Monday, June 30, 2008

An evening with Joel and Co.

It was billed as an evening of hope. I knew going into it that a version of positive psychology was a central component of the Osteen brand. And in truth, I had no problem with this. Having attended his show, I still don’t. There is value in an inspirational speaker who encourages people to believe in themselves. My problem with the evening had largely to do with the extraneous packaging. 

We arrived early, hoping to snag a good parking spot. Apparently so had everyone else. We ended up parking in the nether regions of the amphitheatre. Seated, we were treated to a televised review of Osteen’s many accomplishments in poorer countries of the world. Two giant screens flanked the stage. I had read that Osteen has a background in television. He later confirmed this to be true. His use of technology was impressive. 

The show started with a number of pieces by the band, led by a bottle-blonde dressed in a black bustier over a white ruffled top. The effect was at the same time sexy but staid. The music was so loud that it was hard to tell if it was any good. The decibel level could compete with any rock show. 

When Osteen came on, I was for a brief moment surprised by how short he was. But his televised face, massive on the oversized dual screens, quickly distracted me from looking at the real man himself. That remained my struggle for the rest of the show, trying to look at the actual man as he actually spoke, versus being transfixed by the televised images of his attractive face. Osteen has a face that was made for TV. He spent a great deal of the evening with his eyes closed, whether in reaction to the many lights and camera flashes or in pensive prayer, it was hard to tell. 

His initial words rambled from one positive theme to another. They seemed disjointed, distracted, disconnected. I felt a twinkling of disappointment. At several points he seemed to forget that he was not at Lakewood. He seemed to be running on automatic. 

He told us that we would be hearing from his mother who had experienced the miracle of being healed from cancer. Then he started talking about his deceased father who had begged and encouraged him to become a preacher. The next thing I knew he was clutching at his eyes with a white handkerchief. A friend on my left and I looked at each other in disbelief. “Drama”, she mouthed over the excited screams of the believers around us. 

After collecting himself, Osteen introduced his mother, Dodie, who turned out to be a sprightly 76-year-old, radiating the kind of expensive good health that only a lot of money can afford. She rushed through her script, giving the impression that she had said it many many many times. At the same time, there was a feel of sincerity to her words, as if she truly believed in the healing powers of Jesus Christ.

Wife Victoria was introduced. She was well groomed and expensive. Between the pale blue designer suit and the massive rock on her ring finger, I found myself thinking that she would be expensive to divorce. I would have picked different colors for her to wear, but perhaps the intent was to seem deliberately washed out so as not to outshine her husband. She talked about the importance of couples supporting each other. She recalled having practically willed her husband into starting his ministry. As an example of his thoughtfulness, she spoke of his bringing her a morning cup of coffee despite not drinking any himself. She seemed far more intelligent than her prescribed role. 

An Osteen sister was introduced. Her responsibility was to beg for financial donations. She prayed for our collective financial success despite the weak economy. Kentucky-fried looking white plastic buckets were passed along the aisles. Two buckets coming from different directions collided in our row. The music built to a crescendo. Osteen himself was nowhere to be seen. 

The man himself returned to the stage after the money collection was over. He then asked us to give him 25 minutes. I realized then that the disjointed staccato presentations he had made earlier were not his speech at all. That was just the warm-up. His theme for the evening was the importance of picking your battles. He used the story of David and Goliath as the backdrop for making his point. He said that David’s brothers had criticized his wish to fight Goliath, but that David did not allow himself to become distracted by that pointless fight. Instead he focused on the more important battle against the giant Goliath. Osteen talked fluently about remaining positive despite having to face the barbs and criticisms of others. He implored us to remain focused on the battles that mattered. 

It was an excellent speech. The message was brilliant. No Biblical scholar myself, I nevertheless became momentarily distracted by a childhood recall that it was Saul who had not been persuaded of David’s ability to fight Goliath. I did not remember a quarrel between David and his brothers featuring that importantly in the original story. But I could be wrong. 

At some point during the 25 minutes, I fell asleep. It wasn’t Osteen’s fault. I had played four hours of tennis that morning in the blazing sun and was quite simply exhausted.  Osteen’s message of faith and belief penetrated subliminally.  It was the music that eventually woke me up. It was LOUD. Osteen’s daughter sang a tuneless song, the words to which I cannot remember. I got it – suffer the little children. I felt badly for her. If I were she, I would be humiliated to be part of my parents’ dog-and-pony show. Osteen had earlier apologized for the absence of his 13-year-old son who had elected to attend camp. Lucky dude, I thought. 

The music banged and clanged as the show came to a close. We were encouraged to stand if we were ready to declare an affiliation to Jesus Christ. I remained seated. Jesus was a prophet, I thought, as is Osteen. I’d just as soon worship the Big Guy himself. Prophets serve the purpose of bringing a message. Osteen’s message, like Jesus’ before him, is positive and uplifting. It works best in 30-minute televised segments with few commercial breaks. I suspect that Jesus would have been an equally effective media superstar. But I feel no need to worship either of them.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Matador contemplates

There was never a time when he did not believe in himself, jamás le faltaba el auto-estima. There was never a time when he did not believe that he would be great. La sorpresa, the surprise, was that it came in tennis.

Back in the day, los españoles were known for attempting to win the French Open and not even showing up to Wimbledon. What was the point? Grass was para las vacas ingleses, for English cows.

Besides, the transition was just too difficult. It had been 30 years since someone won the French and Wimbledon in the same year. It had been done only twice in history, the last time by the great Bjorn Borg. But ever since making it to the finals of Wimbledon in 2007, El Matador knew he would be the next to do it.

The only person blocking his achievement was Roger Federer.

He knew coming into Paris that he would face Roger in the final. And he knew that he wouldn’t have to just beat him, but that he would have to crush him, borrarlo. And he did.

Four games! ¡Roger gano solo cuatro jugadas! El Matador smiled briefly at the memory.

Desde chiquito, from the time he was a boy, Tío Toni had taught him that if you had the chance, you should destroy your opponent. Anyone could win a match, Tío Toni would say. But only a special few could completely demoralize an opponent so that he would forever doubt if he could ever beat you. That is what you aimed for. Winning was not enough.

And when, at age 14, he had destroyed el famoso ingles, Pat Cash, his fate was sealed. He was going to be tenista.

It was almost funny the way he had ended up a tennis star. Being a star was not the issue – he came from una familia de estrellas. His tío Miguel Ángel was for years the backbone of Real Madrid. The dream of El Matador, desde pequeñito, since he was small, was to grow up and play el fútbol for Real and to win the World Cup for la España. Beating Pat Cash changed all that.

And here he was, once again, on his way to another possible showdown with Federer. He could value what Federer had achieved but he had little respect for the man himself. Frankly, he did not see him as a real man. No era hombre real. Imagine a man with his woman as manager, his amante no less! El Matador sniggered. He could never do something like that.

Having been raised mainly in the company of men, finding the smell of sweat as natural as the feel of the sun against his skin, he could not understand a person like Federer who allowed women to run his life. I mean he loved his mama and his hermanita Maria Isabel, he deeply cherished his girlfriend, but no way could he imagine any of them telling him what to do. That was Federer’s weakness, he believed. And that was why he would always beat him.

El Matador had taken no time off between the French and Queen’s. He came straight to the grass, to get accustomed to the lower bounces and the change of pace. The effort had paid off, as he had crushed Djokovic in the finals. That was another one he had no respect for, a crybaby who needed su mama to show up at every match and shout to him. El Matador grinned dismissively.

Week one of Wimbledon had been challenging. But thanks to the exercise regimen Tío Toni had kept him on, he knew that physically he was up to it. He knew he was as strong as a bull, un toro. So he had survived, losing only a set to Gulbis. That was OK. Lo importante, the important thing, was that he was ready for week two.

Y más, even more, ya era listo para la historia, he was ready to make history.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Haikus on History: Women's Tennis Fashion

Long skirts, bodices

Restrict the breath, breasts

Of Victorian ladies



 


1884-1885

Gossips wag

That Maud Watson dares win Wimbledon

Twice showing ankles


1922

Suzanne Lenglen

Adjusts bandeau and skirt

Between forehands and base

 


1927

Practical Helen Wills

Dons visor, and tailor pleated

Knee-length skirt

 

1932

Society 

concludes that

White shorts must mean

Alice has lost her marbles.

 1949

Gay Teddy Tinling

Probably wished he could wear

Moran’s lace knickers

 

1960’s

In tennis only

Era of the practical

And reliable

 1977

During her win streak

Martina refuses

To change from sailor blues

 







1985

Ann White dared to don

White lycra unitard showing

Her lack of butt.

 




2002

Serena Williams

Caused paparazzi frenzy

Wearing her catsuit







Thursday, June 19, 2008

The legacy of Tuskegee?

I recently attended a conference on the topic of race and medical care. There were several other presentations going on at the same time, and this one was possibly the least well attended. I understood why. Topics like these make people very uncomfortable.

The issue of disparity in health care has long been documented. To put it simply, African-Americans in the US receive a significantly lower standard of health care than White Americans do.

There has much debate over why this is so. Some argue that African-Americans are less likely to seek out health care, relying instead on God and his angels to help heal their illnesses. Others maintain that Blacks in America are less likely to have better health insurance and so do not share the same level of access to health care that Whites generally do. And some attribute it to the possibility that those of a darker shade of pale are simply more likely to receive short shrift by medical systems.

More and more researchers are proving the last hypothesis to be the most accurate. And this appears to be true across a broad category of illnesses.

Researchers have found that Blacks are less likely to receive appendectomies than Whites. Imagine that – a procedure as simple and basic as removing an infected appendix is less likely to occur for Black patients. Hence the higher rate of mortality from untreated appendicitis among Blacks.

Blacks are also less likely to receive appropriate cardiac care. The delays between home to ambulance or ambulance to hospital are longer for Blacks than for Whites, regardless of where they live. And even when a Black person is already in the hospital, he or she is still more likely to experience delays in attempts at cardiac resuscitation. Finally, Blacks are more likely to be treated with older medical equipment while White patients are more likely to be offered the latest technologies and the newest drug interventions. Frightening isn’t it?

The data on disparities in pain management are even more disturbing. It is now well-established medical policy that patients should not be allowed to remain writhing in agony. Pain management has become an important focus of current medical treatment, and new and more effective drugs are currently available. The use of opiates in medical pain management has become standard practice in cases of severe injury. However, research has shown that Blacks are less likely to be prescribed opiates and are more likely to receive non-opioid forms of pain relief. And, sadly, Blacks are more likely to be accused of drug-seeking behavior when they complain of pain.

Even more unsettling, disparities in pain management seems to be especially true for children. One study looked at the effectiveness of pain management among samples of Black and White children under age 12 who had broken a limb. Black children were less likely to be offered effective pain relief. [By this point in the presentation I was in tears, and had to do some fancy covering up to hide my emotions.]

I asked the presenter if these statistics held true even for those conditions that are more prevalent among African-Americans. Her answer was “Yes”. Blacks are less likely to receive appropriate care even for conditions such as diabetes, cirrhosis, and hypertension that tend to be more common in Black communities.

A lot of research has gone into examining patient factors that explain disparities in healthcare. Researchers point especially to the mistrust of health systems by Black patients as possibly reflecting the legacy of Tuskegee. Between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee Alabama, 399 poor Black men diagnosed with syphilis, were deliberately left untreated so that researchers could examine the course of this disorder [see photos above & below].

Some researchers believe that this experience has left a mistrust by not only Blacks but by other racial and ethnic minorities as well, who do not believe that the Federal Government will protect them from medical harm or experimentation. Indeed, a recent study found that educated Black men were actually more likely to believe that the HIV virus was promulgated among Blacks as a form of government-sponsored genocide. Mistrust of health systems is clearly an important patient factor in health care disparities.

But my problem with the focus on patient factors is the sense that the victim is being blamed for his or her demise. I believe that the larger problem lies not with care receivers but with their caregivers. In one of the studies, physicians were asked if they practiced discriminatory methods of healthcare. A significant percent admitted that they believed that such practices existed – but they did not think that this occurred at their hospitals or in their practices. How can you fix a problem that is neither recognized nor acknowledged?

I am not necessarily saying either that physicians are all guilty of discriminatory health practices. Frankly, when individuals of color walk into a doctor’s office, they have to deal with a whole slew of individuals before they even get to see the doctor. Discrimination starts from the minute they walk through the door.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Anticipating Wimbledon: Federer who?

Today I watched the match between Nadal vs. Djokovic at the finals of the Stella Artois Championship. I had no choice – it was the only match covered live by the Tennis Channel. Federer had also made it to the finals of the Gerry Weber Open, a grass tournament that he has won four times straight and in which he was once again the defending champion. But I saw nothing of that match.

Instead, the focus was on the Stella Artois Finals between the Australian Open champion (Novak Djokovic) and the French Open champion (Rafael Nadal). There was no mention of the fact that Federer has won Wimbledon five times and was preparing for his sixth. Honestly, it was like Federer who?

Djokovic held serve in the opening game and then broke Nadal to go up 2-0. He held serve again to go up 3-0. At which point, the commentators announced that Federer had just won the first set against Kohlschreiber in Germany. They promised to keep us posted on that match. But there was no cutaway to show us Federer’s performance. We were not even provided the score. Priority clearly lay with the match between Nadal and Djokovic.

Djokovic gets break points to go up 4-0 but fails to convert. His team of supporters start to seem a bit depressed. I can think of no other team – other than perhaps Yuri Sharapov – who seems as emotionally invested in their player. Nadal holds serve, and then breaks Djokovic. And just like that we are back on serve. The Djokovic team look like they could use some Zoloft.

The commentators observe that bookies have favored Djokovic to win. This seems hard to believe. Djokovic holds serve at love to go up 4-3. Maybe the bookies are right, I think. Djokovic continues to challenge the Nadal serve. At 30-30, Djokovic throws a return into the net and smacks his racket down on the grass in frustration. There is no charge of racket abuse. In fact, neither he nor Nadal are ever charged with time delays throughout this match, even though they both flagrantly violate time restrictions. It is almost as if the powers-that-be have decided to leave these two gladiators alone to settle their score. It is a replay of the French Open semi-final. At stake once again is the Number 2 slot. But this time they are playing on grass and Djokovic is favored to win. Except that clearly no one remembered to tell Nadal.

A cute ball girl of African descent follows Nadal around with his towel. They really need to stop using ball kids at these tournaments, I think. The game has become too dangerous. I would not risk my child with these two gladiators attacking each other on court.

The score is 5-all, on serve. One of the commentators remarks that Roddick had observed that Nadal’s serve has improved. Andy should know - he lost in straight sets to Nadal in the semi-finals. The commentator is in agreement. He observes that Nadal’s serve used to be just a way to start the point. Now it has become a weapon.

The score is 6-all. We are facing a first set tiebreak. The tiebreak follows the same pattern as the set. At first Djokovic surges ahead, then Nadal equalizes. Djokovic is serving over 80%. It makes no difference. He screams in frustration as he misses a backhand. It is 5-all in the tiebreak. Djokovic goes up 6-5. He has set point on his serve. Next thing you know, he has fallen flat on his face. The score is 6-all. Time to change ends.

One of the commentators announces that Roger Federer has won his match, defeating Kohlschreiber. The announcement has the feel of an afterthought. It is not important. What matters is that Nadal has gone up 7-6 after crushing a Djokovic second serve. He serves to the Djokovic forehand and closes out the first set. During the commercial break, the Tennis Channel states that Federer has 50 straight wins on grass. They also announce that one of the Bodarenko sisters has won her first singles match, which has the effect of trivializing Federer’s achievement.

Second set. Nadal goes up 2-0. He takes an injury time-out to treat his hand for blisters. They are some ugly-looking blisters. The commentators share that Nadal has come straight from Roland Garros and is looking forward to going fishing in his few days off before Wimbledon. I wonder how he is going to hold the fishing line with those bruised hands. There is no mention of how Federer will be spending his days off.

Back on serve. 2-2. 3-3. 4-4. Djokovic breaks at love to go up 5-4 and serves for the second set. He gets broken. Nadal goes up 6-5, and breaks Djokovic to win. The final point can only be described as spectacular. The crowd is on its feet in excitement. It’s hard to imagine Federer producing anything like this against Kohlschreiber. The tournament Director chats up Nadal. As the camera cuts away, one can hear someone announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, 30 years of Artois championships and we have never had a better final”. It is probably true.

In his closing comments, Djokovic points out that he has only been playing on grass for three years. As if that has anything to do with his loss today. Nadal sounds polished as he thanks the sponsors. He has mastered the art of winning, I think. He is starting to sound like a Number 1 player. And not just on clay.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Intuition vs. Evidence

There are times when I can seem scarily intuitive.  My gut will tell me that there is something wrong, even when I have no evidence to support it. When I was younger, I would go around blurting out what I was feeling or sensing, and would often attract weird looks or strenuous denials. 

It took me some time to learn how to understand and manage my intuition. Essentially I learned that intuition is quite possibly a misnomer, because what happens is that the intuitive individual gathers information about changes in the pattern of behaviors of significant others and then reacts to these changes. The problem is that the information processing happens so rapid-fire that it seems intuitive. Now when intuition tells me that there is a problem, I sit up and take notice. And then I quietly try to find the evidence to confirm or disconfirm my conclusions. 

For example, several weeks ago, I sensed that a male colleague had changed in his attitude towards me. I intuited a cooling, a slight distancing. [See, I still use the language of intuition even though I no longer believe in it. It’s just a convenient way to understand a process.] I did not know why this man’s attitude towards me had cooled. But I set out to find out. The evidence came so easily that it almost made me start believing in intuition again. 

I went to lunch with a good friend. I brought up the name of the man whose attitude had frosted, saying, “Oh, I can tell that Mr. Smith [not his real name] doesn’t like me. I think that he thinks that I am too assertive." 

She hesitated for a few moments. And then she confirmed that I was right. And she went a bit further, observing, “Isn’t it interesting that when a male colleague demonstrates the same qualities that you do, he calls it leadership potential. But he says that you are too bold.” 

I have learnt not to let people know when they are confirming my intuition. I used to be more honest and would say things like, “I knew it! I could feel it but I didn’t have proof. Thank you so much!” Which of course would make the other person extremely uncomfortable. I no longer make such confessions. I just quietly file away the information and then start deconstructing my intuition. I start searching for the evidence that I knew existed, and that I had picked up on at some non-verbal level, some change in a pattern of overt behavior. 

I remembered that when I used to feel well regarded by this man, he would go out of his way to chat me up. He was never overtly flirtatious, but he did make a point of watching my boobs and butt. Now that he no longer fancied me, he still went to lengths to swivel around as I walked out of a room, but he no longer spoke to me. What had changed was not his quiet lechering, but the fact that this was the sum total of what he now offered. I had been reduced to tits and ass, because I was too bold, too outspoken, too much like a leader, except that he could apparently only appreciate those qualities when they came with a penis attached. 

A recent article in “Perspectives on Politics” examines the issue of gender inequity among academic women. 80 female faculty members from a range of disciplines and positions at the University of California at Irvine were interviewed for their views on gender equity in academia. The majority described profound frustration by a system that they perceive as undervaluing their work and denying them opportunities for a balanced life. The study found some evidence of overt discrimination, but the majority of complaints involved more subtle forms of inequity. 

The main researcher, Dr. Kristen Monroe, is a professor of political science and philosophy at Irvine and director of its Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality. She examined national trends in achievement, and noted that while more women than men complete graduate studies, women’s gains in this area start diminishing by the time they obtain their first jobs. Fewer women than men obtain tenure or advance to senior positions. Women often found that positions such as committee chairs, department chairs, deans and administrators, became devalued once occupied by a female. Women were often subjected to bizarre comments that suggested that their male colleagues often did not know how to relate to them as equals. Women were more often assigned to tasks that were time-consuming and unfulfilling. Balancing work and family did not come easily. And legal forms of redress often seemed inappropriate. 

I know from personal experience that this problem is not limited to this particular university. I happen to work in a male-dominated institution. I watch as male colleagues with less education and experience scamper up the ranks of achievement. Women like me who take time out to raise children end up working longer days for lesser remuneration. And no, this is not my intuition talking. It is fact.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

French Open Wrap-Up


OK I can finally write about it. I’ve suppressed the sniffles, wiped the tears, and hung up my clay hopes for yet another year.

And yes really, I had been hopeful. After all, he had hired Higueras and all signs pointed to a serious desire to win the French. And I probably should be consoled by the fact that he made it to the finals against Nadal. This once again confirms that he is the second best on clay. But sadly, second best isn’t good enough. It’s not where he wants to be, I am sure.

Actually I did not even watch the match. After he lost a set to Gael Monfils [photo on left], I had relinquished all hope. Gael Monfils???? Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Gael and I am thrilled that he made it to the semis of Roland Garros. But against the Number 1 player in the world [Number 2 on clay], Gael had no business winning too many games, much less a set. But he did. And he almost forced Federer to a fifth set. And I knew then that there was no way Federer had a chance in hell of winning Roland Garros. And he didn’t.

I played tennis while the match was on. I was actually playing well, if I do say so myself. I still tend to make too many damn double-faults but I have figured out that it’s all in the toss. I am working on fixing it. I’m getting there.

From time to time I would dash into the clubhouse, once on the pretext of going to the bathroom, the other to purchase an energy drink. I discovered that he had lost the first set, and then the second.

A diehard hopeful – an old man wearing high socks – announced that Federer was going to come back from here. He stated confidently that he had it on good grounds that Nadal had developed arthritis in both knees which is why he wore them bandaged. He insisted that Nadal could not keep up this level of play.

I sucked my teeth and left, thinking that there is a far cry between hope and delusion. No chance in hell, I thought. No way can Federer come back from this. But secretly I continued to hope.

Back on the court, I asked my opponent to pray. She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. “What, to win the lottery?” she asked, amused. “That too”, I replied. And then I looked up to the sky and shouted, “Please Jah. All he needs is one. He doesn’t ever need to win it again. Nadal has many many more chances. This is Federer’s last chance. Have a heart. Please…I begging.”

My friend giggled. She thought I was being silly. And in truth I was dramatizing my prayer as if I didn’t really mean it. But I meant every word. I even thought of adding, “Please break one of Nadal’s legs”, but that seemed to be going too far. One never knows with these prayer things. Next thing you know I would be flat on my face on the tennis court, hobbled. Don’t mess with the Big Guy, not even in jest. After all, he just might not let me win the damn lottery after all. Just to show me who is boss.

I never found out the final score until much later that night. It wasn’t until after nightfall that I discovered that Federer had swallowed a bagel in the third set. And that it was the worst ever loss by a Number 1 player in a Grand Slam final and in the past 20 years. Jah help him, I prayed silently again. His depression must be profound. Not even sex with fatty Mirka can pull him out of this one.

A friend wrote the next day to tell me that he was suicidal. I’m sure he was joking. But I understood his sadness. It’s tough watching your fave lose yet another match to an opponent for whom he simply has no answers. It should help that no-one else does either. But it doesn’t. Truth is, I am dreading Wimbledon. What if Nadal crushes him there too? The sad thing is that it is very possible. Shudder…

Despite the tragic ending, this was actually a very exciting French Open. Congrats to Nadal for making history. Four French Opens in a row. It is a stunning achievement.

I am also happy for Dinara Safina [photo on right] for her breakthrough. Marat Safin had accurately predicted that the world know would one day know him as Dinara’s brother. Sure she had run out of energy by the finals and was clearly not going to do one of her back-from-the-brink-of-disaster comebacks. But Ana Ivanovic [photo below left] was also not going to let the opportunity to cement her Number 1 status fall by the wayside. I felt proud of them both.

I believe that Ivanovic is a more deserving Number 1 than the one-dimensional Maria Sharapova. And besides, I am honestly sick of Maria's screeching. I know that the French crowd was more than a bit unfair in their support of Dinara in the match against Sharapova, but in this I kinda sided with them. Sharapova infuriates. And she’s no Number 1.

And once again Martina Navratilova succeeded in annoying me while commentating on a match in which Svetlana Kuzetnova was playing. If I did not know better [and the truth is that I don’t], I would swear that Navratilova was in love with this young woman. In fact at times she seemed desperately so. I know that they have been doubles partners but that does not explain Navratilova’s horribly biased commentary. Even while Dinara was beating her opponent senseless, all Navratilova could talk about was how talented Kutzetnova was. It was a pathetic display of favoritism. I hope the Tennis Channel fires her.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Like cream rising

I once had the experience of a supervisor who deliberately attempted to block my progress in an organization. I had only been hired a few months, but I must have made a good first impression because when a promotion opportunity arose, the Head Honcho sent out an email asking for help and suggested my name as one possible candidate to assist him. 

Except he did not send it directly to me. In keeping with appropriate organizational protocol, he sent the email to my supervisor asking for me to be released on a half-time basis to assist him with a project. My supervisor killed the email. He told me nothing. Instead he quietly offered the opportunity to another co-worker. 

And I would have remained utterly ignorant had the Head Honcho been satisfied with my substitute. He was not. And long story short, I ended up getting the opportunity anyway. I found out about the backdoor maneuverings from the substitute who was angry at being replaced by a woman and went out of his way to make sure that I knew it. 

At first I was really angry with my supervisor. And in fact, I never ever trusted him again. I remained a professional but I never lost my guard. I thought he was a snake. 

It took me some time to calm down and to realize that at least a part of his motive was a desire to not lose my services in his Clinic. He wanted me all to himself and did not want to release me to take on a different kind of responsibility that he probably feared would eventually pull me out of his Clinic altogether. In fact, his offering of another colleague was ironically a statement of how little he valued that other individual. He was glad to get rid of him. Me he wanted to keep for himself, even if that meant blocking my progress. He knew that, like cream, I would keep rising. And that, perhaps, intimidated him. 

Once I gained this different perspective, I was able to feel better about the situation – but I still never trusted him again. I understood the motive for his underhanded manipulation, but I still thought that he had behaved like a snake. And a snake is not someone I want near my bosom. Snakes are people that you want to keep in your sight, but never so close that their fangs can touch you. 

I found myself thinking about this experience last night as I watched Hillary Clinton attempt her last, distasteful maneuver to hold on to power. The correct and appropriate thing for her to have done last night was to concede defeat. She had lost the f**king race. But she did not concede. Indeed, she spent so much time praising John McCain and so little time congratulating Barack Obama that all I could think of was what a snake she was. 

I have learned many things from this election season. I’ve learned that racism is alive and well in America, but that the forces against it are far more powerful. I’ve learned that many people still see Blacks as underachieving and undeserving but that the people who hold these views are outnumbered by the ones with a more balanced perspective. 

And I have learned that there is no damn difference between Bill and Hillary Clinton. They are the same damn people, cut from the same damn cloth. They are both aggressive, brilliant, ambitious, high-achieving, charming, and intelligent people. But they are also equally opportunistic, duplicitous, conniving, underhanded, backstabbing and untrustworthy. And they are a package deal, going down the road together in their unholy alliance that does not deserve to be called matrimony. 

I listened closely to Hillary’s speech last night. I heard her talk directly to the 18 million people who had supported her, and I heard what I interpreted as an underlying call to the mob. She seemed to be appealing to them to stand their ground, to hold on until she gave the signal. I saw a woman so caught up in the frenzy of competition that she had no concept of how to lose graciously. Actually, she has no concept of how to lose, period. Her plan to become the President of the United States had been systematically calculated. Who was this person, this cream that had risen to the top despite her many efforts to obstruct him? This was not in the cards. She is choking with rage. She would rather join forces with John McCain who is supposed to be her Republican opponent, than validate the win of the Democratic Senator from Illinois. She is a snake at its most dangerous. 

And for this reason Barack Obama cannot afford to risk selecting her as his running mate. A Vice-President must be someone you can trust, not someone who will stab you in the back in a heartbeat. 

But he cannot make this decision at this time. He can’t risk pissing off the mob. They are already excited and frustrated, and it would be just a hop and a skip to anger. He needs to wait until emotions are cool. He needs to sit on this process and slow it down. He needs to placate her, and soothe her until her level of venom subsides and her fangs retract. 

If I were Barack Obama, I would wait until 18 million people had gone back to worrying about how they are going to pay for gas and the price of food and whether their children will die in Iraq. And then I would offer Hilary Clinton an important-sounding position that would allow him to keep her in his sight, but not so close that her fangs can touch him. But if he makes her his Vice-President, he will live to regret it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

When a special new talent appears

Ever so often, a new sports person emerges from the pack and stands out as a special talent. Asafa Powell of Jamaica. Ian Thorpe of Australia. Rafael Nadal of Spain. Within the domain of excellence, these figures stand out as uniquely talented, gifted in a way that simply no-one else is. At least for a time.

Part of their success comes not just from being better than everyone else, but also from being different. It is this difference that provides a unique edge that, for a while, makes them seem unbeatable, unchallengeable.

But then, with time, their opponents start to deconstruct their talent and find ways to beat them. No-one remains unique forever. That’s the nature of sports. Talent comes and goes in waves. Asafa’s record has been erased by his countryman, Usain Bolt. Novak Djokovic has stolen some of Nadal’s thunder.

In tennis, special talent is only special for a while. The newness of the talent provides an edge. The advantage comes in part from the lack of familiarity. Opponents find themselves temporarily confused, upstaged by a game that is fresh, startling and different.

This is the advantage that Rafael Nadal has been enjoying for some time on clay. But his dominance will not last forever. He is due to be upstaged as folks become familiar with his game. With time, opponents will start to pick it apart, as they have done with Federer’s, and Roddick’s, and every other player who for a while seemed unbeatable.

It is exactly for this reason that when a special new talent appears, it is important to pause and appreciate it, knowing in advance that it will not last forever. This is how I feel about Alize Cornet. I first noticed this spirited teenager when she lost to Venus Williams in the third round of Roland Garros last year. I was surprised that she won 5 games against Venus, and, for moments, was clearly challenging her. Cornet seemed so unfazed by Venus’ power that I sat up and took note. My my, I thought, this is a plucky one!

Cornet, a Junior Champion at Roland Garros, made it to the second round of the Australian Open this year. She then reached the finals in Acapulco, losing to Flavia Pennetta [who just sent Venus packing from Roland Garros]. She made it to the finals in Charleston displaying superb court movement and excellent anticipation, but lost in two close sets to Serena. It was clear that clay is her best surface.

But it was her performance in Rome this year that caught everyone’s attention. She made it to the finals, after beating Schiavone, Kuznetsova, and most notably Chakvatadze who pissed her off by dismissing Cornet as a “junior” player. But by the time she made it to the finals in Rome, Cornet was visibly exhausted. Reports say that she burst into tears between sets against Jankovic, so frustrated was she at not being able to compete at the level that she wanted to. However, her excellent run in Rome thrust her to #20 spot in the world rankings. Not bad for an 18-year-old who turned pro only two years ago.

It’s easy to see what makes Alize special. On clay, her instincts are impeccable. She has a gutsy, fearless style of play and does not ever seem intimidated, regardless of who is her opponent. She has the emotionality of a Navratilova, but also the level-headedness of an Evert. It is an incredible combination in someone so young. Despite her tears in Rome, one does not get the sense that she has the mental fragility of Amelie Mauresmo. On the contrary she seems that much more mature. Finally the investment by the French Federation in its program for young players is beginning to pay dividends. Alize Cornet, Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Jeremy Chardy have emerged as special talents of which that country can be justifiably proud. Who knows, a French person may finally win the French Open since Yannick Noah did it in 1983.

Cornet bowed out of Roland Garros in the third round. Her match against Agnieszka Radwanska was one of the most enjoyable clay matches I have ever seen. In fact at points I found myself laughing out loud at the clever exchanges as each woman strove to break the other.

Perhaps it is her youthfulness, but one of the things I also like about Cornet is her refreshing honesty. I have become so accustomed to tennis players who have not only taken the WTA or ATP media courses but have gotten to the point where they could practically teach them, so well have they mastered the art of saying nothing in their interviews. But here is Cornet’s clearly honest and open assessment of her match against Gisela Dulko, whom she defeated over two days in the second round of Roland Garros: “I thought I was a bit too weak at the very end of the third set. I didn't really know how to manage stress. I have to work on this next time, because the more I go, the more important matches will be, and I’ll have to manage this nervousness.” Once she learns how to do that, there will be no stopping her.