29 October 2007

Power going to my head

In a truly Colbert Bump moment, I stand in awe of the influence of my previous post about Greg Ryan (et al.), formerly coach of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team. I say formerly because apparently someone on the U.S. Soccer executive committee saw my post and responded appropriately, as Ryan is now out as the coach. No word yet on the successor, but they haven't yet called me to ask my advice.

I wonder if this trend could work for other things. For example, if I said that President Bush was living in the past and relying on old methods to fight new foes, would he be replaced in a week? Hopefully not, given who his replacement would be...

16 October 2007

Living in the past or the future?

As promised, here’s a rant on our tendency to live in the past. You’ve heard it said that too many generals prepare to fight the last war (see, e.g., the Maginot Line). When your star center fielder, who has been with your team since he was 19 years old, is now a 30 year old who just had his worst offensive season ever and is showing signs of defensive decline also, are you the kind of General Manager who has the cojones to ignore fan loyalty and let that star player walk away? If so, you’re in the ranks of John Schuerholz, who did just that as one of his last official acts as the GM of the Atlanta Braves.

How about if your national football (soccer, for us Yanks) team has not been playing up to its potential in the World Cup, yet has advanced to the semi-finals and actually showed some good sparks in your last match? Do you stay with the players who have taken you there thus far, even though some of them are younger and less experienced than others on your reserve roster? Or do you think back to games that happened a year ago, or three years ago, and say to yourself “Oh yeah, I remember the other times we played this next opponent, we use our other goalkeeper, and we won, so I think I’ll switch the lineup at the most critical position imaginable and replace the keeper who has played the entire tournament”? So you then insert a 36 year old goalie in place of a 26 year old one, but wait, what’s this, you forgot to consider that the goalie who won those previous games for you wasn’t a 36 year old, but was a 35 year old or a 33 year old, and funny enough, reflexes slow down over time. Who would have thought that? If you would have, then consider yourself more prescient than Greg Ryan, coach of the U.S. Women’s national soccer team, who decided to substitute Briana Scurry for Hope Solo in the semi-finals of last month’s Women’s World Cup against Brazil (in case you missed it, Brazil whipped our collective asses 4-0).

Here’s another one – imagine that you lead a religious organization, and you’re facing a contentious issue within your ranks. You could either choose to stay with the traditional beliefs and practices, or you could become a visionary and promulgate a new way forward. For the most part, religious leaders have chosen the former approach. On issues ranging from slavery to women clergy to actually allowing individuals to read the Scriptures for themselves, translated into their own vernacular, it’s always the “revolutionaries” who upset the sanctimonious apple cart and try a new way. A century or so later, we all look back and can’t imagine what the anti-reform elements were thinking. And then the religious authorities turn right around and commit the same damn mistakes once again – yesterday women, day before yesterday blacks, today homosexuals. Talk about not learning from history and being condemned to repeat it…

And then there’s politics. If you want to choose the best candidate to become our next President, do you want the guy or gal who wants to continue to fight the battles of 9/11? Or do you want the candidate who is ready and willing and able to take on the challenges of 9/12 and beyond? See this column by Tom Friedman to read more about why we Americans can’t afford to live in the past, even and especially the tragic past of 9/11. We need a President to lead us into the future, not one who will expend his or her efforts constructing the American version of the Maginot Line.

A Nobel Undertaking – and the Road Not Taken

As you’ve probably heard by now, former Vice President Al Gore is the co-recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. In awarding the Prize, the Nobel Committee said,

Al Gore has for a long time been one of the world's leading environmentalist politicians. He became aware at an early stage of the climatic challenges the world is facing. His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.

By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC and Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is seeking to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control.

Now that pretty much everyone in the world, with the exception of the Bush Administration, has lauded Gore, speculation is rampant that he will ride this tide of positive publicity right on into a campaign for the White House.

Unfortunately, I’m here to say “not so fast my friend”.

Think about this for a minute. Gore was one of the most qualified candidates ever to run for the Presidency, and was coming off of eight years of relative peace and prosperity. He defeated an inexperienced, inarticulate Texas governor by half a million votes, yet lost the election 5 to 4. Since that time, Gore kicked around for a while searching for some meaning or purpose to his life, and found it with his crusade to raise awareness and turn the tide of global climate change. Since taking this new path, he has been hailed by nearly all the world, and has received accolade upon accolade, culminating with what some consider the most revered honor in the civilized world.

When everything is going so well for him, why on earth would Gore want to return to the stage of his most bitter disappointment, his singular failure? Why would he, having found his crusade, his mission in life, want to constrain himself by taking on the office of the President, wherein he would have to deal with so many issues that are less compelling for him than climate change? Why subject himself to the rigors of the campaign trail and the humiliation of intensive fundraising efforts?

As much as I would like to see Al Gore as our next President, I just don’t see it happening. If I had just received a Nobel Prize for what I had been doing the past few years, I think I’d be pretty well inclined to keep doing it. Wouldn’t you?

05 October 2007

Patriotism as fashion statement

There they go again. The pseudo-patriots are all up in arms over Barack Obama’s recent comments about why he no longer wears an American flag lapel pin. In a recent campaign stop, Obama noted that he had been wearing a pin soon after 9/11, but he had stopped doing so because such symbols “became a substitute for, I think, true patriotism.” In a speech about the appalling state of veterans’ health care, he asserted, “My attitude is that I’m less concerned about what you’re wearing on your lapel than what’s in your heart…You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who served.”

I’ve got one of those flag lapel pins myself. I wore it for a while, wanting to reclaim the image of the flag for what I consider to be a more reasonable patriotism, one that is more interested in compassion than jingoism, more concerned with genuine security than with fear-mongering. Eventually I stopped wearing mine too, for the same reasons Obama cites. I do have a yellow ribbon sticker on my car; it reads, “Support the troops. End the war.” (And yes, I got that sticker from John Edwards’ campaign.)

I want to go on an extended rant about empty patriotic symbols and false loyalty tests, but I think I’d wind up with a bigger rant than I have time for right now. Here’s a preview of something else I’ve been pondering, though – it’s time to stop living in the past. Instead, we should live into the future. This applies to politics, religion, and sports (whether that’s choosing not to re-sign a star center fielder with declining skills, or a boneheaded soccer coach’s decision to bench his star goalkeeper). I’ll work on that rant for you in the coming days.

P.S. If you want to read an extensive speech by Obama about a "new beginning" for American foreign policy, check this out. It's really first-rate stuff.