Friday, July 29, 2005

Jonesin' For Jim: Parachurch Group Followers Drinking Different Flavors Of Kool-Aid

In the last several years, a lot of people I know, love, and respect have more publicly - even defiantly - stood in opposition to the notion that the Republican Party is the only one in which a follower of Christ can truly be represented.

As terms like emergent and postmodern have turned up, so too has the volume by those suggesting the G-O-P is not G-O-D and that the way of Christ goes not through Baghdad but rather through the refugee camps in Sudan and the inner cities of the United States.

I wonder if another term might also be appropriate for these people: Democrats.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld says. The Democratic Party certainly needs redeeming, as does the GOP. I just don't understand the subterfuge. (I do, however, really enjoy that word. Good word.)

You won't hear Jim Wallis (Sojourners) openly declaring Democratic Party loyalty, just as James Dobson (Focus on the Family) won't say in so many words that God is a Republican. But neither disguises his preference very well.

In the previous Presidential election, Wallis' Sojourners proffered this print ad:

The sentiment is true enough, of course. But it's hardly coincidence that Republican precedes Democrat or that Democrat is in patently tinier type, as if the blue bumper stickers had gone to print and the bottom line added as an afterthought.

It would take such concerted efforts, however, for a group like Sojourners to begin pecking away at the substantial lead the Dobsonites have built on behalf of the Right throughout American Christendom.

What if both guys came out with the following joint announcement:

"We're against the legalization of marijuana." (Sorry, I couldn't resist. Let's try again.)

"Okay, folks. The charade is over. We've been shills for our respective parties, in case you hadn't already caught on. Also, Milli Vanilli was lip-synching. Anyway, We're coming out of the closet to openly declare ourselves a Democrat (J-Dub) and a Republican (J-Dob), not because it's God's favorite but because the issues they're trying to advance are the ones which most closely and respectively resonate with us as we attempt to follow Christ. We're sorry we've divided more than we've united. By formally declaring our allegiances, we hope to work within our parties to encourage our fellow members to 'act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly' with our God. And we pray our mutual efforts will result in both sides behaving more nobly."

I think there's a better chance of seeing Milli Vanilli on Broadway.


[On a side note, I'm a little disappointed in the rather benign response from Republicans to my call for Karl Rove's head in the previous post. A limp accusation of ACLU membership here, an innocent-'til-proven-guilty upbraid there. Really, the most havoc-wreaking rejoinder was Brandon Thomas' speedo bombshell.

I extracted considerably more vitriol from my friends on the left after I skewered President Clinton for not stepping down following the Lewinsky affair, his feral and finger-wagging denial in front of God and man, and the subsequent Moni-culpa.

It makes me nervous when one side screams louder than the other at my offerings. Makes me feel uncomfortably close to the side that's less riled up. Although after spending much of my life trying to get people to like me (to nearly no avail), I must say it's more fun when people disagree with my point of view. Like when they protest to their husbands about too much golf content.]

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Protecting The Family Jewels

Members of Auburn University's NCAA Championship men's swim team presented President Bush with a speedo during their triumphant visit to the White House last week. Bush said he wouldn't wear least not in public.

Still, my guess is that there's a better chance of seeing America's Emperor in his new clothes doing laps across the Potomac than there is of him firing his right hand man, Karl Rove.

I have no idea if Rove has committed a crime or if he leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the press at all, as many on the left suspect. What I do know is that Rove has been getting his W-2s from W all these years for one reason and one reason only: to make sure his boss looks good. And outing the spouse of a noted war critic is precisely the kind of cold-blooded hit a hired gun is there for.

The scruples (or lack thereof) of the Roves and James Carvilles are debatable, but what isn't is their ability to take America's pulse and get their men to push the appropriate buttons. I might, with some resistance, concede the concept that it's okay to do whatever necessary within reason to win an election so one can effect positive change. Where you lose me is when a guy who's only job is to make sure his man wins keeps his job once the candidate's a lame duck.

Mr. President - and don't pretend this blog isn't part of your morning briefing - you could strike a blow against the nasty side of partisan politics by relieving Rove of his duties right now. Not because he's necessarily done anything illegal or because he's intrinsically evil but because there are no other elections to win. Throw him a party if you want. Send him off with a gold watch. He deserves at least that. But don't keep him on your payroll or in your ear.

It has seemed to me at times that Bush so reveres the men in his father's inner circle that he's had trouble trusting his own instincts.

"If Rummy says wipe out Saddam, who am I to argue? Heck, I traded Sammy Sosa."

Rove was there when Bush I was Reagan's running mate in 1980. And he was there in the former's ill-fated re-election campaign of 1992. Any wonk of Dad's is a wonk of Dubya's.

But the President doesn't need to land a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier to state the obvious: Karl Rove's mission has been accomplished. He got Bush II an eight-year rental agreement on the classy side of Pennsylvania Avenue. It's time for the President to hand his attack dog's leash to the next would-be tenant of that property and concentrate on doing whatever good he can over the remainder of his final four-year contract with the American people, not on whatever Rove decides would spike the poll numbers.

For multiple reasons, Bush would be better off choosing to let Rove go now before a court of law chooses for him. It's increasingly clear that Rove's job (and his genius) has been to protect not America's interests necessarily but those of his employer. Politics - like speedos - always expose people in the end.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Money In The Bank: Indelible Images Of Woods, Nicklaus Left At St. Andrews

Poor Tiger. The closer he tries to get to Jack Nicklaus, the further Nicklaus moves away. The week Tiger notched his 10th career major championship - moving to within eight of Nicklaus' record total - the Royal Bank of Scotland unveiled some new Jack, specifically a series of five-pound notes stamped with the upper torso of Jack Nicklaus clutching the Claret Jug.

It's even money whether or not Woods will make or break 18. But the odds are against ever seeing a paper Tiger. Before Nicklaus, only royalty had graced Scottish currency.

It is on paper, of course, that Tiger has been the favorite at each Grand Slam event since he won the Masters by 12 in 1997. And now, for the second time in his career - with a second swing, no less - he's racking up the biggies in bunches. A five-shot victory at The Old Course gives Tiger two of three majors this year. The last time he took two out of three, it was merely the beginning of a stretch in which he won seven of 11.

That streak had both close calls and blowouts, and so does this one. Tiger coughed up a two-up-with-two-to-play lead in April at Augusta before DiFeating DiMarco in extras. At the 134th Open Championship, Tiger went wire-to-wire. But while opening rounds of 66-67 put him atop page one of the leaderboard Friday afternoon, he was nearly relegated to the agate type of the world's sports pages Saturday morning. Nicklaus missed the cut in his final major championship appearance but found himself in the lead of every story with a St. Andrews dateline.

That scene of 50,000 fans at the birthplace of golf saying goodbye to the player Tiger called "the greatest champion in the history of the sport" proved how unique this game is. Remember the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 1999 when they wheeled Ted Williams out to the pitcher's mound at Fenway Park to shake hands with some of that season's best players? It was an amazing moment, but Nicklaus playing The Old Course would be like Teddy Ballgame or Willie Mays or Reggie Jackson - 20, 30, 40 years past their playing days - stepping into the batter's box against Randy Johnson in his prime. It couldn't happen in any other sport.

Jack didn't just show up at St. Andrews, he played well enough to threaten the weekend. Needing a birdie-birdie finish Friday, Nicklaus instead bogeyed the famed Road Hole, and the final weepy walk up and over the sacred Swilcan Bridge was on, two days earlier than he'd hoped. Not one for long goodbyes, Nicklaus went ahead and birdied 18 for posterity, then walked off major championship soil for the last time. He said there was a small part of him that was glad to get it over with so the fans wouldn't have to come back out and cheer him on again Sunday. That makes one of him. You think any golf fan anywhere wouldn't love the opportunity to applaud the one they first called Fat Jack? Fat chance.

Sorriest to see Nicklaus go must surely be his heir apparent. Having already achieved the Tiger Slam by winning four straight majors from the 2000 U.S. Open through the '01 Masters, Woods accomplished the Grand Finale Slam Sunday: he won in Jack's final appearance in each of the four major championships.

Like the Golden Bear, Tiger's now won twice at St. Andrews. In pleasant conditions, The Old Course really isn't much of a test for Tiger, as evidenced by his 11 under par total through two tame rounds. When the winds kicked up for the next round and a half, the best player in the world - and to think we doubted - proved that defense wins championships in golf, too. Playing it safe, Tiger hit only one really bad shot over the final two days - his tee ball into the gorse Saturday on 6 - in rounds of 71-70, which turned back his Ryder Cup rivals, Colin Montgomerie and Jose-Maria Olazabal, each of whom crept to within one at various points over the weekend before fading on the back nine Sunday.

The golf cognoscenti will wonder why no one made Tiger work harder when it counted, which is merely one of three responses to any tournament he has a chance to win. That's what they say when he wins big. When someone does push him to the limit, as DiMarco did at Augusta, the media says he couldn't put the guy away. And when someone actually gets the better of him, like Michael Campbell at Pinehurst, the first finger is pointed not at the winner but at Tiger's inability to seal the deal.

Meanwhile, Tiger's piling up majors and laughing all the way to the bank where - in Scotland, at least - he needs look no further than that five-pound note to remind himself what kind of investment it will take to be the best ever. And in return, you can bet that account will interest Bear.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Open And Shut

While America sleeps Wednesday night and Thursday morning, golf's oldest championship, The British Open, will begin at the birthplace of the game, St. Andrews, Scotland. First played in 1860, The Open Championship - as its known everywhere in the world except on U.S. soil - predates the American Civil War. No, Jack Nicklaus didn't participate in that inaugural tournament. (According to extant archives, he failed to qualify that year.) But he is playing at St. Andrews this week in what he says will be his final appearance in a major championship, 18 of which he's won in his indescribable career.

Tiger Woods got halfway to that magic number in April when he made The Masters his ninth major triumph. That win, his second at the U.S. Open last month, and the fact that he won his only British Open at St. Andrews five years ago make Tiger the trendy pick this week. Not only will I not go out on a limb with my prognostication, I'm climbing down from the tree and going inside to watch the tournament on TV. Gimme Tiger.

Fuzzy Zoeller Couldn't Make It
Who says the curmudgeonly Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews doesn't have a sense of humor? The Open Championship's governing body paired Sean O'Hair with Danny Chia. The third member of the group is Patrik Sjoland, the Swede whose surname is translated "hairy, quasi-botanical creature usually given as a white elephant gift." (It's possible I may have made up that last part.)

Green With Envy
For the second consecutive week, 15-year-old Michelle Wie is a girl among boys and men. A week ago, the PGA TOUR's John Deere Classic made its cut - as a John Deere is wont to do - and Wie fell short by two. Some TOUR players continue to grumble that a high school girl takes up space in a tournament of professional men. Pretty lame, if you ask me, but at least those guys are trying to make a living.

Danny Green has no excuse. The talented Tennessean Volunteered to embarrass himself this week while competing against Wie in the U.S. Amateur Public Links. Amateur, as in not for prize money. Wie's the first female to qualify - and rightfully qualify, she did - for any men's championship run by the USGA. The winner has traditionally received an invitation to play in The Masters, which is Wie's dream and the reason she's playing the Publinx. At 48, Green is the oldest player in the field. He seemed downright Jurassic when he suggested Wie "should play in the women's tournaments because they don't let the men play in women's tournaments."

No, Danny, and they don't let you compete in the U.S. Junior or Senior Amateurs, either. But perhaps if you ask nicely, they'll let you play them all. Maybe I can pull some strings at The Golf Channel and get you a special exemption into the Drive, Chip, and Putt Competition. I hear the 3-and-under Division has an opening after one of the toddlers dropped out with diaper rash.

There's no crying in golf. Besides, would you really want to start qualifying your victories by saying you were the best men's player that week? Quit being babies, and just beat her. Of course, that's easier said than done. Wie was one of 64 players who played well enough the first two days to advance to the match play portion of the championship. And with a birdie at the final hole Wednesday, she won her first round match to move one step closer to Augusta.

She's still a longshot, but so are most of the contestants in this event. Winning six straight matches isn't easy, regardless of which locker room you use. By the way, Green's locker's now empty. He lost to a 22-year-old man in the first round.

He Hopes His Cell Number Is Unlisted
When the news came down that former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers had been sentenced to 25 years in prison for engineering the biggest accounting fraud in U.S. history, my first thought was "There, but for the grace of God...." I mean, who among us hasn't been a misstep or two from bilking shareholders out of $11 billion of stock? Get those hands up. (Actually, $10 billion of that bilking came from government taxes, surcharges, fees, and running over his monthly allotment of minutes.)

The only bright spot for Ebbers is that he now qualifies for MCI's "Friends and Felons Plan." No incoming calls but one free call out.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Match, Met, 'n' Heaven

This post is brought to you by the letters F, U, and the number 36.

The only thing better than celebrating your birthday is extending the revelry to an entire week, which is about how long my sainted mother was in labor before delivering me into the world as a welterweight at a terrifying but even 11 pounds.

So it was that after friends and family feted me on the 36th anniversary of my rather obnoxious arrival on Earth, I boarded a plane Monday morning for what would prove to be a week of firsts, including maiden visits to Fenway Park and Shea Stadium...

(wait for it...)

That crash was the sound of Red Sox fans collectively chunking their chowder bowl through the computer screen. And in their defense, I'll admit that lumping Fenway and Shea into one experience - or even the same sentence - is like bragging that you've met two famous actors: Laurence Olivier and Pauly Shore. Same business, different league.

Fenway is Boston, and vice-versa. As long as you keep moving, everyone's happy. I'd made it approximately 90 seconds and 200 yards before my ignorance of this single rule of Mass. transit took its toll. Or tried to. A left-right-left out of the Avis lot led me to the on ramp of the Ted Williams Tunnel, a passage that required a $3 charge. I had exactly nothing. Like the tunnel's namesake, I froze. The guy in the booth grudgingly fetched a form and return envelope for me to send in my three bills. And as he did, a detail from the Boston Visitors Bureau was lining up behind me to welcome me with a staccato of hello honks and a collective point in the right direction with one big middle finger. It was comforting, in a weird way. You don't want to be told to fuhgeddaboudit by a waitress at a Chattanooga Cracker Barrel. And you don't want to hear "Howdy!" in the Hub.

Outside Fenway, I bought a ticket along the rightfield line and made my way in with a couple of friends who already had seats. As the Sox came to bat in the bottom of the first, my friends called and said there was one empty seat behind them and to come on down. "On down," precisely, was only the third row at Fenway Park. Hello, Mooch-a-chusetts! I was so close to the Red Sox on-deck circle I could've spit a sunflower seed into Johnny Damon's hair. And with that mane, I doubt he'd have ever known.

The whole experience was even better than I'd hoped. The sights, sounds, smells were unmistakably Fenway. The Green Monster. The Pesky Pole. The Citgo sign that's further beyond left field than it appears on TV. And a 2004 World Series banner that I suspect many in that park thought they'd never see.

Baseball isn't a game in Boston; it's a religion, complete with its own sacraments - franks (on white bread) and beer (which comes with the same instructions as shampoo: suds, rinse, repeat). And you're not just invited to partake, it's actually pointless to resist. More people offered to buy me a beer on the first day of my 37th year than in the previous 36 years combined. The scoreboard said Cleveland 7, Boston 0. But I was the clear winner on this night.

The next day wasn't bad either. After a quick tour of some Boston landmarks - the Old North Church, Harvard, Dunkin' Donuts - my friend and I teed it up at The International, founded in 1901 and billed as the longest golf course in the world at 8,325 yards. Not wanting to be rude, I played where my friend wanted. He likes his tee markers and his hot dog bread white. I didn't exactly bring the monster to its knees. But with a birdie at the 3rd, I did kick it in the shins really hard before signing for a 78, turning tail, and running away kicking and screaming like a teenage girl. Actually, 78 doesn't beat too many teenage girls these days.

The five-hour drive that afternoon from Boston to New Jersey where I was to broadcast the Women's World Match Play Championship for The Golf Channel took me down the Massachusetts Turnpike; through Hartford, Connecticut; across the New York state line; past West Point; and finally into New Jersey. I remember hearing Rodney Dangerfield one time deliver the line, "You from Jersey? What exit?" I always wondered if that was offensive to the people who lived there. It wasn't to me.

Jersey's an interesting place. It's one of two states (the other being Oregon) where it's mandatory for a filling station employee to pump your gas. This further proves Dan Quayle was right back in 1992 when he pointed to a "Help Wanted" sign at a Burger King on the campaign trail to prove there really were good jobs out there. Of course, the work is for men only. Murphy Brown and all the other moms should stick to pumping breast milk and everything will be okay.

The golf tournament's host city, Gladstone, is a cozy village and, as far as I could tell, unpopulated. I was there four days and didn't see a soul. Yet 45 miles to the east is arguably the most important city in the world, New York. And argue, New Yorkers did. In my one foray into the city, I was:

honked at in the Holland Tunnel
cut off by a cab in Manhattan
scalped at Shea Stadium
lost on Long Island
and flipped off of Manhattan as I headed back to Jersey.

It was great.

Back at the tournament, my good friend and Golf Channel colleague, Kay Cockerill, and I discussed the allegations by a former LPGA caddy that he had fathered the child of a player, who just happens to be one of the most well-known members of the tour's weekly Bible study. Kay said (with tongue somewhere in the vicinity of cheek), "You Christians are always the ones who seem the most screwed up and need God to solve all of your problems. And yet you seem to look down on people who have some sense of balance in their lives." I hate when she makes good points like that. It's true that calls for repentance ring kinda hollow when the callers' lifestyles aren't nearly as holy as the ones they're calling. Of course, angels are easy targets once they've fallen, and the only reason they fall so far is because they're aspiring for great heights.

The conversation and the cart path turned as we came upon the third hole at Hamilton Farm Golf Club where rookie sensation Paula Creamer was suffering through comments like this from one of the guys in her pro-am group after his buddy left a birdie putt short: "Hey, you oughta be playing on the ladies' tour!" The chauvinist pig promptly stepped up and yanked his attempt a good Buick-length left of the hole. And then Creamer "chau"-ed him a thing or two by ramming hers right in the heart to rescue the team from par.

This tournament aired on The Golf Channel Thursday and Friday but was produced by CBS, which carried the weekend rounds. That meant I got to again work with my friend and the head of CBS golf, Lance Barrow, aka "The Round Mound of the TV Compound."

Before our first telecast, we discussed ideas for the show. Sort of. When I tried to make a suggestion, Lance proved he wasn't cutting any slack to his fellow Abilene Christian alum by scoffing, "I don't know who you been working with, but you let me worry about what we're going to do." I assumed he was kidding, so during rehearsal I offered my own good-natured jab in his direction, only to have him fire back, "Watch it. I'll come up there (to the booth). Don't think I won't. I don't know who you been working with, but I'll come up there and take care of things if that's what it takes..."

Gulp. Lance is a former football player, who's still big enough to squish me in his loafers. At that point, I wasn't so sure he was kidding. But he was. I think. I hope.

The week ended with one final full-serve fill up and the check-in at Newark International Airport where the sign for all of the carriers running out of Terminal B listed Ethiopian Airlines immediately above Hooters Air. My first thought was that the passenger perks must be a tad different. My second thought was that Addis Ababa is either the capital of Ethiopia or what a guy at Hooters stammers as he simultaneously ogles his server and snarfs his wings.

Alas, I flew plain old American Airlines back home as my birthweek celebration concluded. But knowing such a beautiful wife and three precious kids were waiting for me when I walked through the door, I figured every day is like a birthday.