Monday, June 30, 2008

But Isn't He Right?

McCain Campaign Slams Wesley Clark

The McCain campaign has worked itself into a lather over the comments made by Gen. Wesley Clark on "Face The Nation" Sunday. Here's the transcript of the controversial exchange, courtesy of Political Punch :

BOB SCHIEFFER: How can you say that John McCain is untested and untried, General?

CLARK: Because in the matters of national security policy making, it's a matter of understanding risk. It's a matter of gauging your opponents and it's a matter of being held accountable.

John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world.

But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded -- that wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle this publicly? He hasn't made that calls, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Well, General, maybe -- could I just interrupt you?

CLARK: Sure.

SCHIEFFER: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences, either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean...

CLARK: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

I bolded a portion I thought was interesting; McCain and his people have accused Clark of denigrating McCain's service. Obama took a minute in his patriotism speech today to say that "no one should ever devalue [military] service, especially for the sake of a political campaign."

And I have to say: I'm not seeing it.

OK, Clark takes a sentence to say that McCain didn't command a "wartime" squadron, whatever that means. That's a semantical distinction; whether it was a wartime squadron or not, McCain still risked his life in a battlefield environment, which is the important thing.

But beyond that, there's nothing particularly objectionable about Clark's comments. He's largely correct. McCain hasn't made the decision to commit troops to a foreign land. (Neither has Obama) He hasn't crafted a diplomatic strategy. (Neither has Obama)

Clark explicitly honors McCain's service and his sacrifice. He acknowledges the heroism McCain showed. But he also points out the rather obvious point that being shot down is not prima facie evidence of the wisdom, judgement and discernment needed to be an effective president.

Political Punch guest blogger Ron Klein also points out that the response team assembled by the McCain campaign to slam Clark includes several veterans of the Swift Boat gang. Suffice it to say I find their outraged protestations rather unpersuasive.

Andrew Has a Terrible Confession

I don't like steak.

It's not that I actively dislike steak. I'll eat it without any complaints should it be set before me. If I'm dragged to a seafood restaurant and there's steak on the menu ( as was the case with a certain opera singer and a Gainesville Bonefish), I'll happily order the steak. But as much as I've tried, I simply cannot conjure up any real fondness for steak.

Yes, I'm a straight American male, carnivorous, raised in Kansas City, and steak just makes me shrug. The easy response is that I've never had a truly good steak. Maybe that's true; I've never been to one of KC's famous steak houses and I've never paid $30 for a good piece of meat. Maybe I've never had the perfect steak, one that's juicy and tender without being soggy, has no fat around the edges to clear off and generally makes the diner see God upon biting into it. But that seems unlikely.

Or maybe I'm just lazy. See, eating a steak is work, and I don't like bringing work to the dinner table. You have to cut every bite. You have to cut away the fat. It's like the anti-IKEA of dinner. "Here's your meal. Some disassembly required."

I could deal with all that effort if the pay-off was worth it. But when I bite into a steak, I just don't understand the hype. It does nothing for me beyond provide nutrition and sustenance.

My name is Andrew. I'm 24 years old. And I don't like steak.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Israel agrees to prisoner swap with Hezbollah

In order to retrieve two Israeli Army reservists, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were captured by Hezbollah in July 2006, thus sparking the infamous "Summer War" between Israel and the terrorist group, the Israeli cabinet has agreed to a prisoner swap arranged by the country's prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

Hezbollah hasn't made any comment on the condition of the two soldiers, and Israel is convinced the two are likely dead. In exchange for the bodies of Goldwasser and Regev, the Israelis will release five Lebanese prisoners. Among those is Samir Kuntar, a name that resonates in Israel, but not in the rest of the world.

On April 22, 1979, Kuntar took part in a raid on Israeli town of Nahariya, not far from the border with Lebanon. To make a long, tragic story short, Kuntar grabbed Danny Haran and his four-year-old daughter Einat from their apartment and dragged them to a nearby beach. He then shot Danny Haran and dashed four-year-old Einat's head against a rock.

Back in the Haran apartment, Danny's wife Smadar was hiding in a crawlspace, trying to keep her two-year-old daughter Yael from crying out and alerting another group of terrorists. Tragically, in trying to save Yael, Smadar actually smothered her to death.

Kuntar was captured by Israeli police, confessed to the crimes and is serving four life sentences. (Israel does not use capital punishment, with the exception of Adolf Eichmann in 1962) And now he will be released to Hezbollah.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Roger Goodell Hates Jake Long

Goodell on rookie pay: "There's something wrong."

Evidently tired of his role as the NFL's vice cop, Commissioner Roger Goodell has decided to become its salary scold. Friday, he took the extraordinary step of telling the media that one of the league's players, Dolphins' rookie left tackle Jake Long, is dramatically overpaid.

Goodell referred to Michigan tackle Jake Long's five-year, $57.75 million contract -- with $30 million guaranteed. Long was the first overall draft pick by the Miami Dolphins in April.

"He doesn't have to play a down in the NFL and he already has his money," Goodell said during a question-and-answer period at the end of a weeklong sports symposium at the Chautauqua Institution. "Also, his face is really weird."

OK, I made that last part up, but the rest is legit. Long wasn't quoted in the story, but I certainly hope he'll respond by saying, "Interesting. And I find it ridiculous that Goodell made $11.7 million last year despite the NFL Network fiasco and completely botching the entire Spygate saga. Also, his face is really weird."

Goodell, who was speaking at something called the Chautauqua Institution, which sounds like a mental hospital named after an Indian chief, didn't restrict his remarks to telling Jake Long that he made too much money. His greater point was that all NFL rookies make too much money, and the poor owners simply can't afford it any more.

"Now, with the economics where they are, the consequences if you don't evaluate that player, you can lose a significant amount of money. And that money is not going to players that are performing. It's going to a player that never makes it in the NFL. And I think that's ridiculous."

There's probably some legitimacy to the idea of a standard NFL rookie contract based on the NBA's system. College football stars might be more inclined to stay in school for their senior year if they know they're restricted to a three year, $10 million contract for being chosen in the top 10.

But the NFL's brass doesn't have the credibility to demand that its players make less money. Goodell's a smart guy. He knows he can earn blue collar cred with the average fan by raging against player salaries. No one ever lost popularity by saying athletes make too much money. But the NFL, even more than the other leagues, is a cutthroat operation. Contracts aren't guaranteed. Teams take young, athletic players, feed them through the meat grinder until they're no longer useful, and spit out crippled shadows. Running backs retire at 34 and spend the rest of their lives walking with a cane.

So if Jake Long can guarantee himself $30 million when he enters the league, it's not for Roger Goodell to scold him for it. By the time the league's through with Long, he'll need every cent of that money.

If the NFL wants to make progress on this issue, they need to make a grand conciliatory gesture toward its gladiator class. Come to the NFL Players Association with an offer of guaranteed contracts, and then I can take his concern for the players who are "performing" seriously.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival

It's never fun to criticize free Shakespeare. Organizations like the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, which is currently staging Othello in Kansas City's lovely S0uthmoreland Park, bring extraordinary works of art to the masses, and they do it for free. (Though their employees can rival any panhandler when it comes to begging for cash) It feels rather crass and ungrateful to castigate the HOASF for a sub-par performance. So believe me when I say that I take no pleasure in labeling the festival's presentation of Othello as, at best, workmanlike and mundane.

The heart of any Othello production is the performance of the two leads, Iago and the eponymous moor. If those two actors light up the stage, it can overwhelm a lot of mistakes. And it is here that the festival staging falls short.

Bruce Roach plays Iago, and his performance would be wonderful if he were cast as Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Roach is more mischievous than malevolent as Othello's scorned aide, and as often as he expresses his hatred for the moor, he never really sells it. As expressed by Roach, the entire scheme launched by Iago to destroy Othello comes off like an elaborate fraternity prank. Roach doesn't smirk, he smiles. He doesn't snicker, he guffaws. In short, he comes off as a sane, well-adjusted, good-humored soldier, a kind of 16th century, Venetian GI Joe. Iago's cruel genius, his all-consuming hatred, do not factor into Roach's performance.

And then there's Othello himself, played by Kansas City local Damon Gupton. Gupton is a conductor with the Kansas City Symphony and a Julliard trained actor, which makes him about 1,000 times more accomplished than I could ever hope to be. But his portrayal of Othello is almost distractingly schizophrenic.

For the first half of the play, Gupton brings precious little energy or verve to the performance. He expresses his love for Desdemona (played by Cassandra Schwanke; more on her in a moment) with the cold, unfeeling voice of a 1950's father disciplining his son. Gupton shows no passion in those early scenes. That might have worked as a style choice; Othello as the cautious outsider, overly protective of his emotions in an effort to conceal his vulnerabilities from a society that treats him more as a servant than a native son.

But as soon as Othello is led to believe Desdemona has been unfaithful, Gupton becomes a twitchy, roaring force of nature. He chews scenery and generally adopts as his acting philosophy the idea that louder equals better. Even his final, heinous act is not portrayed as a moment of intimate cruelty, but instead a homicidal release of pent-up rage. The audience is taken aback by Gupton's ferocity, but not truly shocked at the horror of his actions.

However, the play is far from a total loss. Schwanke does an outstanding job in portraying Desdemona as both dutiful and justifiably outraged, but she never falls into put-upon angst. She also flashes a lovely singing voice in the final scenes. She is, in short, the highlight of the play.

The technical aspects of the production are handled well. The actors wear inconspicuous microphones, and their voices are successfully enhanced (even to the far distant area where I was seated) without coming off as booming or overly loud. Costumes and sets are both well-done.

Aside from Schwanke, there's nothing outstanding about the festival's production. But it's free Shakespeare, and a night at the park is great fun, if only for the people watching. Southmoreland Park during one of these performances features more tattooed women than Sturgis during its annual Motorcycle Rally.

So by all means, come out to Southmoreland Park. Enjoy the night and enjoy the complimentary jolt of culture. But don't expect to see brilliance on the stage.

What to Expect

In short, your guess is as good as mine.

On some level, it's surprising I've taken this long to start a blog. On another level, it's not the least bit surprising, since a good blog requires constant updating and a good effort level. Attention span and work ethic aren't great strengths of mine.

But when you're unemployed, you're also open 24 hours a day. That means I have a lot of time to fill, and if the writing muscle is just like any other muscle, it needs to be exercised to avoid atrophy. Distressed Reporter, then, is my treadmill.

I can't promise a certain number of posts per day. Some days will be more productive than others. Nor can I promise a blog with a laser-like precision on certain issues. If things go well, on any given day I'll write about the presidential election, the Atlanta Braves, Florida Gator football, the latest entry in the Song of Ice and Fire series and the fact that Jennifer Connelly is, as the kids these days say, attractive.

All I can promise is that everything I post here will be written with care and dedication. Beyond that, I'm simply walking along an unfamiliar path, and I sincerely hope you will forgive me when (not if) I stumble.