Saturday, February 7, 2009

The message is getting lost in the noise

Sort of the public announcement portion of the program.
If you're in the vicinity of the St. Vincent de Paul Place Soup Kitchen in Norwich (CT) around lunch time today, grab an apron and a spatula and give Mayor Lathrop a hand flipping burgers and making lunch. When the "City Hall Outreach" (or whatever snappy title it has) started last month, it was announced that every first Saturday of the month, the Mayor and others would be manning the grills. Since today is very much the first Saturday of the (next) month, that good deed should be going on. And if you had a couple of bucks in your apron pocket to give to the folks who run the soup kitchen, I'll bet they could put it to good use.

I didn't really follow the Beijing Summer Olympics (and just me, or is the turn of phrase, "Relive Beijing 2008" just a little too creepy?). Once I learned the Chinese authorities weren't going to permit the televising of the "500 meter Can You Outrun a Tank?" dash, my small amount of interest in the proceedings pretty much evaporated like tear gas on a breezy day.

I wasn't alive when the world held its nose and closed its eyes but went to the 1936 Summer Games in Hitler's Germany, but I'm young enough to hope my children, and yours, never ask us why we all decided to do it again. The best way to combat injustice and government-sanctioned murder, as we know from our own history, is to grow faint and silent when confronted by it.

Anyway. I don't really know a great deal about Michael Phelps. Egotist that I am, I will note that I know more about him than he about me (is that a me4z4 play on words? Not really, but thanks. Y'know, your guy really does smell good) so I'm aware of the media turmoil about what sounds like a variation of the "I didn't inhale" defense all those years ago.

The guy has won, what?, a dozen or more Olympic gold medals for swimming? He is a professional swimmer (which has got to be a bit like being a professional cyclist) you do it for the love of the sport, I suppose). How do you, or can you make a living as a professional swimmer? What does he put on the line on the hotel room registration for 'occupation'? How does the front desk check that out, fill the tub? Half the time, watching swimming on TV, you can't even see the person because of all the churn in the water and the head bobbing and the arms flailing. How do you make any money? From leasing the space on the bathing cap or on the back side of your swimming trunks?

And now Phelps is not permitted to swim competitively for three months. What little I saw of the coverage in Beijing leads me to conclude when he was in the pool, the races weren't all that competitive in the first place, so what is the real point? I guess it's symbolic--have a photo with your face buried in a bong (because we all know what goes with a bong) and no swimming for three months. Sort of like Mom telling you to NOT go in the ocean for an hour after eating. The fish now wear wristwatches?

I get the larger argument about setting an example and being a role model. Noted--except, just you and me now, how many of us want our children to grow up to be professional swimmers? Far less than those of us who want them to grow up to be happy. So much for the 'example and role model' contention. And let me also point out Phelps didn't sign up to be anything other than a kid poolside, going swimming. When did all of this turn into all of that?

Here's what I think: all the government sponsored public service messages for just how awful and evil drugs really and truly are (and I'm sure they are. And expensive, too. I dropped a fortune on Uriah Heep albums back in the day. And I gotta tell ya, for the most part, now they are mostly unlistenable), all those arguments basically got shot in the butt when the Phelps and the bong photo surfaced (maybe a sponsor can buy space on the barrel of the bong? They're doing wonders with photoshop these days, ask the Iranians. Hey! A couple of bucks is a couple of bucks, okay?).

My first thought was "golly, how many medals could he have won if he weren't inhaling?" My second thought was "since when do I ever use the word 'golly' when thinking? Jeepers!" With his capacity built up from all those years of training, his lungs could probably inhale a cloud the size of Katrina. All across America, the men and women on police forces who have Officer DARE duty have been looking at children seated across from them at school desks, lecturing on the evils of weed, whites and wine, knowing the kids are laughing all the way home on the school bus. The silver lining to this, I guess, would have to be that interest in high school swim teams is at an all-time high. Let's do a couple of laps in celebration, okay?
-bill kenny

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