What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Well almost.

First things first. Let the word be spread from border to border and ocean to ocean - I have removed my name from the short list. Should I be asked, I will decline. I will not run and will not serve. I mean, I like Obama and I think he’ll be a fine president, but I’m too busy being a featured lottery player in two states to spend the next eight years keeping him on the straight and narrow.

So on to other matters of the moment.

Generally speaking, I am against the death penalty. I think it’s ridiculous to have a sentence of death we’re so reluctant to carry out - Texas notwithstanding - that those convicted of capital crimes languish in jail cells for up to twenty years before being put to death - by which time of course they are not the same people who committed the crimes. The cost of holding convicted murderers for years while their convictions and sentences are being appealed, far exceeds the cost of having them serve a life sentence, so there is an economic drawback to the death penalty. And then there’s always the possibility of someone being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Enough such cases were unearthed in Illinois that the governor of that state - ironically now serving a jail sentence himself for corruption - put a moratorium on the death penalty which is still in place.

But there are exceptions to my reluctance to support the death sentence. I would be happy to see it imposed on anyone convicted of wanton cruelty to small children and animals. And I would advocate that the penalty be carried out no more than sixty days after sentence. O.K. I’m not totally serious - but I’m not totally kidding either. I’m brought to this subject by a news item I heard about some punk arrested for dragging a dog behind a pick-up truck. It sickened me when I did a search to see if this was an isolated incident and found that there are multiple cases of dogs and horses suffering these same kind of tortures at the hands of sub-humanoids. On top of dog fighting, cock fighting and other incredible cruelties. And these are only the ones that get caught committing their evil acts.

The penalties for animal cruelty don’t come close to the punishment that the perpetrators deserve. Some get off with a fine. Some get off without any punishment - depending on local beliefs and traditions. Michael Vick got 23 months for being part of a dog fighting ring. The judge obviously shared my feelings about this disgusting cruelty. He couldn’t sentence Vick to death - but 23 months was more than the 12 to 18 months that the prosecutors had recommended.

I know in some countries, cruelty to animals is no big deal- but this is the USA. Until she died, Cody was a member of my family - not a roast for Sunday dinner.

Animals and small children are the most vulnerable among us. They can’t defend themselves. Even a pit bull, once subdued, has no means of defense against any tortures an adult sub-humanoid wants to inflict. There is no lower form of criminal than those who would torture animals and small children. They do not deserve to live among us.

Now for something completely different.

The seeds for the US. Open tennis chanpionship have been announced. Thirty two players from the nations of the world are seeded. Rafael Nadal of Spain has knocked Switzerland’s Roger Federer off of his number one perch. They’re ranked one and two - Rafael and Roger. I’m not a tennis player and I don’t watch tennis -not at tennis venues and not on television. I’m sure it’s exciting to those watching in the stands but it’s never grabbed me as a spectator sport. Nonetheless I have some interest in who wins and who loses. As a British ex-patriot, I’m happy to see the kid from Scotland seeded number six. That’s Andy Murray. He’s beaten Federer at least once. But what brings me to comment on tennis is not who’s playing in the US Open. It’s who’s not playing!!

Of those thirty two seeds, there are six from Spain, five from France. four from Russia, three from Argentina, two each from the United States, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland - and one each from Scotland, Serbia, Chile and Italy. Does that strike you as odd? Do you sense anything missing that should be there - that once dominated this list - and I’m not speaking of the United States? If you said Australia - congratulations - and welcome fellow senior.

Sometimes you get to thinking that some things will never change. You live a few years and one day you shake your head and find it hard to believe that Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and Arthur Godfrey and Johnny Carson and so many others are all gone. You don’t understand the appeal of "reality" shows or how "rap" can be considered music or how rap "performers" can become millionaires. You don‘t have a Blackberry and you swear at kids engrossed in texting as they cross the street in front of your car. You try to hang on to the idea that there must be some things that won’t change - and more and more you become disillusioned. Nothing - but nothing stays the same. And so it is - sadly - with the sport I don’t watch.

When I was a young fellow - and yes, those of you who are snickering as you read this - I was young once and I know who you are and where you live, so watch it - Australia dominated tennis. Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall, Fred Stolle, Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong - the list goes on and on. Google ‘em if you’re too young to recognize any of these names. There was a time when tennis was as much Australia’s national game as cricket and there was no national or international tournament without a contingent of Australian stars. To look at a list of seeded players in a major tournament and see not a single player from Australia is something akin to sticker shock. The world’s number two player - who was number one until a few days ago - is from Switzerland. Where it snows!! On mountaintops.!!! And someone from CROATIA!! is seeded number fourteen in the 2008 US Open.

To me, it’s like the world turned upside down. I suppose it will keep changing. Who knows, maybe twenty or thirty years from now, Australian players will once again be sprinkled throughout the seeds in a future US Open - and fans will be scratching their heads and asking - where the heck are the Croatians? And I’d just love to be around for the chance to laugh my head off.

One last item - and I know my wife will wince as she reads this. Sorry honey. It’s about Michael Phelps. He may have set a record - but for my money, Mark Spitz’s record still stands. Spitz entered seven out of fifteen swimming events that were available to him in the 1972 Olympics and won them all, breaking the world record in each. Phelps entered eight out of seventeen and did the same thing. One more than Spitz.

But like any record that’s broken after the passage of decades, Phelps didn’t face the same conditions as Spitz. Spitz didn’t have the advantage of the fancy speedo swim suit that made it easier for Phelps to cut through the water. And he didn’t swim in a pool with two empty outer lanes that reduced turbulence. Michael Phelps is unquestionably the greatest swimmer of the current era - but Spitz was just as great in his time - and, swimming under more difficult conditions, set a mark for all who followed. The mark has been broken but the original record remains intact.

A lot of runners have won mile races in less than four minutes since May 6, 1954. They had better training, better diet regimens - even better shoes than runners had in 1954. But the record books will always list Roger Bannister as the one who broke the four minute barrier on 5/6/54 - when he ran a mile race in Oxford, England in three minutes, fifty nine point four seconds. It would take a running race enthusiast to name the current holder of the mile record - but many an average Joe who couldn’t name any running champion at any distance would be able to tell you who broke the four minute mile. Just as someone with zero interest in baseball could easily name Babe Ruth as a home run champion but might struggle to come up with the name of Barry Bonds.

There’s many a record that will stand no matter how many times it might be "broken." For my money. Mark Spitz stands side by side with Roger Bannister and Babe Ruth.