Ali: The Greatest

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The greatest sports photograph of all time.

The Heavyweight Champion of the World used to be the most coveted title in sports. It’s hard to imagine now, considering how terrible the heavyweight division has been for the pass two decades.

I missed seeing Ali in his prime, although watching his old fights and several documentaries (especially When We Were Kings) has given me a singular appreciation of his genius. There simply has never been another athlete with his confidence, swagger, speed, intensity, and power.

Ali is a towering figure in the public consciousness. At some point, every child pretends to box. The phrase ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ is somehow known by each one of them, even if they have never heard of Ali. Similarly, Rope-a-Dope is a phrase used by many who probably can’t explain the origin of the term. Ali is so ingrained in our collective memory, his personality and greatest moments seem to exist apart from him, as if we are born with the knowledge of his spirit.

Atlanta, 1996. I was at the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. This was before smartphone technology was rampant. As I remember it, the specific person to light the torch was kept an absolute secret. For weeks leading up to it, we debated who would get this incredible honor. Who is the athlete we would lift up to the world as most emblematic of America?

The moment came and with each subsequent athlete bringing the torch ever closer, possible choices were eliminated. As Janet Evans brought the torch to the final stage, Ali emerged and in the moment, it seemed the entire world lost its mind with joy. The stadium convulsed with emotion, each person desperate to let Ali know that he was the one. Not just a great choice to light the cauldron, in hindsight he was the only choice.

He was the greatest.

We’re living in a society, people: Animals on planes edition

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NBC Chicago: There’s an increasing likelihood that your next seatmate could be a dog — or a cat — or a turtle — or a chicken or a pig or even a kangaroo – and there’s really not much you can do about it.

They’re called Emotional Support Animals – ESAs. Almost anybody can bring one, or two, or three — or even more – on board a plane, and virtually all species (other than snakes) are allowed. All you need is a letter from a licensed mental health professional, saying that you would benefit by having an ESA during plane travel. That allows your animal to sit with you for free, and you don’t have to pay the $125 fee that you’d otherwise likely be charged to bring your pet on board.

I was alerted to this story on a friend’s Facebook page after she mentioned the person next to her on a plane had her dog out of its carrier and on the floor. Let me be clear: we’re not talking about trained service animals. These ’emotional support animals’ are pets or other animals with no training whatsoever.

We’ve reached a point where everyone thinks they can do whatever they want, and screw anyone else who might be affected. This is wrong. We live in a society (for now) and that means a social contract exists in which you may not be able to do something just because you want to do so.

For instance, if you are terrified to fly, then get prescription medication to calm you down or endure being terrified for a little while. If you’re unwilling to do that and simply want your poodle or kangaroo or turtle to be with you, then you shouldn’t be able to fly. Period. Other people should have the right to travel without dealing with the petting zoo you brought with you in order to calm your nerves.

There is absolutely no room on planes as it is. The last thing anyone wants to put up with is your dumb dog barking and yapping for 3 hours or peeing on your seatmate’s laptop bag. Do everyone a favor and stay home. Pretty please. With sugar on top.

How the GOP tried to destroy Obama and instead committed suicide

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Frontline, among others, reported on the Republican gathering just before Obama’s inauguration:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

True to their word in this instance, the Republicans have spent the entirety of President Obama’s two terms obstructing nearly every agenda item possible. POLITICO, as of late December, counted 101 openings for the most senior level administration jobs in the Cabinet-level agencies, out of a total of 379 positions.

Catherine Rampell reported on vacancies at the federal court level noting that last year, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed just 11 federal judges, the fewest in any year since 1960. Only one appeals court judge was confirmed, the lowest number since 1953.

The Affordable Care Act is the most obvious legislative example of GOP stonewalling. At every turn, Republicans have tried their hardest to prevent President Obama from achieving even the most modest of desired outcomes.

The Result

Let’s ignore opinions of whether or not this was the correct course of action. What were the results of these efforts for the GOP?

First and foremost, look at those congressional power brokers mentioned by name above and where they are now:

  • Jim DeMint: Resigned from the Senate in 2013 to become president of the Heritage Foundation
  • Jon Kyl: Left the Senate at the end of his term in 2012; now works as a lobbyist
  • Tom Coburn: Resigned from the Senate, citing declining health
  • Eric Cantor: Resigned his congressional seat after losing in the primary of 2014; now vice chairman of an investment bank
  • Kevin McCarthy: Failed run for Speaker of the House after the resignation of John Boehner; still a member of Congress
  • Paul Ryan: Currently Speaker of the House, succeeding John Boehner who resigned due to internal pressure from party members

Based purely on these results, one could conclude that the Republican leadership made a fundamental miscalculation in their approach to President Obama. Indeed, many of these members were forced out of Congress because of their failure to stop Obama’s accomplishments completely.

Current State of the Party

That brings us to today. The vast majority of the Republican leadership that promised so loudly to fight President Obama on everything are now gone from the political landscape. President Obama remains, with Hillary Clinton promising to implement a third term of Obama’s policy agenda.

As for the current GOP leadership? It is in disarray, to say the least. After years of attempting to convince Americans that President Obama was destroying the country, that he is a secret Muslim, that the ACA is destroying health care, that America is on the verge of collapse, the Republican presidential nomination is about to be won by Donald Trump.

This GOP primary season has been marked by almost no substantive discussion of issues, no discussion of how to improve the lives of everyday Americans. Instead, it has been marked most visibly by constant name-calling. The race actually hit a new low last week with Marco Rubio asserting that Trump may have ‘wet himself’ while Trump responded by making fun of the size of Rubio’s ears, among other things.

How has Trump enacted a stranglehold on the nomination?

The NYTimes reported this week:

Despite all the forces arrayed against Mr. Trump, the interviews show, the party has been gripped by a nearly incapacitating leadership vacuum and a paralytic sense of indecision and despair, as he has won smashing victories in South Carolina and Nevada.

“A nearly incapacitating leadership vacuum” might be due to the absence of those same Republican leaders who vowed to fight Obama on everything.

What if they had approached the Obama presidency differently? What if they had not portrayed him as the Antichrist and instead prepared to work with him, extracting important concessions on policies that matter to the GOP?

Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe they would have been driven out of Washington just as fast as they were in this reality. Maybe Trump would still be the candidate of choice.

But… maybe it could have been different.

In that same NYTimes article, GOP strategists actually discuss potentially running ads against Donald Trump in the general election. The unnamed strategists explain:

A Trump nomination would not only cause Republicans to lose the presidency, they wrote, “but we also lose the Senate, competitive gubernatorial elections and moderate House Republicans.”

It didn’t have to be this way.

RFRA in Indiana: A Last Gasp of Bigotry in a Lost Culture War

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From what I can tell, no one really wants the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to be signed into law, with the exception of the lawmakers who passed it. To be honest, I think at this point even they probably just wish they’d left well enough alone and not bothered.

Here’s what I think has happened. I think our representatives in state government are predominantly old, white men who are angry that the world is changing. They see their privilege and status being upended by a society that is changing the rules quickly, largely due to the democratizing power of the internet. They don’t understand this new world, they don’t see how they will be useful in it, and this frightens them.

Their response is to try to mandate the perpetuation of their culture by codifying their world as they understand it into law. Remember, it was only 2004 that George Bush’s re-election was largely attributed to ‘values voters’. Their primary value, of course, being opposition to recognizing the dignity of our LGBT friends, family, and neighbors.

Indiana’s state legislators still live in this world. In their minds, they must protect our children from being ‘turned gay’ by the homosexual agenda. They must defend those ‘Christians’ who are sure that God despises homosexuals. No, enough is enough. Somehow, these brave state legislators are all that stands between us and the wrath of God and they will not let society be destroyed by these Godless liberals, not on their watch.

What these legislators have failed to realize is that in the decade or so since that election, the world changed. Many gay people stopped hiding in the shadows. They decided to stop apologizing, stop pretending to be someone they are not.

A funny thing then happened in American culture. Almost all at once, it seemed that everyone actually knew a gay person. More surprisingly for many, that gay person was an aunt, a cousin, a coworker, a friend, an old college roommate. It was someone they absolutely knew to be a good, moral, and kind person. And in short order, a very large number of Americans began to question the narrative of gay people as evil fornicators intent on recruiting your children to the homosexual lifestyle. Scientific studies began to debunk much of what we had been told about the nature of homosexuality.

And that brings us to today. Most Americans have ‘evolved’ on the issue of same-gender marriage, to use President Obama’s terminology. Most Americans believe that LGBT people should have the right to visit their spouse or partner in the hospital, receive death benefits, and be treated equally under the law. Most Americans now see members of the LGBT community as *gasp* actual people.

Indiana state legislators, apparently, are not like most Americans. They see our gay neighbors, family, and friends as ‘other’. Gay people are not worthy of the same treatment afforded to other Americans, or even other humans. They are fundamentally different in a way that renders them subhuman. Our legislators have made it clear that their view is this: “If you want to live with gay people, fine. But no one is going to tell me that I have to serve them a meal, treat their illness, or sell them a truck.”

If I believe my religion says gay people are viewed by my God as an abomination, then I should not have to recognize them as anything but that. To treat them the same as I treat anyone else is to bestow a recognition of their humanity that violates my conscience, angers my God, and places my eternal soul in jeopardy, according to these arguments.

Of course these same arguments have been used to justify prejudice and bigotry throughout history. Listen to the slave-owner in 12 Years A Slave reciting biblical scripture to explain their subjugation. It was disgusting then and it’s every bit as disgusting now.

Governor Mike Pence and our Indiana legislators who voted to pass SB 101 know they have lost. They know that our society has already accepted things they cannot conceive. It’s the reason they were desperate to get a state constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage before the tide turned completely against them. That attempt failed and it’s not been mentioned since, I assume because they know it will never again have a chance of passing.

The failure of that law to make it to a ballot measure enraged many conservatives. As a result, I think legislators felt a need to demonstrate that they were still fighting on this issue. The Hobby Lobby decision opened up an avenue for them to save face on the basis of advocating for ‘religious freedom’. Who doesn’t love religious freedom?

I think they thought they would pass this bill and it would give them a badge of honor they could wear when visiting their bigoted constituents with lots of money. Unfortunately, they underestimated public sentiment, the new voice of progressive faith communities, and the economic impact of this decision on our state. The probable loss of GenCon is just one example of the millions of dollars of lost business we will see because of this publicity stunt.

The sad thing is, this law is completely unnecessary in every respect. Don’t believe me? Ask 111 Cakery if they were ever forced to make that cake for a gay commitment ceremony they felt violated their beliefs. Spoiler: They weren’t.

Now Indiana, which has worked so hard to shed the image of a cultural backwater, is back to being portrayed as a bunch of bigoted rednecks. That’s not who Hoosiers are, despite our troubled past with racism.

To the rest of America, I ask you not to judge our state by the actions of our representatives. Get to know us as individuals and you will find that we are not the monsters you might imagine. That approach helped America see the LGBT community as people worthy of dignity and respect, despite their reputation; maybe it will work for Hoosiers as well.


Update: Think I’m wrong about this being a consolation prize to advocates of banning gay marriage? Guess who these groups represent: