Monday, May 29, 2006

Another guest editorial by my pride and joy.

This just in from my son, Ike, now living and teaching in New York City.

The wide world of sports was all abuzz this week, as one of its most controversial figures, a member of the legendary 700 Club, passed what had once stood as one of the greatest milestones in human athletic achievement.

I refer, of course, to Pat Robertson, who claims that an “age-defying protein shake” has allowed him to leg press 2000 pounds.

Now, this is a guy who thinks Ariel Sharon's stroke was caused by the wrath of God, so I am already suspicious of his understanding of human physiology. And I'm not the first to weigh in, online or otherwise, on the hilarity of his claim. It should suffice to say that I used to do my leg presses in a Harlem bodybuilding studio, and I never saw any of the mesomorphs there put up anything resembling a ton.

I first heard about Robertson's buns of steel on my way back from hiking the section of the Appalachian Trail that winds through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. At the top of Mt. Lafayette, you can see mountain lakes and waterfalls, vast forests and rocky outcroppings. It gives me a sense of communion with the Divine that is rarely to be found in a house of worship. So when I heard the wags on NPR's “Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me” having a laugh at Robertson’s expense, I was already reflecting on how the path to self-improvement might be natural rather than clerical.

It's bad enough, then, that we have televangelists telling us how to vote. Now they have to tell us how to work out?

Of course, the real news in sports this weekend is the fact that Barry Bonds hit his 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list. (Back in New England, where much emotional capital has been invested in undoing Ruth's impact on baseball, the response was subdued.) Allegations of steroid use will forever cast an asterisk-shaped cloud over Bonds's feat, leading many to reflect on how illegal supplements have tarnished the American sport.

If you were to rank the things I like about America, you would find baseball near the top, right up there with the Constitution. So there’s something about juiced-up sluggers—and for that matter, theocon faith healers—that makes me wonder where America is headed.

One of the great ideas of America is that it is a place where everyone has a chance to work hard and live well. It’s never been such a place, but the idea remains. These days, we have a government dedicated to undoing that idea, not just by helping the rich get richer, but by crushing the domestic freedoms that the Founding Fathers considered essential to individual achievement. And the worst of it all is that Americans are letting it happen.

Big Mitch and I sit around and wonder when the tipping point will come, when people will realize that the current administration’s crimes must be punished. The sad fact is that we’ll never reach that point, as long as Americans value ease and glamour over effort and dignity. The American who drives a gas guzzler and eats processed foods has grown self-destructively complacent in his own life. The American who places hero worship before knowledge of self allows himself to honor men who earn respect through lies. Is it any wonder he doesn’t raise his voice against political corruption?

Big Mitch has much to say about the hypocrites running our country. He calls them parasites, which I do not think is too strong a term. I have this to add: getting rid of parasites starts with a personal act. Americans need to clean themselves up. We need to hold ourselves accountable for our own health and safety, and for the health and safety of our communities.

The folks on the pedestals--be they political, theological, or athletic—are setting a rotten example. We can’t depend on them anymore. So it has to start with the individual. Once we take responsibility for the things that go into our bodies, once we become mindful of the footprints we leave upon the land, and once we see that our fellow humans share our bodily needs and our land, we can start to resist a government that tramples people and nature alike.

If I can’t convince you, go hike the White Mountains.

... and tell 'em Young Ike sent you!

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