Friday, June 26, 2009

Strange Standards

Jimmie Johnson is a nominee for ESPN's Male Athlete of the Year, called the ESPYs. His competition is Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Phelps. I doubt if Jimmie wins because his isn't a household name like NBA players and Olympics gold medal winners. But if the voters are looking, not just for someone outstanding in their sport, but outstanding as a role model for fans of those sports, especially young ones, Jimmie should get it hands down.

Consider Michael Phelps. Despite his spectacular achievements in the Olympics, Michael was photographed engaging in criminal activity, namely, puffing on a bong, at a college no less. And it's not that I'm even especially judgmental about smoking marijuana. I personally believe pot should be legalized. But the fact is, it's not. So Michael knowingly broke the law, in front of students who see him as someone to look up to and emulate. What he did has gotten other people thrown in jail and resulted in a criminal record. For me, that knocks him out of the competition.

Then we have Kobe Bryant, once accused of sexual assault. He did admit to adultery, although he claimed the sex was consensual. In the end, the alleged victim refused to testify so the prosecutor dropped the charges. I worked for a prosecutor's office. In my experience, most prosecutors don't bring charges unless they have some fairly convincing evidence (although admittedly, there are exceptions). Still, I believe it is more likely than not that Kobe coerced the girl to some extent. She ended up suing him civilly and an agreement was reached. Even if we only accept the adultery, it tilts Kobe off his pedestal, despite his extraordinary accomplishments on the court.

And lastly, LeBron James. I don't watch basketball and I don't know much about LeBron except that he has fantastic stats along with a rather poor attitude toward sportsmanship, refusing, for instance, to congratulate his opponents when he loses. Sportsmanship, however, is an important part of being an admirable athlete.

To me, their actions preclude these three from being named Male Athlete of the Year despite their indisputable talent in their individual sports. Some behavior excepts you from certain honors, despite your achievements in your field.

Presidents, for instance. We impeached a president for having oral sex. Bill Clinton might very well go down in the history books as an excellent president. In fact, I expect he will. But I doubt he'll be having many schools or airports named after him any time soon because of his extracurricular failings.

Same with Kobe, Michael and LeBron.

Meanwhile, we have Jimmie, a sportsman both on and off the track. He's humble in victory and gracious in defeat. His reputation is that he's a clean driver. He pushes hard to win but he won't dump another driver to do it. There has never been a breath of scandal about his personal life. Much of his spare time is spent raising funds for his own charitable organization, the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, as well as others.

If by "Athlete of the Year", we only go by statistics, then these four athletes are probably pretty evenly matched but if we include personal integrity as part of being a superior athlete, then it's no contest. Winner - Jimmie.

All Michael, All the Time

The news this morning on Morning Joe was non-stop Michael Jackson. I got in my car, where the Sirius radio is permanently tuned to the NASCAR station, gratefully believing I'd escape from Jackson-mania but low and behold, even the Morning Drive hosts were stuck on celebrating the life and times of the King of Pop.

On both t.v. and radio, the coverage verged on reverent. I heard effusive testimonials from friends and fans. People who said they would always remember where they were when they heard of his death (a la John F Kennedy's assassination). People who said that the release of the Thriller album was a defining moment in their lives. People who were so beset by grief (Elizabeth Taylor) they couldn't even make a statement. I heard people call Michael "the first Obama" because he "transcended the race barrier". I heard from people who believe him to be the entertainment icon of their generation. To be adored, admired, hero-worshipped.

The one thing all these people forgot to say or glossed over or chose to ignore was the inalterable fact that Michael Jackson was a freak. They pretended they didn't notice the bleached white Michael Jackson with the leper nose and the grossly inflated lips. The masked Micheal. The Michael who appeared in court clad in pajamas. The Michael who slept in a germ-free, air-cleansed module. The Micheal who lived in a fairy tale world of zoo animals and merry-go-rounds.

The Michael Jackson who, acquitted or not, obviously had a perverse and perverted relationship with children, even his own.

The Michael Jackson who we always suspected, and now know, had an equally perverse and perverted attachment to chemicals of various kinds.

It's not that unusual for creativity to morph into monstrosity. Remember the fat and drugged out man who once was Elvis. Remember John and Yoko Lennon and their naked craziness.

But Elvis harmed only himself. And the same with Lennon.

Does fantastic talent, which no one would ever deny Michael Jackson, really excuse every other failing, up to and including the harming of children? Someone once said that "you can't be insane if you are rich enough". Evidentally, you can't be guilty if you are celebrity enough either. Michael was a rich celebrity which is probably the only reason he wasn't institutionalized, either in a mental health care facility or a prison.

He died of cardiac arrest but it appears now that it may have been drug induced. Sorry but Michael Jackson, despite his success as an entertainer, has neither my admiration my respect. I found him pathetic. I won't be lighting any candles or leaving any wreathes.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

As the World Turns....

- a sad thing - Farrah Fawcett died today. Farrah was the iconic woman of my generation, a golden girl if ever there was one. She had the best selling poster of her time. Even my son, 10 years old then, had it hanging on his bedroom wall. Ask most of us young women who we most would have liked to look like and it would have been Farrah of the fabulous hair, hair we all tried to emulate but next quite could. She was a Charlie's Angel, a sex object. When she decided to be a serious actress, she was laughed at but she paid her dues and earned her credibility. And earned even more with the courageous way she handled her illness. She stayed beautiful even when chemotherapy took away the hair. Bless you, Farrah, you're still one of my heroines.

- an infuriating thing - Congress is going to totally muck up health care again. What is so freakin' complicated about Medicare for Everyone? Ah, say the Republicans, and even some Democrats, the government can't do business as well as the private sector. Yeah? Is that right? Then how come the insurance companies are doing such a rotten job now (almost 20% paid out for administrative costs) compared to Medicare (3% for administration). Do you supposed it could be because the Medicare honchos don't make $26 million a year like the private CEOs? If you're wealthy and healthy, insurance companies are fine. But if you happen to be poor or sick, you're up the creek. And now Congress wants me to start paying taxes on my health care benefits like they are income. And, force me to buy it (like car insurance) whether I can afford it or not. Tell me how any of this is going to make health care better? Answer: it's not. Congress is going to create another monster, which is one of the things they do best.

- another infuriating thing - On NASCAR Now, Mark Martin was asked what he thought of Kyle Busch (why he was asked this particular question is a whole other issue). His reply - he thinks Kyle is one of the greatest drivers, maybe the best since Jeff Gordon or even Dale Earnhardt. Notice anybody he left out of his list of exalted ones? Yep, that would be his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, just the winner of the last three Sprint Cup championships. Guess old Mark didn't think Jimmie deserved to belong on his group of "greatest". I used to have a deal with my friend, Larry, whose favorite driver Mark is. If he saw Mark couldn't win, he'd root for Jimmie and the same with me. All bets are off now. I'll root for anybody besides Mark. And while we're on the subject, I'm sick of Mark getting so much credit just for being old. Geez, I'm old myself but I don't feel like I should be on a pedastal because of it.

- a good thing - my kids are coming from Florida for the weekend. It will be great to see them. John is always telling me how hot and humid it is in the Keys. Today in Indiana it is 94 degrees and feels like a swamp. Should make them feel right at home.

- another good thing - I got my grant/budget finished and sent to Indianapolis today. One of the best things about being able to retire will be never having to present another budget to my overseers again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My Luck

I was happy yesterday, for a little while. My mileage reimbursement check came in at work - $355. I already had my Reynolds Oil bill paid so this was extra money, money that wasn't allotted to anything else, money with which I could do anything I chose. I could go to a casino. I could buy a purse. I could make a trip to Heaven on Earth and come home with baskets of Begonias and Petunias and Impatiens. I left Lafayette smiling....until I hit Highway 25.

When I began to feel a serious vibration in the front end of my car. The steering wheel shook. The tire made a persistent, loud "thunkety, thunkety, thunk". I could relate to race car drivers when they shout over their radios, "I think I've got a tire doing down, I'm gonna' have to come to pit road!"

I did as I always do when I have car problems. I sped up to try to get to help faster and turned the radio louder so I can pretend I don't notice the sound of whatever the problem is. I kept my fingers crossed. In this way, I thumped and bumped my way home. With great relief, I saw the "Wabash City Limits" sign come into view. I crept into Friermood Tire, my own personal version of pit road. My friend, Bryan, came out and took a look. He pointed to a huge bulge in my right front tire.

"That didn't happen because of old tires," he told me, "have you hit anything recently?"

"Well," I said, "there was that giant chunk of semi tire, I smacked into going to Florida. It scared me at the time but then I forgot it."

"Going TO Florida," he questioned, "so you've driven approximately 1,000 miles since then? And you didn't notice any vibration until now?"

"Maybe a little."

"Then why didn't you come in and have it checked out sooner?"

"You know how I am about car stuff. I always wait to see if it's going to fix itself first."

"Yeah, I guess you thought your oil would change itself too since you're about 7,000 miles overdue."

Long story short. I had my oil changed and got four new tires. Total cost - slightly over $400. So I went from a joyful plus $355 to a dejected $45 in the hole in the space of a couple hours.

Typical.

Should Danica Come to NASCAR?

Rumor has it that Danica Patrick is at least considering making the switch to NASCAR from the Indy Racing League. (Of course, that same rumor floats around every time Danica's contract is close to being up and may be more about salary negotiation than anything else.) If Danica did move over to stock cars, it would be a huge loss for the Indy series and a big gain for NASCAR. Not because Danica would necessarily turn out to be a winning driver in NASCAR, at least, not for a while, but because she is a genuine celebrity and events that depend on public support live or die by their super stars and the sponsor money they are able to attract.

My prediction is that Danica will not leave Indy for NASCAR, at least not in the near term, for three reasons:

1) She's truly making her mark in IRL. Once simply a beautiful sideshow, she has now won a race, is currently ranked fifth in championship points, finished third at the Indianapolis 500 this year. I think she'll want to stay until she wins the 500, the crown jewel of Indy car racing. To leave now would mean cutting short a dream only partially achieved.

2) She is a big frog in the relatively small pond of Indy cars, probably the most recognized name in the series. Granted, she'd get lots of publicity in NASCAR but she'd still be one among many. Her competition for fan adoration would be Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards.... Her sex would give her a natural base of support. Lots of men would gravitate to her because she's gorgeous and sexy; lots of women would follow her simply to support one of their own. (Of course, others would dismiss her for the very same reasons). Right now, she has her lilly pad pretty much to herself. She might prefer it that way.

3) To succeed in NASCAR, Danica would most likely have to slide downward into one of the lesser series for a season, maybe ARCA or at least Nationwide, until she got the hang of driving a stock car. Many high performing open wheel drivers have tried to make the transition without a great deal of immediate success including Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish, A. J. Allmendinger. They are all making progress but it's been a long haul. Patrick Carpentier gave up, although not willingly, as also happened with Dario Franchitti. Max Papis and Scott Speed are both Sprint Cup rookies this year, having come from open wheel, and both are finding it tough going. Now that Danica seems to have hit hit her stride as a race car driver, I seriously doubt if she'd want to drop down in class to start all over.

Events could prove me wrong though. Right now, IRL seems to be in a state of uncertainty, with no one quite knowing where Tony George will end up in the scheme of things. If the league's future looks shaky, that could propel Danica to NASCAR. Or she could simply be offered a deal it would be impossible to refuse by one of the top teams.

I hope she makes the switch. I admire and root for Danica although I'm not a big Indy car afficionado. Her presence would add an extra element of interest and excitement to my favorite sport. I'd admire and root for her in NASCAR too, although, of course, only to come in second - after Jimmie.