonder if he wasn’t missing a major part of this story. I’m referring to the following: not all religious jokes are equally offensive, some are simply off-limits when it comes to a nationally televised program, and the creators of South Park really are pushing the envelope a bit too far.

It’s one thing for Stewart to get on TV, feign a Yiddish accent, and tell some lame joke about a circumcised penis. It’s another to tell the one about the Jew and the pizza or the number of Jews in the Volkswagen. Somehow, I don’t see Stewart having the balls – or the insensitivity – to laugh about mass genocide at the expense of his fellow Tribesmen. And what do you bet that the creators of South Park also know not to head too far in that direction?

I also don’t see any of these comedians being stupid enough to depict the Virgin Mary having anal sex, or the Buddha having 69 with a snaggle-toothed prostitute. Do you like those images? Just think about what they’d look like, uncensored, on national TV. Even the creators of South Park know that such “jokes” would legitimately enrage their audience.

As in sports, so as in comedy: we all operate within boundaries. Teenagers may not appreciate that fact, but adults understand that there SHOULD be boundaries, because some things truly are sacred, and once they become the butt of jokes, you remove what little sense of the holy is left from our society.

Now I can imagine what you’re thinking. “Is this guy crazy? Is he actually equating a pornographic depiction of the Virgin Mary or the Buddha having kinky sex with a cartoon showing Muhammad simply talking?” Yes I am, at least in the sense that all three are simply beyond the pale as a subject for a television program. If Jon Stewart doesn’t appreciate this point, perhaps he needs to spend more time studying Islam, and less time chuckling at the brilliance of his own humor.

Harsh? Perhaps. But just because I wouldn’t threaten violence about this topic doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously. And this is because I have spent some time thinking about precisely why people are not permitted to depict Muhammad. Stated simply, he didn’t want to be deified -- he didn’t want to be treated as a “Son” or “incarnation” of God, and he was afraid that if people could depict him visually, or mimic the way he spoke, he would turn into another deity. Frankly, he had a pretty darned good point, if you ask me.

If Islam stands for one thing, it is that the people of Abraham need to reclaim their monotheism. They need to revere not merely the Name but also the Unity. This isn’t to say that Trinitarianism is pointless, for there is a lot to say in support of it, but worshiping a concrete human being isn’t one of them – that is one of the central points of agreement between Jews and Muslims.

In Christianity, by contrast, it’s not such a faux pas to depict God the Father – Michelangelo depicted part of his hand on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. And as for depicting Jesus, there isn’t a person in America who doesn’t know exactly what he is supposed to look like and doesn’t have a pretty good idea of how he spoke. (I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t like a professional wrestling promoter.) But when it comes to Muhammad, we haven’t a clue. That is because, at least until now, non-Muslims have had the class to respect Muhammad’s request not to turn into another Jesus.

Jon Stewart wouldn’t dare start depicting Muhammad. He knows that he would immediately be cited for extreme insensitivity toward the Islamic faith, and he would have no possible response but to apologize for his ignorance. So if it’s not OK for Stewart, the comedian, to do it, what makes it so tolerable for South Park? It’s either within the bounds of adult comedy (like the difference between a Jew and a canoe – a canoe tips) or not (like the difference between a Jew and a pizza).

In short, before a person can understand how insensitive a joke is to a particular group, they have to understand the sense of the sacred adopted by that group, and not merely the conventional mores of their own (secular) society. If South Park’s creators understood that point and spent some time learning about Islam, they would realize that what they were trying to do went too far. The shame of it is that had terrorists not entered the equation, nobody would have stopped them.

Thus, the real problem here is not that the suits at Comedy Central didn’t have the balls or the wisdom to stand up to terrorists, but that they didn’t have the balls or the wisdom to stand up to the creators of South Park. It’s fine if those guys want to mock Islam in the privacy of their own homes, but we don’t need them to supply the nation with a perspective on how Muhammad spoke or looked. Let’s keep that a mystery … and more importantly, let’s remind ourselves WHY Muhammad needed to make it a mystery. Like everything else in that faith – and I’m talking about true Islam here, not the pseudo-Islam that has been hijacked by terrorists – the real point is not to teach us to revere Muhammad, but to teach us to revere Allah.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


A week ago Friday night, Rebecca, my 17 year old daughter, arrived back in the States after nearly two weeks in France. She had various stories to tell about the beauty of the country, but what struck me the most was what she had to say about how “chill” she found the French to be. According to Rebecca, the French don’t simply view their leisure time as a way to recharge their batteries. They place a lot of care on preparing the proper meal and then relishing that meal, together with the conversation that goes with. But the difference between the two cultures isn’t just about mealtime. “They spend more time on EVERYTHING” than we do in America, she said. Everything, that is, except for work. We seem to be obsessed with that facet of life, reasoning that it and it alone defines who we are. Stated differently, work is what we Americans take seriously, whereas the French apparently place equal, if not greater, value on what people do with their time when they are completely free to choose how to spend it.

I sighed upon hearing that description of the two cultures because it didn’t speak well for my own. Thinking back to college economics classes, I was reminded about how rational economic actors value leisure time significantly. When American economists and statesmen talk about the health of our economy, however, they seem thoroughly unconcerned with the extent of our opportunities to enjoy our leisure. We Americans talk about our hallowed GNP or GDP in terms of “goods and services” produced, but somehow, leisure time doesn’t factor into our analysis. Thus, for example, an associate at a law firm who pulls in $250,000 per year is considered to be “doing well,” even if she has to consistently toil for 65+ hours per week in order to make that money. While that’s surely better than making 250,000 cents a year, all else equal, I wouldn’t exactly call that doing well. The law just isn’t THAT much fun.

Rebecca’s point was reinforced after she returned to school and was required to stay until 10:00-10:30 every evening rehearsing for the school musical. In America, that’s no problem – you still have plenty of time to study after you get home and before school starts at 7:25 the next morning. Sleep is considered a luxury good for high powered American high school students, which only makes sense when you think about it. If we don’t have any standardized test for it, and people don’t compete in it, it doesn’t factor into the “economics” of what we expect from our children. Some call that the American way. I just view it as a manifestation of flunking economics.

If I am correct that talented Americans are encouraged to work to the point where they sacrifice their mental or physical health, what can we do to change that dynamic? A lot of things come to mind, but I’d like to concentrate on a single suggestion.

One of America’s favorite leisure activities, which totally makes sense given how much we need to unwind after all of our hard work, is watching football. Given that the NFL draft is one week away, it makes sense that the gridiron would be on a lot of people’s mind these days. And one suggestion that I hear is getting increased traction is to expand the season from 16 to 18 games and reduce the pre-season from 4 to 2.

That sounds like it’s a fan-friendly suggestion, doesn’t it? Who wants to watch pre-season football? It’s more fun to watch a game that counts. For that same reason, the suggestion also seems to make sense from what people typically call an “economic” point of view – it would be easier to pack the seats, and increase TV ratings, for that 17th or 18th regular season game than for that 3rd or 4th pre-season game.

But here’s my suggestion. Let’s take into account that the top football players are destroying their physical health, not to mention reducing their cerebral activity, by playing 16 games a year in addition to the playoffs and their spot-duty during the pre-season. Do we really want to make the season even more onerous on their bodies (and brains) than it already is? Why not combine (a) eliminating the 3rd and 4th pre-season games and adding a 17th and 18th game to the regular season, with (b) precluding any individual player from suiting up for more than 16 regular season games. That way, you sell the most tickets possible but you do so in a way that’s gentle on the health of the players – both by eliminating the total number of games and by giving their bodies a chance to rest more during the season. As a side benefit, you also introduce a whole additional layer of strategy to the game, as coaches figure out when exactly to rest each player.

To me, it’s a win-win idea. And there are surely a million other things that can be eliminated, once we start broadening our notion of “economic” goods. What applies to football applies to the environment, workplace safety … you name it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Several days ago, while surfing the Internet – probably – I came upon a poll. I forget its precise wording, but it was something like this: “Should southern states commemorate Confederate History Month?” I didn’t give my response any thought – these Internet polls rarely deserve any thought – but merely reacted viscerally by clicking on the response that said “yes.” Then, I was shocked to see that 80 percent of the respondents had said “no.”

How strange, I thought to myself. Is this political correctness gone crazy? The confederacy is an important part of our nation’s history – and a particularly momentous part of the history of the south. Why shouldn’t it be commemorated? I’ve long since internalized the famous phrase of my fellow Spinozist, George Santayana, who penned “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” When visiting Richmond, you’re damned right I felt compelled to tour some of the Confederate shrines. History is history – why should we turn a blind eye to any portion of it? Besides, going to the Museum of the Confederacy isn’t exactly like walking into Dachau – but even if it were, I would have visited, just as I visited Dachau on my very first day in Germany.

After the shock had warn off that most people would rather forget the more unpleasant portions of the past (or at least that’s how I interpreted the poll), I started ruminating about what a Confederacy commemoration ceremony might look like.

I envisioned a political scientist explaining that on these shores, at the time the Confederacy began, people lived in the United STATES of America, whereas once the Confederacy was defeated, they lived in the UNITED States of America. Back then, people didn’t just demagogue about states’ rights. Back then, your state was your country.

I envisioned a sociologist discussing some of the unique cultural institutions and mores of the South in addition to the one everyone talks about – the literature, the architecture, the clothing, the food and drink, the manners, the pace. In short, I envisioned a tribute to what is commonly known as “Southern Charm,” something that any visitor to the region cannot help but notice even today.

And I envisioned a military historian discussing the Confederacy’s brilliant generals and their valiant troops. The historian would surely tell compelling tales about men like Robert E. Lee, who were schooled at West Point and yet were given no option but to fight against their old mentors and friends and on behalf of their own “country” (i.e., their beloved state). The Confederate Army did a masterful job to come close to victory against such steep odds. I’ve always admired their military leaders, and refuse to think of them in terms of their views on slavery. Besides, we know nothing about those views; we know only that these men were soldiers whose homeland was at war.

But yes, I also thought about slavery, and how pathetic an institution it was, degrading to the whites who owned them even more than to the blacks who served as slaves. Then my mind turned back to the soldiers who gave all they had for the Stars and Bars. According to researchers, only about 10 percent of them owned slaves and only about 20 percent of them expressed pro-slavery convictions. Like many other fighting forces in our species’ history, the Men in Grey were an army in which poor people fought to their graves to preserve the values of the rich. Of course it’s a sad commentary on the legacy of the Confederacy. But we all deserve to know about it – just as we deserve to know about the brilliance of Stonewall Jackson, or the appeal of the mint julep.

Now back to the poll in It couldn’t have been more than an hour or two after I cast my vote when I saw why this issue was suddenly in the news. Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell had recently declared April to be Confederate History Month. And to be consistent, I applauded his decision. Little did I know then, however, HOW he would make that declaration.

You’ve surely heard about the debacle by now. The proclamation issued by the Governor’s office had seven paragraphs, and not a single reference to slavery. When confronted with the omission, McDonnell responded that he included those issues that he felt were the most “significant” to his state, and that the goal of his proclamation was to promote tourism for that state.

A day later, McDonnell was in full damage control mode. He decried slavery as an “evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights.” But the damage was done. What should have been a hallowed activity, teaching about history, was turned into a cheap stunt to make money for the tourism industry. And if the way to get the job done was to literally whitewash that history, so be it.

For those who think McDonnell’s original explanation was a complete fabrication, think again. During the past week, the walls of the Washington, D.C. metro stations have been littered with advertisements taken out by the Virginia tourism industry. It truly is making a huge push to get the residents of D.C. and its suburbs to visit places like Lynchburg and Charlottesville, and in making that push, it is emphasizing the state’s history every bit as much as its natural beauty (both of which is incredible). As a student of Jefferson specifically and Virginia history generally, I applaud what the state’s tourism industry is trying to accomplish -- that is, until the Governor took his foot and jammed it all the way up his mouth. Better that we ignore history than that we distort it. Indeed, what McDonnell has done is taken an opportunity to honor his state’s name by facing up to its past, and instead applied the old adage that history is something that rich, white people feel free to manipulate to serve their own parochial agenda.

What this reminds me of is the debate as to whether the public schools should teach about religion. I’ve always sided with those who believe that religion is too important to be excluded altogether from the school curriculum and that it remains the obligation of the public schools to teach neutrally about religion. But at times like this, I am reminded of the admonition of those who say that if you give the teachers in the Bible Belt the right to talk about religion, they’ll abuse that right and indoctrinate people to become Fundamentalist Christians. I’m still not quite that cynical – I still believe that teachers all over the United States would generally rise to the occasion and respect the Constitution of the United States. And yet, two weeks ago, I also wasn’t so cynical as to believe that the Governor of Virginia could make a lengthy proclamation about Confederate History that leaves out that “non-significant” fact known as slavery. Don’t you hate it when the cynics are proven right?

Tomorrow, across the Potomac from Bob McDonnell’s Virginia, I am planning to attend a commemoration of yet another period of human history. Tomorrow is Holocaust Remembrance Day and my synagogue will be showing a film and engaging in a discussion to mark the event. Given my connections with the local Muslim community, I was tasked with approaching the mosque with whom we “twinned” last November and explaining why we needed a good turnout from the mosque. Yes, I told my Muslim friends that the Holocaust was such a powerful moment in history that everyone, Jew and gentile, needs to come to grips with it and to learn whatever lessons it has to teach us – politically, theologically, psychologically, you name it. But what I emphasized even more in hyping this event is that everyone can be assured that this synagogue will treat this hallowed topic with the kind of sensitivity and dignity that it deserves. Indeed, I analogized the task of putting on a Holocaust Day event with that of practicing medicine: “first, do no harm.”

As we look back to what the Washington Post Express has labeled the “Retreat in Richmond,” McDonnell’s mistake was not to take on the job of announcing a Confederate History Month but to do so in a manner that ignores the Hippocratic Oath. Santayana spoke the truth; we absolutely mustn’t forget the lessons of history. And the blacker the era, the more we must remember it. But taking on history’s darker periods is not easy. It requires adults who have proper veneration for what they’re talking about. For that reason, Bob McDonnell might want to leave the city of Richmond and head out a Charlottesville. Let him take the bus up that “little Mountain” known as Monticello, and go on one of those tours I never seem to get tired of taking. He’ll hear about slavery. It won’t get whitewashed. But he’ll also hear about a man who revered politics, economics, natural science, agriculture, anthropology, literature, philosophy, music, art, and yes, history. And then Governor McDonnell can contemplate how it could be that such a Renaissance Man could allow his beloved country, not to mention himself, to get so embroiled in “the peculiar institution.” That alone is a question worthy of a month’s contemplation.

Saturday, April 03, 2010


There’s a lot going on these days that I just can’t understand. Even when someone tries to explain them to me, I still shake my head in disbelief.

For starters, I don’t get Elin Woods. Why is she still living with the Cheetah? Does this woman have any pride? Does she not appreciate just how extensively her man betrayed her? We’re not talking an affair here. Or two. Or three. We’re talking about a hole for every hole at Pebble Beach – and probably not a terribly healthy hole at that. We’re talking hookers, porn stars, waitresses, sex in her bed, sex in church parking lots, violently sexual text messages … need I recount the list?

I read yesterday that Elin is upset that Tiger is going to play the Masters. Hello? This is what he does, lady. He plays golf. Would you rather he quit and spend his time, I don’t know, honing his texting skills?

If I treated my wife the way Tiger treated Elin, I’d like to think she’d Bobbit me. And if she did, and the case went to trial, I’d definitely expect jury nullification. Tiger is darned lucky that whatever violent urges Elin had apparently went away when he drove the car into the tree. If Elin could swear off the desire for retribution at that point, even if she never spoke to his cheating butt again, that’s a birdie for Tiger. The idea that she would not only stay away from violence but take him back into her own home … that’s not an eagle … that’s just nuts.

Secondly, when Tiger returns to the PGA tour next week, I’ll be rooting for him to win. How’s that for mystifying? I think he’s a lying, cheating, hypocritical scoundrel. But he’s an athlete who played for Stanford. So I’ll be rooting for him. Sorry, but I had to be honest.

I’ll get back to sports in a moment, but let’s talk now about something less civilized – world events. Start with the Pope. How do you go from being a member of the Hitler Youth, to someone who protects a priest who molests hundreds of deaf children, to being the so-called Vicar of Christ? I must have misunderstood the kind of credentials you need for that job. Perhaps the Cardinals figure that you need a sinner to speak about the value of eradicating sin – much like you might need a former drug addict to lecture people against drugs. So if the next Pontiff is a former Mafia hit man who dedicates his Papacy to stopping violence … just remember, you heard it here first.

Admittedly, as a Jew, I come from a people who can’t understand this whole celibacy thing. We don’t just condone sex, we encourage married couples to do the deed on Friday nights. You know – the Shabbat. When God rests, we engage in indoor sports … with the approval of the rabbis. The Catholic Church seems to think that such a celebration of the human body is unbefitting those who would attain true holiness. But look at the results.

I heard Chris Matthews, Patrick Buchanan and a Catholic woman talking on TV the other night about this latest Church scandal. And one of those talking heads was peddling some nonsense about how the 5 percent of the priests who molest children (or enable the molesters) are giving a bad name to the 95 percent who don’t. I couldn’t help but wonder how they came up with those numbers; it’s not like priests put the information on the Internet whenever they attack another boy. But what’s more, do people really think that 5 percent sounds like a small number? Talk about mind boggling.

Personally, I haven’t a clue what percentage of Catholic priests molest children, and I doubt anyone else knows either. But I know this -- if I were Catholic, I’d pray every night for world peace, the alleviation of poverty, and the end of celibacy requirements for priests. Talk about an idea whose time has come.

Next up on my mystification list comes to you from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Now is a time when the Democratic Party FINALLY has something to cheer about. For “the Base,” the health care legislation might be half a loaf, since it lacks the public option, but no progressive can truly shrug off any legislation that promises to insure more than 30 million additional Americans. The victory on health care reform figured to add a little wind to the sails of those Democratic candidates whose popularity had been hemorrhaging for months. Now, finally, perhaps their base could become as energized as the base of the Republican Party, who have been hooting and hollering ever since Sarah Palin, Dick Armey and Fox News realized that tea bags and retired right wingers make for one potent witches brew.

So … how does Barack and Company decide to kick off their push for victory in November? By announcing the policy of Drill Baby Drill.

Come again? Why is Barack channeling his inner Maverick? Weren’t the Democrats supposed to be the party of environmentalism, and the GOP the party of oil? Or did I misunderstand those chants at the Republican Convention? (Maybe “drill baby drill” was intended as encouragement to Tiger Woods and his other PGA comrades … but I digress.) Seriously, even if the idea of drilling off the coast of my beloved Maryland could theoretically be justified, why would you announce that policy now? Why not agree to it as a concession for Republican support to bipartisan climate change legislation? If the Dems make all their concessions to the Republicans up front, what could possibly motivate the Republicans to compromise their own positions? Again, I just don’t get it.

Fortunately for the Democrats, it’s not like they’re battling a bunch of rocket scientists either. How do you explain why, at a time when the GOP is portraying their opponents above all else as wantonly wasteful slobs who could care less about our national debt, the RNC would spend thousands of dollars on private jets, limos, and a bondage club in LA. According to a Washington Post article, "The dark, leather-heavy interior [of the bondage club] is reminiscent of the masked orgy scene from the movie Eyes Wide Shut. There is also a heavy net suspended above the club's lounge area where performers writhe above the heads of club-goers. Even more provocative scenes are played out in an enclosed glass booth area adjacent to the club's dance floor area."

I’m a Kubrick fanatic. I’ve seen Eyes Wide Shut as often as often as Tiger Woods has had sex in church parking lots with Perkins Family Restaurant waitresses. If that club is one tenth as obscene as that house in Eyes Wide Shut, these Republicans have some nerve talking about family values – unless of course the GOP is talking about the Manson Family or the Addams Family. If so, they might want to communicate their message a little clearer. Right now, it’s pretty incoherent.

Anyway, let’s get back to the world of sports. Explain this to me. You’re Shaun Rogers. You’re a Pro Bowl Nose Guard for the Cleveland Browns. You’ve once been suspended for four games for violating the policy against performance enhancing drugs, but at least your fans can fathom why you might have taken those drugs. To get an edge, right? To win games, right? Fine, I get that. I think we all do. What some might not understand is why this Einstein would walk into an airport last week carrying a loaded .45 in his carry-on bags. Apparently, this was a semiautomatic weapon with eight rounds.

Let’s step back for a second. Ten years ago, we’d all appreciate why Shaun Rogers would want that .45 on an airplane. Yeah, I know, he’s 6’ 4” and 350 pounds. Still, you never know when the geek sitting next to you wants to talk about his hemorrhoid problem, and you figure that one or two rounds where the sun don’t shine would put the loser out of his misery AND help you get some shut eye. Sounds like a win-win to me.

But there is this little problem lately known as terrorism. And when you do bring a semiautomatic on an airplane these days, you’ll forgive the Government if they don’t trust your hemorrhoid-eradication explanation. Mr. Rogers, no offense, but I want you OUT of my neighborhood. Stay in Cleveland, playing for the Browns. Knowing that team as well as I do, I think you’ll fit in.

Finally, last but not least, I am mystified by the proposal this week – which all the experts say will soon become implemented – that the NCAA expand March Madness from 64 to 96 teams. Supposedly, this is being done because of greed on the part of our colleges. But I have a different explanation. I think it’s a statement against old adages, like the one that says “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Is there anything in America that currently works better than the NCAA Tournament? Is there any sporting event that is more consistently exciting, unpredictable, and consistently fun to watch? Clearly not. And yet our nation’s colleges – the same ones that charge us a couple of hundred grand to help our kids learn how to chug beer and take bong hits – are now messing with success, all for “a little bit of money” (as Marge Gunderson would say).

Once they expand the tournament to 96 teams, you can forget about the so-called “regular season” in college basketball. That will feel like pre-season. Pretty soon, parents will be calling their college kids and yelling at them not only for wasting their time on booze and pot but also for going to regular season basketball games. As for the tournament itself, who can possibly fill out a bracket picking 95 games? “I don’t know about you, but ASU went 12-20 playing mostly a Pac-10 schedule and Fordham went 15-18 in the much weaker Metro Atlantic. I’m going with Arizona State.” Give me a break.

I remember as a little kid when there were no playoffs in Major League Baseball other than the World Series. You played the regular season, and if you won your league, you played in the Series. Otherwise, you watched TV liked the rest of us. Back then, the regular season mattered, and the purists didn’t want anything to change that – lest we feel, perish the thought, that watching 162 games a year is a waste of time. As it turned out, though, adding six more teams into the baseball post-season hasn’t dulled interest in the sport. In fact, it has made it more exciting for more cities. So yes, you can have too FEW teams make the playoffs. But at 96 teams in one sport, you sure as hell can have too many.

Will I still watch March Madness even if 96 teams make the “Big Dance”? Probably. Then again, I’m not sure what that’s saying. I’ll watch Cheetah Woods’ latest putting exploits at the Masters. And I probably haven’t seen the Eyes Wide Shut orgy scene for the last time either.

By the way, did I tell you guys that I just started writing my newest book yesterday? It’s a non-fiction book about God. I figured I’m as qualified to write it as any other person. After reading the above, are you going to argue with me?