Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saint Patrick’s Day is coming which means this country will engage in one of the biggest displays of hypocrisy known to man. With the pseudo-holiday falling on a Monday that means a lot of people will spend a whole weekend lying about their heritage. Some people will admit to being along for the ride but most will actually claim to have enough Irish in them to justify taking Monday off so they can start drinking early, or recover from drinking all weekend long. Irish flags will be waving and city officials will gleefully allow public waterways to be temporarily polluted with allegedly nontoxic green dye.

No protesters will line the streets to denounce this display of ethnic solidarity. Nobody will be told to go back to Ireland. You see, we’re all for ethnic pride as long as you pass the melanin test. If you’re sufficiently pale you can wave the flag of your homeland all you want but for those among you who happen to be a little on the brown side, forget it. Take pride in your African roots and you’ll be mocked for it. Wave the Mexican flag and people will call you a traitor. But get plastered by 9:00 and put on a “Kiss me I’m Irish” button and the whole country celebrates with you.

I’m told that I have a little Irish ancestry so I probably could get away with celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. My last name, Croyle, seems Irish even though it originates from France. The problem is I just don’t care. I don’t take a lot of pride in my ethnicity because it simply doesn’t define me. It's not like I earned it. I’m half Polish but aside from eating pierogi and kielbasa from time to time we never did anything to celebrate our heritage. We were non-practicing Polacks and as for the dash of Irish my dad’s side of the family contributed, it was pretty much diluted by the English, Welsh, German, Dutch and French ancestry that got thrown into that big pot of Croyle gruel over the years. We didn’t make a big deal out of what we were. It always seemed that the “who” was more important. Ethnic agnosticism.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge these cultural celebrations. To me it’s sad that St. Patrick’s Day has reduced being Irish to early morning drinking binges, boring parades and prolific use of the color green but when you get right down to the basic concept of understanding where you came from and keeping that history alive I think it’s great and a few people actually take the time to reflect on that during the chaotic Spring Break spectacle we’ve made out of March 17th.

Other ethnic groups celebrate their culture and heritage. We might not have a specific day for celebrating Italian lineage but there are plenty of Italian festivals around the country. Name a nationality and you’ll probably be able to find a celebration for it sometime this year. Greeks throw a big “Wrestle me I’m Greek” party every year and I know there are Hungarian, Serbian, and Yugoslavian shindigs in most of the bigger cities. Nobody seems to mind. We even embrace various Asian cultures as they engage in their celebrations throughout the year. Chinese New Year is usually a pretty big deal in various locations around the world.

Cinco de Mayo is the most notable Hispanic holiday. It’s actually Mexican Independence Day but for most Americans it’s another day to get loaded. Corona with lime, por favor. Of course in places with organized Mexican-American communities the holiday has become more of a reflection of ethnic pride and that has started to rub Americans the wrong way. It was fine when it was limited to border towns with high Latino concentrations but now that northern cities are starting to see hundreds of brown-skinned people waving Mexican flags a line had been drawn. If you want to celebrate being Mexican, you can go back to Mexico.

And it’s not just Mexicans. White people snicker at the mention of Kwanza as if it’s just some made up holiday black people came up with to feel special. Of course Kwanza doesn’t stir up hostility like festivals that promote African culture. Again, if you love Africa so much you should move back there... even though 95% of the black people living in this country were born here. In fact most African Americans come from families that have been in the US longer than most white people. Half of my ancestry hopped off a boat around 1915. The other half probably owned the ancestors of some of those people celebrating their African heritage. So these African Americans might have more of a right to celebrate where they came from than their white counterparts. Still, anything that might be labeled “Black Pride” is viewed as an example of reverse racism.

That’s a common argument tossed out by the polemicists. Why is it OK to chant “Black Power” or “Black Pride” but not OK to stand up for "White Pride"? The truth is that it would be if White Pride and White Power weren’t directly tied into hating everything that isn’t white. Aside from a very small handful of black people who make money off of racial inequality, the underlying theme of “Black Power” or “Black Pride” is to promote the positive aspects of African American culture. The underlying theme of “White Power” is hate. Black Power is saying we’re equal to you. White Power is saying no, you’re not.

That’s why celebrations of ethnicity are fair game but broad celebrations of race are, well, racist. Ethnicity is about heritage, culture and history. It’s about taking pride in where your ancestors came from and what they did. People of a particular ethnic group share similar experiences and they like to take some time to reflect on that. More importantly, they invite they rest of us along for the ride. Ethnicity is what makes this country great: People of different backgrounds finding common ground…not just respecting one another, but celebrating our differences as much as we do our similarities.

Most black people in North America don’t have a specific ethnic heritage they can trace. Slavery essentially made black an ethnic group. Our white ancestors stripped Africans, who came from different backgrounds, of their history and forced them to create a new culture from scratch. It was a covert culture hidden in field songs and locked behind the doors of black churches. So that’s why “Black Pride” isn’t racist. But that won’t change how most white people react to darker people celebrating their heritage. How dare they? Those nappy-headed Bushmen should hop on the next boat to Liberia. And any Mexican who raises a flag other than the Stars and Stripes should be sent back over the fence. If being an American isn’t good enough, get out.

But what about those red-headed Irish jerks with their stupid green beer and House of Pain mix tapes? Shouldn’t they go back to Ireland? It’s something to think about. St. Patrick’s Day is coming and we should have a plan.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Mock Congress

Congress is taking a long hard look at professional sports. A few years ago several key figures in Major League Baseball were called to testify before Congress on the proliferation of steroids and other performance enhancing substances in professional baseball. Raphael Palmiero famously called Jose Canseco a liar and wagged his finger at the Senators for wasting their time pursuing such flimsy allegations. Then he tested positive for steroids a few months later.

Recently, Baseball solicited the assistance of former Senator George Mitchell to lead an in depth investigation into the use of performance enhancing substances. The result was a detailed report based on numerous law enforcement operations that connected professional athletes to steroids and human growth hormone. Names were named and media frenzy ensued.

Now Roger Clemens, who magically became a more dominant pitcher in his 40s than he was in his 20s is in the crosshairs. He was named in the report but denies the veracity of the investigation. He will face Congress under oath and answer their questions regarding the legitimacy of his baseball legacy. Somehow it seems as though this is a job for law enforcement. Clemens broke the law. He should be arrested, convicted and punished in such a manner that he reveals the names of others involved. Just like any other druggie. Congress doesn’t usually demand testimony from crack dealers, so they shouldn’t waste time with Rocket.

Meanwhile, Arlen Spector has called for a hearing into the infamous, and poorly named, Spygate controversy involving the new England Patriots getting caught violating NFL rules. Like many NFL fans, Spector believes that the NFL might have conspired to cover up a much bigger scandal than was initially reported. That’s probably true but why should Congress care? Even if the NFL rigs its games that revelation isn’t going to impact my life any more than the high cost of health insurance.

Initially I had a hard time taking issue with Congress for probing the steroid issue. Steroids are illegal and when professional athletes use them they set the standards of performance so high that aspiring players have to use steroids to have a chance at reaching that level. That forces the next level of players to use steroids. It’s a vicious cycle that doesn’t end until you have unscrupulous fathers injecting testosterone into their unborn children. Anybody who has attended a Little League game in the past 10 years knows that’s not nearly as ridiculous as it should sound. If there wasn’t a serious effort to discourage the use of steroids in the pros, how could we expect to keep it out of everything else?

However, the subsequent investigation into the steroid problem seems opportunistic. If Congress really meant business about it they would have charged Palmiero with perjury. They could have gone after Mark McGwire with more vigor or simply ordered the FBI to start making arrests. You see steroids, though not formally banned by baseball until 2003, had been illegal since 1990. Even if a player like Mark McGwire could justify his abuse of steroids by claiming a technicality he still broke federal laws by purchasing, possessing and using controlled substances. But Congress chose to let everybody off the hook. So why round two?

More perplexing is the inquest into the NFL’s actions regarding Spygate. There are no federal laws prohibiting one team from secretly taping another team’s practices. Even if the NFL swept the issue under the rug it stands to reason that it was a business decision. Most people acknowledge that this sort of cheating is rampant in football. Teams are always looking to gain an advantage. If that means deciphering an opponents defensive signals or decoding the audible indicators quarterbacks use to change plays, so be it.

Cheating takes on different forms and while ethical puritans will not stoop so low as to make a distinction between various types of cheating, there is this pesky little thing called reality. If a receiver gets away with scooping a pass off the ground or a running back recovers a fumble through illicit acts of aggression in the pile long after the whistle has blown it’s considered to be part of the game within a game. It’s not a violation of the rules unless you get caught. So players get away with holding, pass interference and cheap shots all game long. Is Congress going to investigate that?

Maybe they should. Not from the perspective of the players getting away with it but rather why officiating seems to be inconsistent. There’s a lot more at stake if an official is conspiring to influence the outcome of a game. There’s a lot of money changing hands in Vegas and even more being wagered illegally. I could see Congress wanting to know if the fix is in for certain contests, but delving into a coach trying to gain an edge over his competition seems petty. When you think about the results produced, probing the steroid issue isn’t exactly worthwhile either. These things should be delegated.

What’s frustrating about all of this is that Congress seems to have the time, money and manpower to get to the bottom of private sector entertainment but we can’t seem to draw a bead on some of the scandals involving the Bush Administration. Oil prices are through the roof, the U.S. economy is circling the drain and our soldiers are fighting a war that was supposedly over four years ago but Congress can’t get us any straight answers on why. Instead, they’re going to talk to Roger Goodell and get to the bottom of Spygate once and for all. Are you kidding me?

There’s no clearer sign that our government is completely corrupted than this. How can anybody make sports a priority over everything else this country is coping with? It’s offensive that we have elected officials who feel that solving the problem of steroids in baseball or cheating in football is more important than, well, ANYTHING ELSE FACING CONGRESS. The ketchup viscosity studies the FDA wasted money on in the 1980s might have had more social relevance than Spygate. Why are we paying these guys?

It’s not enough to run them out of office. This dereliction of duty is nothing short of criminal. With our soldiers at war you could make a case that this is a form of treason. We elect these clowns to protect and defend us from enemies foreign and domestic, not to joust the windmills of professional sports.

You know, it’s enough to make a guy move out of the country…but what good would that do? Our government gets into everybody’s business. Too bad it never tends to its own.