Tuesday, April 29, 2008

American Hero

Just when you thought the Roger Clemens saga was going away it hits you in the face with a steroid-laced 95 mph fastball in the form of one-time country music sensation Mindy McCready.

McCready had a hit single on the redneck charts back in 1996 and proceeded to self-destruct. Since then it’s been a made-for-TV story about drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and the subsequent stints in rehab and jail. Mindy is a train wreck and, as is the case with all train wrecks, people often wonder why…why do people who seem to have it made fall apart so completely?

Usually we don’t have a good answer. Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Tom Sizemore…they all defy explanation. Mindy McCready’s success was confined to a pretty small niche but surely people in that niche wondered why she would implode after she achieved success.

Now we have an answer: sexual abuse. Mindy McCready was involved in a sexual relationship with a 28 year-old man when she was only 15. That man? None other than Mr. Roger “I’m a good guy” Clemens. According to people close to the situation, Clemens hooked up with the teen karaoke singer back in the early 1990s. Clemens doesn’t dispute this but he insists that the relationship wasn’t sexual. McCready commented that she couldn’t refute the sexual allegations. She didn’t go into detail but that admission puts Clemens in a tight spot. He’s the one who has been clamoring about the quality of his character in the wake of the steroid scandal.

Clemens is involved in a courtroom suit/countersuit battle royale with Brian McNamee, the former trainer who implicated Clemens in the Mitchell Report. Clemens has been calling McNamee a liar ever since and he hopes to prove it in court. Now, he’s on public record denying a sexual relationship with a woman who has confirmed the story. That’s going to come back to haunt him in court. McCready will be called as a witness and Clemen’s will have his precious character called into question.

Of course Clemen’s could face even more trouble. The news of the affair will most certainly have an impact on his marriage. Clemens was married with two children when he first met McCready and if Roger’s wife has reason to believe that he betrayed her she will have a golden opportunity to put the screws to him. She could unravel every lie that he’s told and produce testimony, perhaps even evidence, that Roger has been using steroids for years.

Lost in all of this is a very serious issue: statutory rape. Clemens was a multi-millionaire professional athlete. At 28 he was the best pitcher in major league baseball. Mindy McCready was a 15 year-old girl trying to find a break in the music industry. Now it’s possible that McCready was little more than a groupie who was enamored with the superstar pitcher and Clemens, like so many other famous men, probably took advantage of more than his fair share of groupies but 15? Come on, Roger, that’s going too far. Cheating on your wife is one thing, but cheating on your wife with a teenaged girl—well, that’s something right out of Roman Polanski’s playbook…and he’s still in exile.

Not too long ago Roger and Brian sat before a Congressional Committee so elected officials could parlay the steroid scandal into some good pre-election battle face time. Roger wined and dined a number of lawmakers and it paid off during the hearing when Republicans took turns bashing Brian McNamee. Of course McNamee’s response to being called a liar by Representative DanTom Burton was to point out that he had implicated three players and two had already admitted to the committee that they did indeed use performance enhancing substances. Roger’s long time BFF, Andy Pettitte, substantiated McNamee’s story by informing the committee in a closed hearing that Roger Clemens told him he used HGH. Still, Clemens was likened to Jesus.

Clemens didn’t handle himself well. He lost his composure several times and seemed to be covering his tracks, still his Republican buddies applauded him for being a baseball hero and suffering through the humiliation of being implicated in the steroid scandal. How do they feel about Rocket now? Roger’s mantra has been that he is a man of great character, but now this character is a borderline pedophile. People go to jail for having sex with 15 year-olds. Just ask Genarlow Wilson who, at the age of 17, found himself locked up for allowing a 15 year-old to perform oral sex on him. Roger wasn’t 17.

Roger likely won’t go to jail for his relationship with McCready but the fact that she has corroborated the story pretty much proves that Roger Clemens is a dirt bag. He could face perjury charges for lying to Congress and he’s going to see a significant portion of his wealth signed away to his wife after she divorces him. He’s going to get what’s coming to him.

Before the McCready story broke there are plenty of people lined up on his side. These apologists had a litany of excuses for their hero. What do they have to say now?

Clemens is a liar, a cheater and a statutory rapist…sounds like he’s primed for a run at the Senate. He might as well... Roger’s got a better shot at getting into Congress than he does the Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Schilling in the Name

John Freshwater wants to be a martyr. As a middle school science teacher at a public school in Mount Vernon, Ohio Freshwater has gone out of his way to draw attention to himself and his faith. The center of the controversy seems to revolve around his decision to keep a bible on his desk. It seems innocent enough and Freshwater claims that the bible is for his own personal use. Fair enough.

Still officials put the screws to Freshwater and he enlisted the support of local religious activist Dave Daubenmire who was at the center of a controversy back in 1999 when he was sued by the ACLU for leading the football team he coached in prayer sessions before and after practices and games. His school district ended up footing the bill for an out of court settlement, but Daubenmire parlayed the ink into a cottage industry. Now he has a ministry and a website dedicated to his glory. You can even make a donation. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

It’s interesting that www.ptsalt.com seems more committed to promoting Coach Dave than it does Jesus Christ but in the wacky world of evangelicalism that’s really the name of the game. Vanity and greed. It’s not about morality it’s all about a salary. (Apologies to Kris Parker.)

As you start to delve deeper into the Freshwater saga, which you can by visiting The Columbus Dispatch, you realize that this guy was itching for a fight. He wanted to cross the line so he could be the center of a controversy (i.e. attention).

Why? Maybe he wants to start his own ministry. Perhaps Daubenmire is selling how-to guides online and Freshwater bought one. There’s also the possibility that Daubenmire put him up to it in order to drum up some publicity. That seems to be the big issue on Coach Dave’s website. Nothing brings in those donations like a big fight against Liberals and their godless agenda.

Of course the ACLU will take some flack even though the ACLU has a track record of winning cases on both sides of the issue. It’s ironic because Freshwater volunteered to monitor meetings of his school’s chapter of the Federation of Christian Athletes, an organization the ACLU has championed. What the ACLU fights against is the participation of school officials in these student led meetings. Freshwater crossed that line and not only participated but cast out demons and conducting healing sessions.

It’s amazing how Christians eat this stuff up. They believe they’re persecuted and that our society promotes atheism. The reality is that our society still promotes Christianity. It’s only recently that people have started to push back and challenge some of the conventions that allowed Christians to assume a position of power over everybody else. So now when somebody points out that the city park is a public area and shouldn’t be used to display a religious nativity scene Christians see it as an infringement when the reality is that they were the ones infringing on everybody else.

That’s what Freshwater is doing. The school has been very careful to respect Freshwater’s beliefs, the issue is that he’s using his position as a teacher to proselytize. That’s fine in a Christian school, but Freshwater chose to teach in a public school system. He’s got to follow certain rules as do all teachers.

On local blogs Christians are whining that if Freshwater had a copy of the Quran on his desk that this wouldn’t have been an issue but the issue wasn’t the fact that he had a bible on his desk. The issue was why it was there. Through his actions Freshwater made it clear that he was using that bible to influence the beliefs of his students. More succinctly he wanted to be suspended over this. The more press the better. He’ll milk it for all it’s worth and retire from his public teaching position to start his own ministry under Dave Daubenmire’s wing…the typical Christian pyramid scheme. Then Freshwater will recruit some other teacher and the cycle will start all over again.

Unfortunately most Christians, particularly those of Freshwater and Daubenmire’s ilk, simply refuse to respect the beliefs of others. When Daubenmire was leading his football team in prayer he didn’t stop to think about how kids who weren’t religious might feel. It’s ironic because Christians claim to honor the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. How would Freshwater feel about his child’s science teacher displaying a copy of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible? What would Daubenmire do if his son’s football coach led the team in a Buddhist chant before each game?

Christians don’t have a real answer for that question. They’ve either convinced themselves that these things happen everyday and nobody says a word or they’ll turn it around and cite dubious stories about Christians being fed to the lions.

When Christians behave like Freshwater and Daubenmire that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

But Obama was right!

"Here's how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it. And when it's delivered by -- it's true that when it's delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laugher), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).
But -- so the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What's the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is -- so, we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama's gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we're gonna provide health care for every American. So we'll go down a series of talking points.
But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Um, now these are in some communities, you know. I think what you'll find is, is that people of every background -- there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you'll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I'd be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you're doing what you're doing." --Barack Obama

When I first heard about Barack Obama’s comments regarding embittered Middle Americans I was shocked. Not so much that he said it but that somebody was finally paying attention. The fact of the matter is that many of the people living in Western Pennsylvania are gun toting bible thumpers who enjoy feeling sorry for themselves. Ask any reasonable person who lives or has spent a significant amount of time in the area and they’ll confirm it. The handful of people who took offense to Obama’s statement prove his theory.

What’s funny is that most of outrage seems to be coming from people who have never heard of Latrobe, Oil City, or Washington ( PA not DC) and the only thing most politicians know about Johnstown is that there may or may not have been a big flood there. Obama’s comments appropriately describe towns in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana as well and if you’re going to talk about bitter, narrow-minded people you can throw that same lasso around West Virginia and Kentucky.

Taking Obama’s full quote into context it’s quite obvious that he feels sympathetic toward these people. I live around them and I don’t. Obama wants to help them rediscover the American dream. I’d just as soon close all the exit ramps on I-70 between Washington DC and St. Louis. Now that’s elitist.

As somebody who grew up in one of the areas Obama was talking about, I found nothing he said offensive. What I did find offensive was Hillary Clinton trotting out her Larry The Cable Guy impression in order to connect with the people she thought would be upset by Obama’s comments. Talk about out of touch. When did Scranton turn in to Birmingham? Does that country-fried drawl and stories about shooting guns with grandpappy after church really work? And then she bellied up to the bar for a shot and a beer. Nice. Next week she'll be belching the alphabet and farting on demand. Hey kid, pull my finger!

Perhaps it does work. George W. Bush managed to convince the NASCAR set that he was just a farmer from Texas and not some spoiled rich kid born with a silver spoon in his mouth that was so big the man still can’t form a sentence. Somehow, Bush managed to spin a keg party at an Alabama Armory into military service that was more honorable than John McCain’s half a decade of torture.

Of course, Bush always sounds like a hick and he’s made it quite clear that he is genuinely stupid. Perhaps not so much as the people who voted for him, but he’s definitely running on fumes. Hillary, on the other hand, seems to have multiple personalities. She becomes Butterfly McQueen quoting Reverend James Cleveland when she’s pandering to black voters and channels Loretta Lynn in front of white blue collar types.

The real Hillary Clinton grew up in a wealthy community before graduating from Yale by way of Wellesley and when she’s glad-handing for the big money you can bet that her diction and grammar are perfect. So why the buck and shuffle for the unwashed masses? Does she really think that the average American is that stupid? Maybe that was a tactic she learned at the world headquarters of poor white trash, Wal-Mart. Perhaps Sam Walton’s ability to parlay provincialism into billions of dollars convinced Hillary to patronize potential voters with ersatz folksy charm.

Who needs to talk about the issues and present solutions to problems when we can zero in on a sound bite that was taken out of context? Imagine what a wonderful presidential race this would be if everybody in it was more interested in talking about their ideas rather than waiting for the opposition to slip up. What’s frustrating is that Obama didn’t slip up. He made a valid point that should be discussed in detail.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Hypocrisy Games

I’m not going to single any one person out because a lot of people are hopping on this boycott-the-opening-ceremony bandwagon. I realize that China’s record on human rights leaves quite a bit to be desired and I suppose that something should be done but skipping out on the opening ceremony is not going to change things. It’s actually a little trite. So China’s not quite evil enough to warrant a full boycott of the games, eh?

Personally I think Olympic boycotts are pretty gutless. Why should the athletes have to suffer for society’s inability to solve these problems? For the most part these are kids who, for better or worse, dedicate their lives to being the best in a particular sport. For most, since gymnasts and long distance runners seldom have professional opportunities, the Olympics is their one moment to shine. The vast majority of Olympians get one shot at the podium because the games only come around once every four years.

The International Olympic Committee had the chance to make a statement by rejecting China’s bid to host the Olympics which would have been fair because the games would have gone on but for world leaders to even consider marring the games by dragging political issues into a celebration of athletic competition and sportsmanship is a dereliction of duty. Don't hide behind the Olympics to pick a fight with China.

China’s been in the Human Rights cross hairs for decades but that hasn’t stopped countries around the world from openly and aggressively trading with China. Right here in the USA we depend on China to provide us with cheap goods and services so we can have more disposable income to spend at Applebee’s. China’s economy is growing at a remarkable rate even though that growth has been on the backs of an oppressed workforce. Where’s the outrage the other three years out of the Olympiad?

The Olympics always give me hope. Race, religion, culture and creed are put aside in the name of sport and for a few weeks every four years the rivalry between various nations becomes good natured. Why ruin that?

There are those who argue that ignoring China’s abuses to celebrate the games is betraying they who can’t defend themselves. By allowing China to preen on the global stage we are condoning brutal oppression. I say that the opposite is true. By taking a stand against China on the Olympic stage we make a mockery of those very issues. Boycotting the Opening ceremony says that we want to put on a good show of compassion but after everything is said and done we welcome a return to business as usual. That’s because we’ll be watching the Olympics on electronic devices manufactured in China.

Worse than not caring about an issue is pretending you do. Boycotting the Olympics is just a big public display that does nothing and boycotting the opening ceremonies is a little more than a wink in China’s direction. If you want to send a message, hit China where it hurts. Don't use the Olympics as a soap box.