Wednesday, February 24, 2010
As we watch them compete, we root for our favorites and we share vicariously in their success, or lack thereof. We sympathize with the underdog and we revel in the glow of the winners. We are puzzled by the decisions of judges and we are stunned by the missteps of our heroes.
But we understand that in all these competitive events, it is the young person “in the moment” who is giving it their best, in the hopes of culminating 4 years of preparation and training with a coveted Olympic Medal. The athlete goes into the event ready to prove their mettle and live up to their “favorite” status. Sometimes they succeed; sometimes they are eclipsed by someone else. But they have given it their best and are proud of what they’ve done.
Except Sven Kramer. Not much of the American audience has seen or grasped the sheer terror, frustration, and disillusion of this 23-year old speed skater from the Netherlands. He is the Olympic Champion on the 5K speed skate, setting a rare new Olympic record on ice that is considered slow by international standards. He was the undisputed favorite for the 10K event held yesterday. He had won every 10K event he competed in since the Turin Olympics. He is the World Record holder on that distance and he was uninjured and unafraid. He started his 10K pursuit yesterday in the last pairing, knowing that the surprising Lee Seung-Hoo from Korea had previously broken the Olympic Record with a gutsy and inspiring race. And all who watched live or online were wondering, is Sven up to the challenge?
He was, but his coach wasn’t. About half-way through the race, while Sven was leading by a margin of over 5 seconds, his coach observed Sven going to the wrong lane during the change. Or so he thought in what must have been a moment of panic for him. In a split-second decision, the coach broke habit and directed Sven to the inside lane. Sven followed the unanticipated directive and finished the race in first place, with a new Olympic Record. But he came to realize in the latter laps of the contest that something had gone wrong. His girlfriend in the stands had her eyes covered. The stadium was quiet, where the Dutch are notoriously supportive of their skaters. He knew and so did his coach. Four years of work, one chance for gold and eternal 10K glory; all gone because of a coaches’ mistake.
Who is to blame? No one, of course. But when it comes to worst moments in sports, this has to be right up there.
Monday, February 22, 2010
My Right-Side-of-Lowell friend put a guilt trip on me to put out a post on the (not unexpected) fall of the Dutch Government. When I noticed Saturday morning that a 20-hour marathon Cabinet meeting resulted in the resignation of the Liberal (PvDA) ministers, I was not surprised. It doesn’t surprise me that cooler heads were unable to prevail after what must have been a tense, polarizing, and meeting. I am, however, disappointed in the outcome and a bit apprehensive about the future of the Dutch Body Politic.
Let me explain. The Dutch have a long history of governing from the middle. Due to the political system, coalition cabinets are the norm and the prominent leader of the largest party typically serves as Prime Minister for an extended period. While I haven’t researched the statistics on Cabinet longevity, only 6 post World War II cabinets have completed their term (that’s 6 out of 26!). The fact that Balkenende IV just fell indicates that 3 previous Cabinets existed under Jan Balkenende’s leadership and he hasn’t been able to go the distance with any of them. He has been the Dutch leader since 2002 and his Central Democratic Alliance (a party formed by the merge of a number of smaller, Christian-principle and center left parties) has been a major party and routinely part of the ruling coalition for the past 35 years.
The liberal Labor Party (Party van de Arbeid) has fluctuated in their popularity and swapped “largest” party status with the CDA a number of times during these past decades. The personal ambitions of its leader Wouter Bos, the Deputy Prime Minister of the fallen Cabinet, played a key role in the fall of Balkenende IV.
At the heart of the rift was the promised timeline for Dutch Troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Dutch troops support the NATO mission and are scheduled to end their rotation by the end of the year. NATO, the US, and the CDA all assessed the current situation in Afghanistan as requiring continued support of international troops to allow time for the surge to succeed. Hence, the CDA (Balkenende and his CDA Secretary of State, Maxime Verhagen) were open to debate future commitments of troops to NATO’s mission. The PvdA publicly rejected that possibility out of hand.
It seems the PvdA is not interested in facts, only perception. Their perception is that the war in Afghanistan is unpopular in the Netherlands, a perception supported by opinion polls. The poll numbers of the PvdA’s leadership (Wouter Bos) have been slipping for some time – economic turmoil will do that to you. The fact is that one of the leading Dutch newspapers (NRC Handelsblad) points out that the decision to resign will cast the PvdA as the irresponsible party, willing to let the country go ungoverned during an economic crisis, facing charges of abandoning the international community. And that this Cabinet’s fall could be a watershed moment in the history of Dutch politics.
Why am I concerned for the Body Politic in The Netherlands? In one word: Radicalization. Coalition governments do not have a long history of success and the electorate is not happy with the direction the leading parties have been advocating. Populists such as Geert Wilders threaten to undermine the historical Dutch Tolerance. There is a real possibility that the Dutch electorate might gravitate toward Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) and elevate it to a major party. It seems to me that “radicals” haven’t done much good in the world. Whether you agree with Wilders or not, it is indisputable that his and the PVV ideas, are radical departure of the Dutch norm. Radicalism may sell and make for compelling news cycles. But in the end, no radical in history has expanded the freedom of its constituents or created enduring peace and stability.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Here is the official report. Clearly the goods are classified and not included but the statement "We conclude.......several officers failed to comply with those policies when taking actions regarding the alleged perpetrator" is telling!
Monday, December 21, 2009
Too black or white you say? How about Driving without seat belts fastened: smart or stupid?
We make rules and regulations (laws really) to govern the way we intend people to operate motor vehicles in our midst, not only to protect us from harm, but to protect drivers and occupants from themselves. I know, some among us feel that such governmental intrusion is unwarranted and overreaching, something to be avoided at (almost) all costs. Who are we to tell motorcyclists to wear helmets? Why should I wear a seat belt - I am not hurting anyone!! For the record, I always wear my seat belt when in the front seat of any vehicle (as required by law and common sense).
As far as not hurting anyone, I caught the local news story today where a 24-year-old Lowell woman died overnight in an single vehicle crash on I-93. Michelle was unfortunately not wearing her seat belt and was ejected when her car tested the tensile strength of the abutting trees. She was someone's daughter, someone's friend, perhaps someone's love. She hurt not only herself, but all those who knew her, cared for her, and had high hopes for her. She didn't follow the rules or the Law and she will never have the chance to change her mind.
You do! If you don't believe that seat belts save lives, yours and your loved ones inside and outside the car, the Internet has many resources to show you otherwise. A sample can be found here:
But who needs information, right? This is just Common Sense. So tell me, who lived through their crash in these tow photos? Yep, the firefighter did.
Merry Christmas - - be safe out there and enjoy the New Decade!! And let's rely on Common Sense -- that should be the Law!!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
The movie, featuring Morgan Friedman in a Oscar-worthy performance as Mr. Mandela, derives its title from a poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley, who lost his foot to tuberculosis and (according to Wikipedia) wrote this very powerful reflection on the human condition.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
All I can say is "wow". I know; inadequate and banal but heartfelt. I am not much for poetry, but the emotions in this work really connected with me at a visceral level. And it seems to perfectly apply to Mr. Mandela, who emerged from a 27-year imprisonment to go on and lead South Africa out of the darkness of Apartheid into Integration! Go see the movie.....
With thanks to Wikipedia!