Team USA

My all-time Olympic hero has got to be Paul Hamm, our accidental gymnastics champion. It’s not his fault that the Olympic judges screwed up and mis-scored an opponent’s routine and apparently awarded the wrong guy the all-around gold medal. And just like no one has any real obligation to correct a cashier’s mistake when they’re handed an extra 20 bucks in change, Hamm’s under no compulsion to take matters into his own hands and correct the situation. What’s hard to stomach, though, is the bleating — his own and others’ — that he won fair and square and should be allowed to enjoy his Olympic moment without all the negative attention.

That’s fine, but: Just imagine how Hamm and all the American commentators would be behaving now if it was the Korean who’d benefited from the officials’ failure. Actually, you don’t have to imagine. This would be an injustice for the ages, just like the Soviet Union’s basketball victory over the United States in 1972. The Yanks were convinced the officials manufactured an opportunity for the Soviets to win the gold, and they refused their silver medals (which are reportedly still in a bank vault in Switzerland). That’s 32 years of grudge and counting.

This is the way Team USA (all 293 million of us) looks to the rest of the world: When we win, it’s all about our hard work and perseverance. When we lose, like as not the fix is in. And if we win by mistake: Tough — that’s your problem. No wonder everyone loves Team USA.

Isaac Newton and Me

It may sound immodest, but I think I’ve discovered I’m an organizational genius. I had to find this out through an act of less-than-genius, though: starting our coffeemaker the other morning with no carafe to catch the cascading brew. After the hot coffee spread across the counter, it dripped into our “spice drawer” — the drawer where we keep spices and also things that aren’t spices, like batteries, herbal health preparations and kitchen-related curios. In the process of cleaning up the mess, I had a flash of insight — perhaps the equivalent of Newton’s apple — that if I lay the spice jars on their sides, instead of standing them endwise, that I’d be able to read their labels without doing a jar-by-jar search, as I’ve become accustomed to doing over the years. E=mc something! E pluribus unum!

So that’s what I did. And if that’s not organizational genius, I don’t know what it is.

The Agony of Victory

A handful of great moments from NBC’s Olympics announcers:

“Oh, the air came out of the balloon and with those mighty lungs from America’s Midwest, Paul Hamm filled it up and gave himself belief that this was possible, and it was. And it is.”Al Trautwig, on Paul Hamm’s comeback in the gymnastics all-around.

“Despite the beauty of the marathon, some unfortunate continuing squalor elsewhere.” Jim Lampley juxtaposes the sublime with the nefarious, commenting on Olympic doping cases.“For them, the Olympics have been an up and down rollercoaster ride.”Ted Robinson, on the up and down rollercoaster that is men’s beach volleyball.“This is one of those overwhelming moments of sheer participation.”— Marathon commentator as last of women runners neared the finish line.

“The Japanese men will climb to the podium and hear the national anthem of their nation.”Trautwig on which national anthem is the national anthem of Japan.

“It almost defies believability to think that when Blaine Wilson crashed to the mat at Madison Square Garden in New York in late February with a torn bicep that he would be in this position for his team in these Olympics.”Trautwig defies logic to underline a gymnast’s drama.

Get Thee Behind Me, Wal-Mart

A good long story in The New York Times Magazine today (registration required, etc., and it goes into archives in a week, so read it free while you can) on Rev. Billy Talen and his Church of Stop Shopping:

“In the Church of Stop Shopping we believe that buying is not nearly as interesting as not-buying. When you back away from the purchase, the product may look up at you with wanton eyes but the product dies quickly back onto the shelf and sits there, trying to get a life. The product needs you worse than you need it, remember that.”

The guy’s a righteous pain in the ass (here’s the S.F. Chronicle’s version of his story), which I mean as a compliment. It is odd to read about him though, in the midst of all the mag’s Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Armani, and other fashion and financial services porn.

(Disclosure: I am one of the fallen: I actively seek out Starbucks for solace whenever I’m outside the realm of Peet’s.)

Pigeon Welfare Notes

In the Chronicle today:
Probe at plant finds no proof of pigeon abuse:

An internal investigation at Contra Costa’s largest sewage treatment plant found no evidence to support a whistle-blower’s allegation that employees killed pigeons by driving nails through the birds’ chests, officials said Thursday.

I don’t know. The sewage plant. The whistleblower. The nails. The investigation. What more could you want in a news story? News, maybe, I guess.

Carnage ‘in Poor Taste”


The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has decided that an ad that adds up the cost of the Iraq war in coldly quantitative terms — number of killed, number of orphans created, quarts of blood shed, and on and on — is in poor taste and not fit for its apparently easily upset readers. Well, the ad is confrontational and disturbing. But more disturbing is the apparent need of major media to filter views of the conflict that get to the horrible essence of the violence unleashed there.

By way of Austin Mayor.

Historic Find

I have a front section of the Wall Street Journal that I’ve been hanging onto for a long time because I took notes on something in the margins and I thought that someday I’d be getting back to whatever it was I’d been writing. So today I had a burst of initiative and picked up the paper to transcribe these important jottings, if I could figure out what they were.

The section’s dated August 31, 2001, and I remember reading one story on the front page, about Wal-Mart’s success in Mexico. So I’ve had this thing sitting around for three years.

Trying to decipher the notes scrawled in the margins, I had no recollection what they were about at first. Some quasi-poetic musings mentioning Mount Tamalpais. Something like a prayer, too. Then a key phrase: “Over Oregon.” OK, so I was flying somewhere, looking out the window and indulging my penchant for scribbling notes on the landscape. But where was I flying? North someplace, Seattle or Portland. Haven’t been to Portland since when, January 2000. Seattle then. Maybe. Then I remembered a trip I took up to TechTV’s Seattle bureau, in a building across from the Space Needle. Yep, that was at the end of August. Flew on Southwest from Oakland, bumped into a Berkeley acquaintance who was on his way to Spokane, and I flew back the same day. What I wrote sounds like it comes from the trip north.

So what, exactly, did I scrawl? It’s quasi-poetic, remember? Maybe some other time.

More Bouquets for the Liberators

Our semi-elected president, bless his heart, has released a campaign ad that pats us all on the back for ridding Iraq and Afghanistan of their resident evildoers and making it possible for both nations to send teams to Iraq. Well, the surprisingly successul Iraqi soccer team’s got a message for Mr. Flight Suit: Take your ad and shove it. As reported it by Sports Illustrated online:

[Midfielder Salih] Sadir had a message for U.S. president George W. Bush, who is using the Iraqi Olympic team in his latest re-election campaign advertisements.

In those spots, the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan appear as a narrator says, “At this Olympics there will be two more free nations — and two fewer terrorist regimes.”

“Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign,” Sadir told through a translator, speaking calmly and directly. “He can find another way to advertise himself.”

Ahmed Manajid, who played as a midfielder on Wednesday, had an even stronger response when asked about Bush’s TV advertisement. “How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?” Manajid told me. “He has committed so many crimes.”

Iraq: blue state or red state?

Meanwhile, in Nebraska

Retiring Rep. Doug Bereuter, a Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, comes out with a stunner: A letter to constituents announcing he now believes the war in Iraq was unjustified and he wouldn’t vote again to support the war.

From the Lincoln Journal Star:

Bereuter pointed to a list of negative consequences arising from the war.

“The cost in casualties is already large and growing,” he said, “and the immediate and long-term financial costs are incredible.

“From the beginning of the conflict, it was doubtful that we for long would be seen as liberators, but instead increasingly as an occupying force.

“Now we are immersed in a dangerous, costly mess, and there is no easy and quick way to end our responsibilities in Iraq without creating bigger future problems in the region and, in general, in the Muslim world.”

This guy’s showing a lot more guts on the issue than Mr. Vietnam Valor Guy, John Kerry. Meantime, GOP damage control kicks in: Fellow House Republicans are saying Bereuter’s just getting even for not getting better committee assignments.