Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Worst Cadillac Commercial - n'est ce pas?

As we gathered around our television sets and tablets to witness and applaud great achievements by athletes from around the globe, there was an alarmingly discordant note that repeatedly intruded.

At a moment when our country is almost universally viewed in a troubling light, the Cadillac commercial which aired far too often merely magnified the portrait of the ugly American.

The scene opens into a world of conspicuous consumption. We are led on a journey laced with images and words dripping with contempt and sarcasm for others.  We, so we are informed, are worthy of unfettered praise, while "they" deserve merely scorn.

While we struggle to ready our youth for the challenges of tomorrow and appear ill prepared educationally in contrast to many other nations,  we hear boasts of our capabilities, and ours alone, for wondrous achievement.

It may be considered an act of marketing genius, targeted to a very specific audience who fully embrace this jingoism. And what better moment than the Olympic stage with all of its attendant national fervor?

But the message it sends is antithetical to the very heart and soul of these games. The Olympics is, above all else, a moment of community not isolation, of inclusion not exclusion, of understanding not ugly stereotypes.

For its total lack of care or consideration of anything other than trying to improve its bottom line, I would award the gold medal for most reprehensible commercial during the 2014 Olympics to Cadillac. N'est ce pas?

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Olympics and the Whip

The Bay City Bombers. Joan Weston. The whip.  Being hurled by a teammate into and somehow past the massive blockade of skaters positioned between you and glory. Emerging ahead of all others with hands on hips, having navigated the mayhem, leaped over, around and through and coming out the other side, triumphant. A fistful of points in your pocket and a declaration that the madness is over, at least until the next whistle.

Boarder and ski cross remind me of those roller derby moments of my viewing youth. Only now the game is not scripted. This is wild, wacky and wonderful as each race brings the possibility of imminent doom to the doorstep. My heart used to ache for Lindsey Jacobellis until I realized there is someone finding similar tragedy in virtually each frantic surge towards the finish line. Bodies strewn everywhere, participants running far behind the fray only to somehow find themselves at the end of the journey with arms raised as much in disbelief as in domination. Victory and defeat appearing much more random than preordained.

And that last enormous jump where those straining to move up in the pack will their entire being, body and soul, through the air, then fall ingloriously back to earth. Nothing to show for that one final exhausting and exhilarating attempt to capture greatness but 150 feet of flailing arms and a boxful of shattered dreams.

In one heat all but one participant crashed within inches of the finish line.  Each of those on the ground almost crawling to garner a spot in the next round, the videotape announcing which limb or tip of the equipment had been thrust ahead of the others. You couldn't make this stuff up.

I suspect short track skating is intended to be the polished up embodiment of the Bay City experience, but the energy on the ice cannot match the rolling, flying insanity on the snow. With blades on it seems more calculating, sometimes moving at a snail's pace until strategy dictates action. In the "cross" competitions it is never quiet or composed.

Although there is much of significant interest in the Olympics, and some parts I just don't get (sorry curling, I know you take far too much abuse) there is only one sport that has captured my full attention.

Maybe in 2018 we can do this as a team endeavor. I can't wait to see the whip.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Bode Miller Interview

Where does the blame lay? With Christin Cooper for pushing beyond what decency dictated? Or with NBC, which made the very calculated and unfortunate decision to linger at the scene when it had the time and opportunity to edit and leave the most vulnerable moments on the cutting room floor?

Bode Miller's emotional wounds were exposed and exploited for the benefit of reporter and network. Yet in the hours that have passed, Miller has been remarkably forgiving, treating these trespasses as though they were unintended and not worthy of his, or our, disdain and contempt.

For Miller, who has had a long, compelling and complicated career, his response to the poking and prodding might be his finest moment. For Cooper and NBC, it was anything but.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Me and My ATM

Sometimes I scare myself.

I called my son in an absolute panic. "Richie, I think I may have screwed something up." Having been subjected to this announcement in various forms on countless occasions, I knew it was hard for my oldest child to control his frustration.  Any rational being, no matter how compassionate, must be left with one overwhelming thought: "This guy is an absolute idiot."

Less than an hour before, I had been euphoric. I had entered a mystical, wondrous land, and emerged triumphant. I (and I warn those under age to turn away) utilized an ATM without assistance. 

I understand that for anyone over the age of three, this would be of no moment. But not me. It was too confusing, having to put the card in the machine with that silver thing in the right direction, push buttons, remember numbers, read instructions. It was all a maze I could not navigate.

But this was Saturday afternoon, my mom's caretakers had run out of cash, my own supply had dwindled precipitously low, and worst of all, I was alone in my car. "Courage" I repeated as I headed towards imminent danger.

I slipped the card into the slot, expecting there would be immediate rejection. But it must not have recognized me, and it moved on.

"Yes, I do want to proceed in English." This was going swimmingly.

Then everything seemed to get a little confusing. It asked if I wanted a receipt. How could that possibly be, since I hadn't even received anything yet.  As soon as I said "no", I regretted my decision.

Yet, onward we traveled, now seeming like two friends conversing easily. I remembered my pin number, only slightly concerned that someone was taking this information down from some remote locale. 

The questions increased in difficulty.  How much did I wish to remove from the bank's coffers? My answer moved unnaturally on the screen from right to left. My finger seemed to stick on one number, repeating it in error. I erased my directive and began again.

And then, without warning, the money appeared. I was even congratulated on a successful transaction. It was an emotional moment between two who had clearly bonded.

Off I drove, ready to reveal my triumph to the world. Only minutes later, as I was visiting my mom did I consider the possibility that I had not "logged out" or done whatever had to be done to erase everything about me from public exposure. It is how I feel each time I leave a station where I am forced to pump my own gas and expect the next six people in line to be charging their purchases on my credit card.

I gave my mother a hurried kiss good bye and rushed back to the scene of the crime (or at least, potential crime). I was praying no one had been to this spot in the intervening minutes so I could rectify my mistake. But, seconds before my arrival, some woman WALKED up to the machine and began the process of extraction. Various options flashed before me. I decided I could not run her down, or even scare her off.  I imagined the headline in the next day's paper.  

I was too late.

I tried to detect any sign of wrongdoing by the lady as she finished her transaction and strolled past my car. There was nothing easily discovered in her gait or her manner. She was very clever.

I pulled up to my former ally. Whatever connection I had felt earlier had clearly been misplaced. Despite my pleading eyes begging for information, I was greeted with stony silence. Righting my wrong was now an impossibility. I fumbled for my wallet, grimaced as if I had forgotten something important, and drove away, despondent.

"No, I didn't get a receipt. No the home screen did not appear before I wandered off." My son spent the next several minutes talking me down off the ledge,  gently assuring me this did not mean the entire universe was now at work depleting every account that had ever been in my name and extracting the silver from my fillings.

In the end, victory became something far less. While I may not have caused the calamity I imagined, it  was not because of anything I did of my own volition. I understand it is just a matter of time.

Sometimes I scare myself.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Number Two

I was one of those fortunate to be in the stands on the evening of July 1, 2004 when "the catch" happened. There was an intensity to the game that belied the fact the Yankees were 7 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox. (Who then could ever have imagined this would be the season the curse died?)

Drama surfaced in seemingly every at bat in the later innings. At one point the Sox employed five infielders in an effort to choke off the winning run. All appeared lost for the home team in the top half of the 13th, as Manny Ramirez homered. But an improbable hero, John Flaherty, responded  in the bottom of the frame with the winning hit deep into the left field corner.

It was perhaps the most compelling regular season game I have witnessed in more than a half century of attendance at the home of the Bronx Bombers.

But nothing that night, nothing compared to the image of a bloodied Derek Jeter emerging from the stands, baseball firmly in his mitt, to stop a Boston rally in the 12th. From my vantage point I had a perfect view of the play as it unfolded. Shading the left handed batter slightly towards the middle of the diamond, Jeter was in all out sprint as soon as the little looper began its brief ascent. There was scant time to consider the consequences.

His outstretched glove captured and cradled the ball as he moved, in full flight, across the foul line in short left field. The stands were but a few feet away and avoiding potential calamity was an impossibility.

He was not the first nor last player who ever "gave up his body" for his team. Witness the catcher who braces for certain seismic impact as ball and runner meet simultaneously at the plate which he protects with a ferocity worthy of a mother standing guard over a new born child. Or the outfielder who runs full tilt into an immovable object called the outfield wall.

But there was, in that instant, an embodiment of everything that made this particular man so special. This was more than a catch, it was a statement of the importance of this game, of every game, of every pitch. It was what we expected and received from Jeter from the moment he appeared in pinstripes. There was a pride and a commitment not only to excellence but to effort that was reenforced with each stride as he raced towards not only a quickly descending ball but certain danger.

This was Derek Jeter whether the opponent was the Red Sox or the Royals, from the most meaningless of times to the most critical. Everything and everyone deserved respect. It was what the game demanded and what Jeter unfailingly delivered.

The Yankee shortstop was not at the stadium when the winning run crossed the plate that night. He was on the way to the hospital to tend to his wounds. But the imprint he left behind could still be felt by everyone in attendance.

A copy of that famous photo, signed by number 2, hangs in my home. It is a constant reminder of everything wonderful that Derek Jeter has provided baseball fans for nearly twenty years.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Olympics - 2018

The numbers for the viewing audience for the 2014 Winter Olympics are stunning. The International Olympic Committee believes this success is attributable, in large measure, to the infusion of new competitions, such as slope-style skiing and boarding, and team skating. As such, there is already effort underway to infuse the 2018 Games with new concepts.

There are a number of options garnering strong attention, but for now we know only their titles. Here is the present top 10 list:

1. "The Deer Hunter"
2. "Ice Fishing in Your Skivvies"
3. "Tonya Harding Broke My Heart and My Knees"
4. "Drive by Shooting"
5. "The Full Pipe"
6. "Cement Skiing"
7. "Avalanche!!"
8. "Downhill Skating"
9. "Disney on Snow", and
10. "Shaun White-Out"

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Vocabulary Lesson

("Health Care Law Projected to Cut Labor Force")

Exacerbate - to make worse
Ameliorate - to improve

Voluntary  - of one's choosing

The CBO report advises that, for many millions, the crushing fear of being without health insurance will be removed thanks to the impact of the Affordable Care Act. As lives are improved, many in our midst will feel a freedom that has until now been denied.

The projection that more than two million people over the next decade may make the voluntary determination to reduce their hours in the workforce is a good thing. It is a statement of the positive impact of the law.

Yet in the world of misdirection, otherwise known as the Republican spin cycle, facts and figures are removed from context. No longer is this a decision made by the worker, but somehow morphs into a statement of the shortcomings of the health care system, to a universe where employers are compelled to take away opportunity from the beleaguered.

All it requires for misinterpretation to prevail is a willing proponent and a susceptible listener. Having been relentlessly informed that the signature piece of legislation to come out of the Obama years is an unfolding disaster, it will take very little to convince far too many of the truth of the latest assertion.

For the chicanery from the Republican machine to fail, the true conclusions of this report must be emphatically revealed and reenforced. In the end, it must be shown that, contrary to the words coming from deceitful mouths, numbers on a page can't actually dance and to ameliorate does not actually mean to exacerbate.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


("Maturity's Victories")

Peyton Manning is an anomaly, an aberration. He is a once in a generation athlete who has been able to beat back the ravages of time and 300 pound defensive lineman and emerge, if not totally intact, at least fully in control of his environment. Do I see reasons to applaud my ever advancing age and decreasing capabilities because of the greatness that is Peyton? I wish.

Life is a series of trade-offs in which we search for reason to find the benefits in what remains rather than mourn what has been lost. However, that does not always translate as easily as Mr. Bruni suggests.

There can be an aching with the passage of days that has nothing to do with creaky joints and thinning hair. As we survey the landscape of our life, much as Mr. Manning does the shifting defensive formation across the line, we recognize we cannot call audibles with his facility..

There is an inevitability, no matter how supple we may be. Things may slow down in a positive way for the Bronco quarterback, as he weeds out the false signals intended to confuse him and finds the truth hidden in its midst. But for those of us on the wrong side of 60, things just slow down. He is the exception. We are the rule.

We marvel at his wondrous skill, his perspective. And we do find some comfort in knowing that there are those rare creatures among us who find ways to defeat all opponents, no matter the seemingly impossible odds. But each of us will wake up tomorrow reminded not so much of the greatness of Peyton, but the realities of our own universe.

There are surely those who don't wish to go back to the early days, with its confusion and uncertainties. Maybe some don't ask to be rookies all over again, but would rather be the grizzled veteran who has withstood the best shots and is still standing. But for most, to wake up tomorrow, a little befuddled as to how we got there, with a full head or hair, an endless supply of promise and a small sense of invincibility, would be a trade worth the risk. Like a general manager taking a shot on an unknown for a  player to be named later.