Thursday, August 28, 2008

Leave Sports Alone

I want to discuss two developments in the world of sports. One probably makes sense, but I don't like it. The other is ridiculous, and maybe a little ugly. Major League Baseball has decided to try out video replay to help umpires make certain decisions, and the women's golf has decided that all members must be able to "effectively communicate in English" by 2009 or face suspension. I'll bet you can guess which of these two decisions ticks me off the most.

There are some 120 foreign-born professional golfers playing in the LPGA –the governing body of women's golf. The biggest foreign contingent is from South Korea, and the "learn English or else" policy just so happened to have been announced at a meeting with the South Korean players.

I've always had an open mind and felt that those who believe in "English only" policies regarding education, voting and driving literature, etc. are certainly entitled to their wacko point of view. But now has that jingoistic, anti--foreigner feeling invaded sports, too?

One of my favorite things about sports is that the games often involve people from different countries. At any baseball game, you might see teammates who were born in different countries laughing in the dugout as they teach each other how to say, "The umpire is a bum" in different languages.

The LPGA – the governing body for women's golf - claims that the reason for the language policy is that sponsors want the golfers to speak English. Really? Why don't we see sponsors demanding that athletes in other sports based in the United States speak English better? And how do they plan on deciding if a woman golfer speaks English well enough for them? Golfers will actually be required to pass an English proficiency test. I hope they give this test to everybody, not just to those players born in foreign countries, because we know that there are plenty of American athletes who couldn't pass an English test.

Obviously, I don't know if the reason for this policy is because of the sponsors or because of some negative feelings for foreign-born players. But I do know that it seems wrong. They want to push them to be more "American" so they are instituting a policy that seems un-American? LPGA, take a mulligan and cancel this policy before it becomes even more of an embarrassment.

And then there's baseball. Although many of us sports fans often refuse to admit it, umpires are human. Because they are human, they make mistakes. They aren't making more bad calls then they used to, but they are being shown to have made more bad calls. In the old days, no one could be sure that the umpire had made a mistake. Today, when an umpire blows a call, it's shown over and over again on television. So Baseball announced that they will be using video replays for disputed home runs, whether a ball is fair or foul, and if a fan interfered with the ball.

I understand the reason behind it, but I don't embrace this idea wholeheartedly. Somehow the game got along fine without it for all these years. It seems to be in the same category as selling sushi at the ballpark instead of just hot dogs and beer. We know it's possible, but do we really need it?

I'll miss the manager running out to the umpire to argue that he's positive that the ball the umpire said was a home run was actually a foul ball. I'll miss seeing the umpire and the manager ridiculously miming the parabolas that each of them feels the ball took as it went out of the park. And I'll miss seeing the multi-million dollar a year manager kicking dirt on the umpire's shoes like a three year old when he doesn't get his way.

But at least the system will only be used for a few situations. They aren't going to stop the game for a replay every time a coach, manager, or player thinks an umpire has made a mistake. So when there's a close play at the plate, you'll still have the pleasure of seeing a chubby manager waddling out there to yell at the umpire. And because it's not women's golf, that manager can yell at the umpire in any language he chooses.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lloyd And The News

This is a special edition of "What Would Lloyd Say?" As an experiment, it is an audio-only offering of my comments on the news. To listen to it, you can click the orange thing that says, Click Here To Listen To This Column" or, even better, if you haven't already done so, you can go to the upper left hand corner of this page where it says, "Podcasts." Right below there, click on next to the musical note where it says,"Subscribe With iTunes." Even if you've never had iTunes, it's really simple to follow the links. It's so easy, I was able to do it.

Thanks -- Lloyd

Friday, August 22, 2008

Just How Old Are Those Chinese Gymnasts?

Numbers have been very important in the Olympic Games. The number 8 is the luckiest number in the Chinese lore, so it was considered fortuitous to start the Olympics at exactly eight minutes after eight on 8/08/08. 16, 11, and 14 have been important, too. Some of the members of the Chinese women's gymnastics team look like they're about 11, they're supposed to be 16, and some documents say they're 14.

The American press and gymnastics team have been outraged about the fact that the Chinese team may have lied about the age of some of its members. Olympic gymnasts must be at least sixteen (or turn sixteen during the year of competition). Theoretically, it is easier for younger women/girls to perform some of the gymnastic routines, so it's not fair for someone under sixteen to participate against those who are sixteen or older. But we shouldn't jump to conclusions. Just because, on the average, the Chinese gymnasts weigh 77 pounds doesn't mean they're under sixteen. Maybe they just don't like milkshakes.

However, going by earlier Chinese publications, at least three of the athletes are only fourteen. But according to their current passports, which determine Olympic eligibility –- surprise, surprise --everyone on the Chinese team is at least sixteen.

So, are the Chinese cheating? Are some of these gymnasts really younger than they say they are? And if so, why are people so outraged?

The possible lying about their ages seems a much smaller "crime" than how these kids are treated. They are spotted as possible gymnasts at an early age, and taken from their families to a training center where they live and work at becoming good enough to represent their country. So, why aren't the American critics lashing out about this?

Well, the American coach, Martha Karolyi happens to be married to Bela Karolyi. He was the Romanian who coached Nadia Comaneci and later, Mary Lou Retton. In the Sixties and Seventies, he pioneered the system in Romania in which young girls were chosen for their athletic potential and then trained at a boarding school. Sound familiar?

Before I go any further into my in-depth investigation, let's talk about numbers again. Dara Torres astonished the world with her medal-winning swimming at the remarkable age of 41. Now, remember when I said that some of the Chinese gymnasts look 11, claim to be 16, but might be only 14? Well, if you add 11 plus 16 plus 14, you get 41. And how old is Dara Torres? 41. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.

Okay, back to the possible age-cheating. If they are lying about their age, it's going to come back to haunt them. They're not going to be so happy when someone throws them a 30th birthday party when they're only 28.

However, a rule is a rule, and cheating is cheating. If those Chinese girls are under sixteen, they shouldn't be participating. But the Olympics don't have age-testing. Athletes can be tested to make sure they're of the gender they claim to be. They're tested for drugs. But how do you test them to prove how old they are?

Don't worry. I've come up with the definitive test for determining if female gymnasts are too young.

A contestant is too young...

if she needs someone else to add up the scores for her.

if she thinks the tooth fairy brings Gold Medals.

if her best "floor exercise" is crawling.

Or if she doesn't wear diapers anymore – except at night.

Okay, that takes care of the future. But what about the women/girls on this year's Chinese gymnastics team? How will we ever know how old they really are?

Maybe we have to return to Chinese numerology. Michael Phelps won 8 Gold Medals. 8 is the luckiest number. Then maybe 8 is the best age for a gymnast. 8? Could that really be their age? It seems awfully young for them. But is it any harder to believe than 16?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In Praise Of The Biggest Political Sin

Candidates have been calling their opponents names throughout history. Here in America, they've been called, "a hell raiser," "a tax raiser," ""an abolitionist," "a pro-slaver," "a hawk," "a dove," "a communist," "a fascist," "an intellectual," or "an idiot." But lately, there is one charge that is capable of doing in a candidate more than any of the others. It is the accusation that someone is a "flip flopper."

I'm not sure when flip-flopping became the greatest of political sins, but it seems to have established itself as Number One. Not only do candidates charge each other with flip-flopping, but newspapers, television shows, and internet blogs dissect every word a candidate has ever uttered and every vote he has ever cast searching for a fatal flip-flop.

Admittedly, some of the flip-flops by both Presidential candidates in the current campaign have been formidable. This being an Olympic year, a few of their maneuvers might be deemed "double somersaults with a twist." But I don't want to go into the specifics of each of their flip-flops here. I want to talk about the flip-flop itself.

Obviously, if a candidate changes his or her position on an issue for purely political reasons, voters and journalists should be cynical about that new position. But even if politicians change their positions because they've studied the issues and changed their minds, or if the situation has changed, they're still attacked as a dreaded flip-flopper.

Why should it be an important quality for a politician to never change his or her mind? Why is it considered good if someone sticks to a position even if it's obvious to everyone that he or she is wrong? I know of a certain President who seems to pride himself on not being a flip-flopper. No matter what the evidence, he's always stuck to his position that the war in Iraq was necessary. Throughout, no matter how disastrous things were going, he's always said that the war was progressing well. (I think he still may believe there were Weapons of Mass Destruction there). He's never admitted that the way we've borrowed money from China and other countries has caused problems for us. In fact, when President Bush was interviewed at the Olympics, he stated that America "doesn't have problems."

Do we really want another President who never admits he's wrong and never changes his positions?

Think about your everyday life. Who do you like better: the guy who stubbornly insists he's right even when all the facts show he's wrong, or the guy who says, "I'm sorry. I was wrong about this." Who's the better doctor, the one who stands by his original diagnosis despite new information, or the one who says, "The new tests reveal I was wrong?"

And in personal relationships, are you happy with your spouse or significant other when he or she sticks to an opinion no matter what? Of course not. We prefer to be with someone who is "big enough" to flip-flop at times. We have respect for people who say things like: "I wasn't going to vote for that guy you like, but after reading about him, now I will." "Wow, I guess a person can be too thin." "You're right. I shouldn't have turned left there." "Now that I've gotten to know her, I don't find your old college roommate that annoying." "I'm still not going to try rabbit, but I admit it – snails do taste good." "I was wrong. A mattress can be too hard."

So why do we insist that our political officials should never change their minds about anything? Flip-flopping has somehow gotten a bad name. Maybe we should change its name from flip-flopping to something else. How about instead of flip-flopping, we call it, "Changing One's Position After Reconsidering An Issue?" That's perfect.

Who am I kidding? That's way too long. Stupidest name I ever heard. Maybe we should just go back to "flip flop." Of course, then people will say I'm a flip-flopper for flip-flopping flip-flopping.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Congressional Games

When little kids take a break from their schoolwork and go on the playground to play games and let off some steam, it's called, "recess." When members of Congress take a break from their work, it's also called "recess." I wonder what games our lawmakers play during their recess. Maybe "hide and don't vote," "take the stuffed envelope," or the word game, "talk long, but say nothing." When kids have recess, it only lasts a matter of minutes. Congress' recess is for the whole month of August. I understand why kids need their break, but why do members of Congress need theirs? And is this really the right time for them to be taking a month off from work?

Generally, when Senators and Congress-men and -women are working, they only work three or four days a week. I understand that it's important for them to get out of Washington and spend time with their constituents at home. And I guess if I felt that every member of the Senate and House were sitting down every day with his or her constituents discussing the issues, I'd understand the importance of their recess. Call me "cynical," but I don't think that's what these men and women are doing all day.

Do you know anybody in any other profession that gets as many vacation days as those who represent us in Washington? As is usual in politics, things are backwards. Shouldn't those who've been entrusted with the responsibility of keeping our country safe and secure work more not less than people who have other jobs? The only people who work less than those in Congress are those who have been put out of work by those in Congress.

I agree with John McCain on this one. I think the recess should be cancelled and Congress should go back to work now. Even if it's just for the sake of appearances, with all of our problems -- the economy, the war, the environment -- is this really a time for our elected officials to say to us, "We sure hope things don't get worse while we take our break. See you after Labor Day?"

Historically, the summer recess came about because of the oppressively hot weather in Washington. But now I think they could survive there, because they've got this new-fangled invention called "air conditioning."

As much as I am for this idea, I'm aware that it is not such a simple, clear-cut issue. There are some benefits to having the Congressional recess. In the past, I have pointed out that the fewer days that Congress is in session, the fewer days the lawmakers have to mess things up. While they're away, they can't vote for invading a country, they can't raise taxes on the poor or lower them on the rich, and they can't vote themselves a raise. And I don't think it's just my imagination, but each day that they've been out of Washington, gas prices at the pump seem to go down a couple of cents.

But there's one aspect of this that pushes me over to the side of "recess is over, get back to work." John McCain has said that if Congress goes back to work, he'd suspend his campaign and he challenged Barack Obama to do the same thing. That sounded like the best idea I've heard from either candidate. If they both suspended their campaigns and went back to work in Washington, the American people would get a "recess."

We'd get a break from this interminable campaign. Sure, they could still make commercials and hold news conferences. But if the candidates were really busy doing their job, they wouldn't have as much time to deride each other and assault the airwaves with hundreds of thousands of words repeating their messages over and over again. There would be no front page and prime time analysis of everything every family member or friend of the candidates says or does ... or wears. We could still be responsible citizens and not think about this presidential campaign for a month. That's the kind of recess this country could really use.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Corrected "What's Next? Obama And Madonna?"

These latest McCain commercials are somewhat confusing. In one way, they're smart, and in another way, not so much. I don't know about you, but I haven't seen any of these commercials on regular TV. I've only seen them on the news and commentary shows where they're shown and then experts debate about whether they're outrageous or not. In other words, McCain's getting free airtime for them. The Republicans don't have to spend a penny, and they're getting more exposure than if they had actually paid to have the ads shown. The more outrageous they are, the more they're shown and discussed.

On the other hand... In his commercials, McCain blasts Obama, he misquotes Obama, and then he puts Obama in a commercial with Paris Hilton and Brtitney Spears. What's that one really about? I guess it's supposed to make us think that in some way, Obama is like Britney and Paris. What are they trying to imply? That Obama doesn't wear underwear? What do those clever advertising people want us to think about? Paris Hilton's sex tape? Are we supposed to start thinking about Obama having sex? If so, that's dangerous for the Republicans, because if you start thinking about Obama having sex, you might start thinking about McCain having sex. And then who are you going to vote for?

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by