On Tiger Woods and the End of Tragedy

I listen to sports talk on the radio. I’m not much of a sports fan (except of my beloved Vikings), but I find listening to middle-aged men of average intelligence talk sports with tongue in cheek far more relaxing than the ponderous debates of public radio or the happy talk of morning deejays.

One thing I’ve learned this summer is that no one cares about golf unless Tiger Woods is playing. One guy completely changes the TV ratings, and without him, the game is uninteresting as a spectator sport to the majority of American men.

I, on the other hand, don’t like Tiger Woods, and I haven’t rooted for him since the 1997 Master’s. I don’t care if he plays another round. I’ll still tune in for a half hour on Sunday afternoon, just like I’ve always done, to see who’s up and who’s down and how green the lawn is. I love seeing a great player win the ultimate title (Jordan in 1991, for example), but after that, I want to see someone else (Barkley, Drexler, Malone, Stockton) bring down the champ. 

So I’m asking myself why I’m in the minority on this issue, why everyone else is cheering for the overdog these days, and I’m wondering if it might be that I recognized in Woods’ downfall the poetic justice men deserve and often receive for their deeds. I’m no prude, but I do like to see hubris answered with humiliation, selfishness with shame. When I was coming of age, I read Shakespeare and the Greeks, and I saw them as the solid food of adulthood. 

Most of today’s males were not raised on tragedy but on the redemption myth of the American western and its imitators, from Dirty Harry and Death Wish to Star Wars and Die Hard. In these stories, the hero kills, but rarely dies. There is no payback for vaulting ambition and playing God, just a ride into the sunset and a sequel in 18 months. 

As much as I loved the blockbusters, I reserved my respect for the great tragedies of the ages.

Not so for most modern men — including my 50-something peers — who don’t know Macbeth from McGruff the Crime Dog. Today’s men identify with superheroes, not tragic ones, and Tiger Woods was the closest thing golf ever had to a superhero. His downfall could not be permanent, because Hollywood would never let that happen.

For a tragic hero, as Tiger is, there is no redemption. Hamlet, Oedipus, and Julius Caesar didn’t magically recover from the near-fatal blow and win back the crown, the girl, and the love of the people. For them it was infamy and an early death, or at the very least, self-inflicted blindness.

Tiger won’t find redemption either. There are several, if not many, golfers on the tour who are as good as Tiger was in his prime, and better than he is in his decline. He may win a few more tournaments, but he won’t match Nicklaus’ record of major wins. 

Tiger is a tragic figure, and that’s a good thing. We need more of them in our society. Tragedy is a genre for men and women — the dramatic equivalent of golf. The blockbuster, like Trix, is for kids.

Hollywood has failed in the sacred duty of the arts: turning children into strong and sensible grownups by teaching them that life is not a sport, and it ends in death for all. Our aversion to tragedy may explain a lot about where we’ve come from as a culture, and where we’re going.

What If Everyone in the World Became a Vegetarian? | Mother Jones

From Mother Jones:

Let’s try a middle path. We’re not all going to become vegetarians, but most of us can stop giving our money to factory farms—the biggest and worst offenders, from a pollution and public health perspective. We can eat less meat than we currently do, especially meat from methane-releasing ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, etc.). Just because a sudden global conversion to vegetarianism would have jarring effects doesn’t mean we can’t gradually reduce our consumption of meat, giving the market time to adjust. We not only can; we must. After all, with the world’s population slated to grow to 9 billion by 2050, well be needing to take some of the 25 percent of the world’s land area back from the cows.

via What If Everyone in the World Became a Vegetarian? | Mother Jones.

Positive self-talk for deep decarbonization

“Deep decarbonization” is a phrase that appeared in the news a couple days ago, thanks to a report summarized by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Basically, it’s more bad news about climate change — with a little “stopping it is possible, if …”

I think we’ll be hearing the term a lot, because deep decarbonization may be the only way to save our species, not to mention others. (This article in today’s Guardian is a chilling preview of what’s to come.)

Deep decarbonization is going to take a complete rewiring of the brains of Americans and everyone else in the technological world. We need to teach ourselves that the things we’ve thought are good are not, and things we’ve given up need to be rediscovered.

It’s not just driving and flying we have to cut back on. Since much of our electricity comes to us via coal, we have to turn off our TVs more often and stop using our dryers so much. Since the myth of “clean” natural gas is just that, we need to keep the thermostat down (way down) in the winter and up (way up) in the summer.

Most of our problem stems from the fact that we’ve replaced 10,000-year-old human activities with 100-year-old ones. Instead of walking and running, we drive. Instead of talking to our families, we turn on the stereo. Instead of playing with our kids, we watch TV. Instead of experiencing the thrill of a cool and starry evening, we sit in a well-lit, climate-controlled living room, poking our various plastic rectangles. Instead of eating the abundant salad that grows naturally all around us, we buy vegetables soaked in diesel and pesticides.

Deep decarbonization means we need to cut back on those 100-year-old activities and revisit the 10,000-year-old ones. My guess is that we’ll be glad we did.

So I’m doing my part by suggesting the following positive self-talk to begin to wean myself off of fossil fuels. Obviously I’m not going to do it overnight, but if we can all convince ourselves of the truth of a few key propositions, our collective carbon footprint may begin to shrink on its own.

Repeat after me:

Walking is better than driving.

Trails are better than sidewalks.

Bicycles are better than cars.

Trains are better than airplanes and semis.

It’s nice to wear a sweater indoors in the winter.

Good conversation with family and neighbors is the best entertainment.

Live music, especially on your own porch, is better than recorded.

Books are better than TV, especially library books or used books from the thrift store.

I think I’ll take the bus to work.

There’s such a thing as light pollution.

Food from the backyard is better than food from the grocery store.

It’s better to be outside than inside.

Local microbrews are the only beers we need.

Canoes, kayaks and sailboats are better than boats with motors.

It feels good to be cool in the winter and warm in the summer.

Homegrown is better than store bought.

Maybe we should take the train south this winter instead of a plane.

Gravel roads are better than paved ones.

Silence is golden.

It’s nice to spend the summer in your skivvies … or less.

Maybe we don’t need such a big house.

Food from close by is better than food from far off.

This is Minnesota — Who needs air conditioning?

A dip in a lake or a river is the best way to cool off.

Sun-dried clothes are the best.

Sun-dried clothes that aren’t made on the other side of the world are even better.

I think I’ll stay home tonight.

(Type your suggestions into the comment field below, and I’ll add them to the list.)

(It should be noted that the Deep Decarbonization report focuses on what societies as a whole need to do, not what individuals need to do. My thoughts are premised on the belief that societies won’t do what they need to, and individual changes won’t do much good either, but will eventually become necessary as energy becomes more scarce and expensive, so we might as well start now doing what we can, and hope for the best.)

American Wilderness Faces the Firing Squad – The Daily Beast

Good stuff by one of the few heirs to Edward Abbey’s attitude:

The proper vision of inclusivity, the Outside writer implies, is getting “ten million urban kids into the parks by 2017.” Those same kids would presumably be wearing and using the latest high-tech clothing and gear purchased for billions of bucks from slick, well-placed expensive ads in Outside. Geezers, it seems, are the problem. Gen Y dudes buy the gear while the National Parks Conservation Association, a historic defender of national parks, are old farts in their 60s, shuffling around in cheap hiking boots.In fact, a number of us old farts once wrote defending-the-wilderness articles for Outside, which was not always a warren for the outdoor gear, Me generation, recreational fat tire-heads. Ed Abbey wrote for Outside, as did Terry Tempest Williams. I wrote at least a half-dozen articles myself; each, as I remember, had a distinct conservation theme.

via American Wilderness Faces the Firing Squad – The Daily Beast.

The real reason for bicycle hate

I was reading this post about Scott Simon tweeting stereotypical things about bicyclists, and it got me wondering first why anyone cares what Scott Simon tweets and second why people hate bicyclists. They seem like a relatively harmless lot to me.

The author, Carl Alviani, presents several justifications for the ubiquitous Internet and talk radio bicycle hate (propagated in my hometown by the loudmouth Dan Barriero, whose show I enjoy, except when he gets going on bicyclists), and Mr. Alviani ably debunks them all, including

  • they’re a threat to pedestrian safety

  • they flout the law

  • they interfere with an otherwise smooth-flowing system

There’s also the occasional fourth—that they’re freeloading on roads that drivers paid for—but this has been debunked so many times that that particular red herring is, thankfully, starting to die off.

His point, which is almost too obvious to be repeated, is that bikes create a fraction of the damage of cars yet are the target of far more vitriol.

Full disclosure: I like to ride my 1960s Schwinn Speedster several times a year on the gravel roads around my house or better yet on the bike paths of the Twin Cities. I do run stop signs with impunity when it’s safe to do so, and I have no problem with other bikers who do the same, if they do it carefully.I admit that some bicyclists are assholes, just like some pedestrians, some drivers, some pilots, and most talk radio hosts.

I’m by no means an avid bicyclist, much less a “bike terrorist.” I am, however, something of a health-food-eating, co-op shopping, exercising, folk-music listening, bleeding heart liberal hippie type (without the hair), and I reckon the bike hate is related to the all-too-common hate directed at others in the wider green community.

It’s a mistake to look for a good reason explaining the bike hate. Bike hatred isn’t reasonable or rational, and like all irrational hatred, it’s founded on base feelings of jealousy and fear.

I’m often mystified by the strong reactions people have to health and fitness related news. One example was the recent court settlement involving the universally loathed Vibram Five Finger shoes.

More full disclosure: I have a pair, and I still wear them from time to time to run my trails around my property (and I wouldn’t dream of wearing them in public). I proudly admit to wearing them simply because it’s fun to run “barefoot” through the grass and they protect my feet from sticks and stones, and no, I didn’t buy into Vibram’s hype that barefoot running had been proven to reduce running injuries, any more than I’ve bought into the hype of pseudo-journalists who claim barefoot running is proven dangerous. The reality is that the jury is still out, and the general argument  — that a million years of evolution prepared us pretty well to go barefoot — is still compelling, as is the argument that we should be careful about going barefoot because we may have fouled up our feet beyond repair by wearing shoes.

Folks went into a feeding frenzy when they saw an icon of hippie fitness taken down a peg, even though the settlement was relatively small, and the facts of the case were completely obscured by the snarky tone of the authors and the Coliseum-like clamor of the masses.

The paleo-diet fad is another example of sticking it to the greens. Whenever some website posts a story about the health benefits of butter or bacon or other mainstream American comfort fare, you can count on the guys at the online water cooler to say “I told you so!” and unreflectively vow to eat more McDonald’s and KFC, even though the scientific reality is always far more complex than the pop-journalism of the web version, and even though there are many other good reasons for not eating meat, including climate change, water shortages, and animal cruelty. (And just this morning there’s this.)

Final full disclosure: I’m a meat eater, too, but I try to eat local meat that’s grass fed or raised in my own back yard. I eat butter (in moderation), and eggs from my chickens, and I’m worried about the environmental effects of industrial dairy and meat production. (And I know I’ll probably have a heart attack anyway, because my dad did…)

Climate-change denial comes from the same base instinct as bike-hate and hippie-hate. The denialists fear deep down that they’re wrong, but they don’t have the humility to admit it or the will power to change their ways, so they double down on their ignorant beliefs and unhealthy behaviors. (Putting smoke-spewing pipes or “Prius deterrents” on their pickups, known as “rolling coal,” is one recent manifestation.)

My point is basically this: Bike hate, hippie hate, fitness hate, and vegetarian hate all come from the same place: the irrational insecurities of people who are threatened when they see other folks trying to do something good. Unhealthy people watching others make healthy decisions are reminded of their own fears of a premature death (personal or global), and they transfer those negative feelings onto the folks who are doing what they know deep down they should be doing, while justifying their feelings by promoting falsehoods and stereotypes.

So next time you’re sitting in your car cursing that dude in the tight shorts who just ran a stoplight, remember this: He’s doing less harm to the planet that you are, he’s more likely to live a long and healthy life than you are, and he’s less likely to kill himself or someone else than you are.

Take heart, bicyclists, and take the hate for what it is: displaced jealousy from poor souls who are ignorant, unhealthy, and out-of-touch.

Lance Armstrong revisited

Love this article from Esquire.

Love this quote:

To be pushed out of his own foundation, abandoned at his lowest point, that was the worst blow of all. His golf partner that day, his buddy Chad, gave him some advice: “Look around you, Lance,” he said. The golf course was in Hawaii, high up on a bluff overlooking the Pacific with the sun sparkling on the water. “This is the view on the worst day of your life.”