Friday, March 12, 2004

Game On
Holy smoke. A guy leaves town for a couple of days and look what happens. You get one of the longest individual entries in the history of this blog.

Item: Terrorist bombings kill nearly 200 in Madrid.

Comment: Although Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility, and the attack had the group's trademark synchronization--multiple explosions at about the same time--Spain has seen terrorist attacks by Basque separatists for years. The fact that this attack came so close to general elections makes me think this is a homegrown attack, and not the legions of the Anti-Christ. But in an ominous development, a London-based Arab newspaper published a letter this week, purportedly from Al Qaeda, saying that an operation called "Winds of Black Death" against the United States was 90 percent ready and "God willing near."

It's been an article of faith since 9/11 that more attacks were certain to come on American soil. (I tend to believe it myself--the idea that there will never be another 9/11 is absurd, because never is a mighty long time.) But despite several orange alerts and dogged persistence on the part of the Bush administration in keeping people frightened, the next attack has yet to come. So what if 9/11 wasn't the beginning of Al Qaeda's war against America? What if it was the whole thing? As Luke Mitchell wrote in the March Harper's: "We must consider the possibility that this [lack of further attacks since 9/11] also represents a lack of wherewithal on the part of would-be terrorists. Although there may be no shortage of those angry enough to commit an act of violence against the United States, few among them possess the training, the financing, or the sheer ambition necessary to execute an operation as elaborate as that of September 11." And what if all the rhetoric that's come since--"Winds of Black Death," and so forth--is just hot air out of the same florid rhetorical tradition that leads the Koran to describe a martyr's reward in paradise as "gardens and grapeyards; and [72] young full-breasted (mature) maidens of equal age," designed more to amp up the faithful than anything else?

(Mitchell's article also made the point that though they were visually spectacular and symbolically enormous, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were small potatoes compared to other incidents of mass death that occurred here in 2001--700,000 to heart disease, 554,000 to cancer, 30,000 to suicide. "[T]he actuarial tables would suggest that our concern about terror mortality ought to be on the order of our concern about fatal workplace injuries (5,431 deaths) or drowning (3,247).")

Item: Legislatures in Wisconsin and Massachusetts pass state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage; the California Supreme Court orders San Francisco to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Comment: Nobody said it was going to be easy. The Wisconsin amendment would ban marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships of all sorts. The Massachusetts amendment would permit civil unions with all the benefits of marriage. In a Boston Globe story on the Massachusetts debate, Republican representative Vinny deMacedo suggests that if marriage or unions are legalized, churches may someday be forced by courts to perform such ceremonies. This is the kind of emotionally overwrought nonsense that passes for evidence among opponents of same-sex marriage--although it plays nicely off Lou Sheldon's talking point that this is the American Revolution all over again, given that deMacedo is from Plymouth, home of the Pilgrims.

It occurs to me that if we're going to win the same-sex battle, the Massachusetts model is our ace in the hole. Make sure gays and lesbians who want to commit to one another can have the same legal rights as married couples, and make sure those rights are firmly defined in law. Then let the homophobes preserve the word "marriage" as something between a man and a woman. Hell, let 'em define it as a religious sacrament if they want to. They can think they've won some kind of victory, and the secular world can get on to more important problems.

Item: Todd Bertuzzi of the National Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks lays a vicious hit on Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche, from behind, where Moore couldn't see him coming. While Moore lies on the ice in a pool of blood, obviously unconscious, Bertuzzi beats the shit out of him with his fists. Moore now has a broken neck. Bertuzzi has been suspended for the remainder of the season, and both he and his team have been fined. The requisite tearful press conference was held yesterday.

Comment: The NHL has legions of problems. Its owners are planning to lock the players out in a labor dispute, and many experts believe there will be no season next year, and possibly the year after that. Fan interest is down, TV ratings are down, the quality of play is down--and the only publicity the league can get is over something like the Bertuzzi incident. I don't know how to fix all this, but I know one thing--the continued insistence by NHL partisans that fighting is part of the game of hockey is absurd. It's forbidden in college hockey and international play, and the NHL could stop it tomorrow--but the owners and players don't want it stopped. If you look at the statistics, you can see that each team has at least one player who doesn't score any points, but who leads the team in penalty minutes. This guy is known as an enforcer--he's the designated fighter, the guy whose job it is to go out and hit--or hurt--somebody on the other team. Banning fighting would cost these players their jobs, so the union will never get behind a ban, no matter how severely somebody like Steve Moore gets hurt. And the owners like fighting too, because so many fans do--some to the exclusion of all else. I don't know if it's still there, but for years, in the back pages of The Sporting News, there was an ad from a guy who collected videotape of hockey fights. You could buy the tape of every fight involving, for example, the New York Rangers, going back into the 1970s. And even in the wake of Moore's horrific injury, some fans have been lining up to criticize Bertuzzi's suspension and anyone opposed to fighting, saying it's all part of the game and we ought to just sit down and shut up because we don't understand. Well, I'm a hockey fan, too--albeit a college hockey fan who finds the pro game painfully boring. But it doesn't take an expert to understand stupidity and brutality. You know it when you see it.

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