Monday, November 7, 2011

Joe Frazier: In the Shadow of the Greatest

Joe Frazier died of liver cancer tonight at the age of 67. I realize there's not much I can say about him that hasn't been said before, or that won't be said in the coming hours and days, but few celebrity deaths have meant so much to me, and I feel like I should write something about it anyway.


To say that Joe Frazier was part of my childhood would be a bit of an overstatement. His last meaningful fight took place in 1976, nine years before I was born, but still, like Bradshaw or Staubach, I knew him. Boxing, perhaps even more than baseball, was a sport that I immediately latched onto. For a five year old, it was easy to understand; boxing's rule book is refreshingly short. You knock the other guy out, and you win. If you can't knock the other guy out, then the judges pick whoever performed the best. Simple. My earliest boxing memory is Buster Douglas's shocking upset of Mike Tyson; one of the greatest aspects of sports is that you can precisely date any event. I was not even four and a half years old at the time of the fight, which took place on February 11, 1990. I remember this, and yet I cannot recall a time in my life when I didn't know Joe Frazier.

The previous paragraph was difficult to write, and it required a great deal of editing and rewriting, for reasons that are completely unavoidable when discussing Frazier. This is a tribute to Joe Frazier, and yet it was almost impossible to write without making a reference to Muhammad Ali. For better or worse, Frazier's career will always be defined by his three fights against Ali. Though the second match (a unanimous decision in favor of Ali) is largely forgotten, the first ("The Fight of the Century") and the third ("The Thrilla in Manila") have become part of the boxing pantheon. As undeniably great as those matches were, I think it's a shame that Frazier has become just another part of Ali's legacy. After all, 92% of Frazier's fights were against other people. While I consider Muhammad Ali to be my idol and an unimpeachable legend, it is unfair to reduce his greatest rival to a footnote.

But it is also true that without Ali, Frazier's career likely would have been impressive but ultimately forgettable, with his greatest victories coming against Jimmy Ellis and Jerry Quarry, two solid contenders, no doubt, but not genuine threats. Frazier never fought Sonny Liston. He never fought Ron Lyle, Kenny Norton, or Leon Spinks. In the end, he lost four of his five most famous fights. After his incredible victory over Ali in 1971, he was annihilated by George
Foreman ("Down goes Frazier!" is still one of the most salient parts of Joe's legacy for me). The next three years would result in similar setbacks: the 1974 loss to Ali in the Garden, the TKO loss in the Thrilla in 1975, and yet another knockout loss to Foreman in 1976, in what would prove to be the final fight of his career, save for an abortive comeback bid in 1981 that resulted in a majority draw against journeyman Floyd Cummings. As understandably bitter as Frazier was toward Ali, he had to realize that his career peaked when Ali hit the canvas in round 15 of their 1971 bout. And no matter how much the subsequent losses hurt him, he always had this to fall back on: Ali never knocked him down.

Ali-Frazier I was a defining cultural moment in the United States, a symbolic struggle between races, religions, classes, and generations. Much to Frazier's dismay, and through no fault of his own, he was cast as the representative of White America, of the Establishment, and he became the darling of the elite class. Most painful for him was the knowledge that this was not a narrative that the media came up with on its own, but a storyline invented by Ali himself.

"He's not like me. He's the other type Negro. He's the Uncle Tom!" Ali said on a television interview program, in but one example of the type of rhetoric he used throughout the promotion of the fight.

Of course, Ali knew better. Frazier was raised in poverty that Ali could never imagine. In virtually every way imaginable, Frazier was "more black" than Ali. The only "sin" Frazier had committed was taking financial backing for his career from a group of rich white men. But what Ali also knew is that these words were deeply hurtful to Frazier, who was seemingly unable to take a joke, or didn't know that Ali was just trying to draw heat for the fight, or more likely, some combination of the two. When Frazier floored Ali in the final round, it had nothing to do with white vs. black or Christian vs. Muslim; it was an act of purification. When Frazier threw that left hook, Ali's words about Joe being too ugly, or too slow, or too dumb went out the window. I have still never seen a punch that is comparable in terms of pure aesthetic perfection.

Not that it stopped Ali, who continued his torrent of insults toward Frazier until the end of their careers. Even the phrase "Thrilla in Manila" originated as a jibe at Frazier: "It's gonna be a thrilla, and a chilla, and a killa, when I get the gorilla in Manila." For 46 minutes, the two men brutalized each other, and sadly, inevitably, neither was ever the same. When Frazier's corner stopped the fight after round 14, Ali was too tired to even celebrate. He later claimed, "It was the closest thing to dying that I know of."

Sad, too, is the fact that Joe never truly forgave Ali. Even as Muhammad morphed into a national treasure, Frazier viewed his deteriorating physical condition as karmic retribution, penance for all the evils he had perpetrated. Finally, for the first time, Frazier was the man who had all the words, while Ali's condition had rendered him virtually unable to speak. Obviously, I cannot truly understand what it was like to be on the receiving end, but I wish the two had been able to make amends. Ali harbored no ill will toward Frazier, viewing their press battles as nothing more than promotional stunts. But to Joe it was deadly serious. As recently as five years ago, if you called Joe Frazier's cell phone, you heard this voice mail message:

Such words are cruel and difficult to forgive, but I can almost understand them. Frazier lived in Ali's shadow for over 40 years, and he knew, maybe more than anybody else, that he had done as much for Muhammad as Muhammad had done for him. Yes, Ali will always have more cultural significance; he deserves that, and it isn't the result of some kind of anti-Frazier bias. Ali was larger than life, and he stood for ideals that carried far beyond the boundaries of the boxing ring. But people who know boxing will never forget Joe Frazier stalking his prey around the ring, taking unbelievable amounts of punishment, and unleashing the most devastating left hook the world has ever seen. Nobody will ever take that away from him. For a brief moment, on the night of March 8, 1971, Frazier stood over a fallen Ali. He had walked through it all, and at least for a little while, he was the greatest.

I've realized that there's a ton more stuff I could say about Joe Frazier, and so I've neglected an entire section about George Foreman that I had planned to write. I know there have been millions of words written about Ali-Frazier (Ali's name always comes first, and I'm not convinced it's just because of alphabetical order), but after giving it some thought, I realized that the two are such a huge part of one another that it's not even possible to tell one's life story without the other playing a key role. I've seen so many documentaries and read so many stories from Ali's perspective, but I'd love to see something through the eyes of Frazier. The closest I've seen comes from his brief segment in Facing Ali, which was amazing but left me desperately wanting more. I hope that time is kind to Frazier. His body of work is so much shorter than so many of the other greatest fighters (37 fights, compared to Ali's 61 and Foreman's 81), but anybody who's ever actually watched him won't be fooled by his lack of "quality wins." He was the first man to ever beat Muhammad Ali, and I'm not sure that Joe ever really needed another victory after that. He had made his peace.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Manic Monday at Wimbledon

Who says this is a young man's game? Granted, "young" in the tennis world means something quite different than it does almost anywhere else, but in any case, this year's Wimbledon round of 16 seems like it contains a glut of players who are just about ready to enter the old folks' home. It makes the appearance of 18-year-old Bernard Tomic all the more striking. What's this whippersnapper doing here? Xavier Malisse and Michael Llodra are even representing the over-30 crowd, that group of players whose golf equivalents would have carried their AARP cards for well over a decade (Marat Safin, aged 31, is now playing on the seniors' tennis tour). Among the other survivors is a cadre of 29-year-olds, Mardy Fish, Lukasz Kubot, Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, Mikhail Youzhny, and of course, Roger Federer. For those scoring at home, that means that half of the remaining field is 29 or older (in comparison, only 5 of 16 at the French Open and 4 of 16 at the Australian Open were that old).

All of these things are true, but at the same time, there is a feeling of pointlessness surrounding it. None of these guys, except for Federer, has any shot of winning the tournament. The actual contenders are in their early to mid-20s; for the uninitiated, 22 of the last 25 majors have been won by either Federer or Rafael Nadal, while Novak Djokovic took two and Juan Martin del Potro (Nadal's opponent Monday) won the other. It seems almost inconceivable that anybody else might win it all this year, even poor Andy Murray, who will be crucified in the press if he achieves anything short of holding up the championship trophy next Sunday. But that's thinking big picture. In the short term, a lot of different things could happen. Presumably, everybody left believes, however foolishly, that they can still win the whole thing. It's still early enough in the tournament for somebody to forget his place and pull off an upset that will set the stage for a miraculous run to the title one of the other favorites to win instead. In order, starting at the top of the draw:

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (24) Juan Martin del Potro
I would consider this to be the best of two marquee match-ups on the day. Nadal's credentials speak for themselves: 10 overall major titles, 2-time Wimbledon champ, etc., but the (24) next to del Potro's name is very misleading. In truth, he is the fifth best player in the world, but he is still working his way back up the rankings after missing all of 2010 with a wrist injury. Del Potro steamrolled Nadal 2, 2, and 2 on his way to the 2009 U.S. Open title, but Nadal leads the overall head-to-head 6-3 and won their only grass court match.

This is a very dangerous match for Rafa, but I expect he'll pull it out. Nadal in 5.

(10) Mardy Fish vs. (6) Tomas Berdych
It's a borderline miracle that Mardy made it this far, but all good things have to come to an end. Berdych made the final here at Wimbledon last year, and I just don't believe Fish has the firepower to end his run this time around. At least he got an American into the second week for a change.

Berdych in 3.

(4) Andy Murray vs. (17) Richard Gasquet
This is the second best match-up among the round of 16 contests. It's intriguing on a few different levels. First of all, there's the inevitable circus that surrounds all of Murray's matches at SW19. Second, they both have the potential to turn into total headcases on the court (and off the court, in Gasquet's case). Finally, they're both supremely talented tennis players. Murray has come close but never gotten over the hump. Gasquet possesses top 5 talent but is one of the few psychologically frail players you'll see on the men's tour. Like Nadal, Murray has a tremendously dangerous match, especially considering that he's guaranteed to get an unseeded player in the quarters (either Kubot or Lopez), meaning he'll be an overwhelming favorite to reach the semis. In other words, the pressure will be suffocating.

Still, I feel like Murray will prevail (or do I just hope it?). Murray in 4.

Lukasz Kubot vs. Feliciano Lopez
What are these guys doing here? Feliciano Lopez has spent more time modeling than playing tennis, and Kubot... well, I don't really know what he does. Lopez upset Roddick, and though he doesn't have the game to knock off an elite player, he has more than enough to defeat Kubot.

Following the principle of "if I don't know what you look like, you can't be in the Wimbledon quarters," Lopez wins in 3.

(7) David Ferrer vs. (12) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
This has the potential to be an entertaining match, even though I don't consider either to be top-tier talent. Ferrer is a tremendously dogged competitor who makes up for more or less average strokes by sheer force of will, and Tsonga, the former Australian Open finalist, is a powerful but inconsistent baseliner. They are playing for the right to be Federer's sacrificial lamb in the quarterfinals.

Tough to call, but I think Tsonga takes it in 5.

(3) Roger Federer vs. (18) Mikhail Youzhny
Ok, so Youzhny is no jabroni. He's a solid veteran who's stayed around his current ranking for many years now, made some nice runs in majors (even beat Nadal once!), etc., etc. But let's be clear. Roger Federer has won this tournament six times and hasn't lost before the quarterfinals of any major since the Harding administration. Fed might have his first hiccup of the tournament, but there's no possible way he loses.

Federer in 4 (but probably 3).

Bernard Tomic vs. Xavier Malisse
Again, another match pitting two unseeded players against one another, but the contrast between these two is striking. Tomic is a teenage phenom (or so the Aussies say) who is currently around #160 in the world but will likely see that ranking rise at a rapid rate in the near future. X-Man is a journeyman Belgian who has been playing professionally literally since the time I began watching tennis (in 1999). The best I can tell, he's always been #40 in the world. He made a semifinal run at Wimbledon a few years back but has otherwise never been past the 4th round of a major. This is a match I can see going either way. What wins out: great talent and no experience or mediocre talent and tons of experience? I'll take the young guy this time around.

Tomic wins, barely, in 5. Then he gets eviscerated by Djokovic in the next round.

(2) Novak Djokovic vs. (19) Michael Llodra
Novak Djokovic is good. He's really, really good. Michael Llodra is old. And he serves and volleys (in 2011!). I'm happy for him that he made it this far, but Ward, Mello, and Lu isn't exactly a murderer's row of guys to get through to make it into the 4th round. The Djoker got his minor roadblock out of the way when he dropped a set to Marcos Baghdatis in his previous match, so it should be smooth sailing until the Federer match-up in the semis.

Djokovic in an easy 3 sets.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

It was inevitable, really, and yet I never truly believed until the last point was over. After 23 straight appearances in Grand Slam semifinals, Roger Federer lost today in a quarterfinal match against Robin Soderling, who is not coincidentally the same man who ended Rafael Nadal's 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros last year. Roger's streak was preposterous to start with, dating back over six years to May 2004, and it was longer than the second and third place streaks combined (Ivan Lendl and Rod Laver both reached 10 straight semis). Still, the very fact that it had lasted this long, during which time I've watched all 23 of those semifinal appearances, made it nigh impossible to believe that it could ever end. Even against Soderling, who was destined to forever be known as The Man Who Beat Nadal, I was confident; Federer had beaten him all 12 times they'd played, including in the final here last year and in the quarters at last year's U.S. Open.

But to use a boxing analogy, Soderling always has a puncher's chance, much like Tomas Berdych, who also gave Roger two five-set scares in the majors in recent years (and who just happens to be Soderling's opponent in the semifinals). And so it was today. It's hard to say that Roger even LOST the match. It's more like Soderling violently stole it from him, pounding shot after shot, asphyxiating Federer with the weight of his forehand. After the rain delay at 5-5 in the third (they split the first two sets, 6-3 each), which was all I got to see of the match, thanks to the perplexing intricacies of American television coverage, Soderling hardly missed a ball. And although the stat sheet shows that Federer hit almost as many winners as Soderling in that fourth set, it is misleading. Soderling's shots were much more punishing, pushing Roger around the court and never letting him reset the rally to neutral. Thus many of his shots were de facto winners; Roger may have gotten his racquet on the ball, but he no longer had any realistic chance of winning the point.

Even after Soderling broke for 5-4 in the fourth, even after he was up double match point on his serve, I still believed, deep down, that he'd find a way to claw out of it, as he's done so many times before. Never mind that the trouble he faced was much graver than any of his previous escapes. This is Roger Federer we're talking about, and he simply does not lose in Grand Slam quarters. But Soderling is no Tomas Berdych. He has been there before. He has beaten Rafael Nadal on the terre battue, something that no other human can claim. He never wavered, and his style of play was a driving factor. Every tennis player knows that the best way to conquer nerves is simply to swing as hard as you can. It prevents your brain from doing too much work.

I don't know if it makes it better or worse that Federer lost to someone as unlikeable as Soderling. As Peter Bodo of Tennis Magazine memorably said after his defeat of Nadal last year:

"It would be a lot different if Nadal had been beaten by some guy with curly chestnut locks, a sister dying of some rare disease, soulful baby blue eyes, and a foundation dedicated to saving the African rhino. Robin Soderling is not that guy: He's got dark peach-fuzz on his head, budding mutton chops on his cheeks, and bayonet-grey eyes. If he had a sibling, he probably choked her to death long ago, and can't you see him tooling around the cobbled streets of his native Tibro in Sweden, in a beat-up Mitsubishi bearing the bumper sticker: Caution: I Speed Up and Try to Kill Furry Little Animals."

He's known for being aloof toward other players, and he openly antagonized Rafa in their match at Wimbledon in 2008, which Nadal eventually won. When you're on the bad side of both Roger and Rafa, you're less than scum in the eyes of the tennis community, for as everyone knows, only one thing is certain in tennis fandom: half the people love Roger, half the people love Rafa, and everybody loves Marat Safin.

But perhaps that's overly harsh. I didn't hate Soderling when he graciously allowed Roger to beat him in the final last year. And even now, the disappointment is tempered by the knowledge that at least Roger finally won here last year. Now I'm faced with quite a dilemma. For the first time since 2005--barring a freak car accident or something--Rafa will be in the final of a major against someone other than Fed. I assume that Soderling will defeat Berdych, although Berdych won their last meeting, so does that mean I'll have to pull for Rafa in the final? I'm not used to making these kinds of decision. But one way or the other, one thing is certain. Robin Soderling will not defeat Rafa Nadal here again. Make a note of it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Double Down Syndrome

It all started right after noon. When I saw somebody on Facebook post a status about the arrival of KFC's landmark new meal, the Double Down, my wheels started turning. I must have one. I will slay this beast. If it's made of meat, it doesn't stand a chance. I arranged to have Nora present as my medical counsel and photographer. The battle would commence as soon as I finished tutoring at 8.

It played out in a flurry of high intensity scenes you'd expect to only see on the big screen. Ordering at the drive-through, sitting at the window waiting on it for over ten minutes, not getting everything I asked for, you name it. Nobody could have scripted it better. When we finally got back home, I could no longer handle the suspense. It was time to take action.

The Double Down, for those who aren't familiar, is a "sandwich" that, instead of having buns, consists of two pieces of fried chicken with two strips of bacon and two slices of cheese crammed in between. It, in short, is an affirmation of everything True and Right about the American character. The most pragmatic approach would be to eat it with a knife and fork, but that would somehow remove all its majesty, strip it bare of its symbolic power. It must be eaten with the hands.

When I finally took that glorious first bite, it reminded me why I love my country. Only here could we proudly display such decadence; we revel in it, unabashedly celebrating the death and mayhem it will wreak upon our populace. For the Double Down is nothing if not an openly deadly item. Even the most nutrionally illiterate must know that nothing good will come of eating it, and yet it will succeed, if for no other reason than our desire to relish in excess.

I couldn't finish all of mine, but I made a major dent, ignoring the nausea that began to set in halfway through. We must fight through the pain, aware--consciously or not--that it is our patriotic duty to do so. Nora wouldn't let me give a bite to her cat, believing it to be unfit to eat, even for the lower animals, which is incontrovertible proof that we will continue to prevail over nature and rise to unimaginable heights. After all, I kept it down.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Armond White

I was reading film reviews at work the other day, as I often do, when I ventured to Armond White's recently reviewed movies. Armond is, to put it mildly, a contrarian, which is fine. But he's a contrarian for the sake of being of contrarian.* How else to explain his panning of Inglourious Basterds ("QT manipulates WWII horror into hip pornography"), which was preceded the week before by a rave review of G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra ("There’s more realpolitik here than in the now-overrated The Hurt Locker")? Since I discovered him almost two years ago, when he was at that point the only critic to give a negative review to Wall-E, I've revisited him on about a monthly basis, mostly to annoy my roommate by quoting White's reviews to him. By the way, the best line of that G.I. Joe review? "[Director Stephen] Sommers isn’t quite in Michael Bay’s directorial class, but he has the ability to envision a nightmare and spin it into a provocative coup the Surrealists wouldn’t dare." Coming from any other critic, that's a devastating insult.

An interesting thing has happened over those two years, though. I've come to genuinely enjoy reading Mr. White. That in no way means I endorse or agree with any of his asinine opinions, but he has a certain flair about him that I find irresistible. His writing style is derivative but enjoyable (take a few minutes to compare his writing style to his mentor, Pauline Kael, and you'll see what I mean), at least in the sense that it evokes an emotion out of you, positive or negative, in much the same way as Ann Coulter's work. And that really is the only adequate comparison I can make; White is certainly more intelligent, but their writing has the same visceral impact. This is not necessarily meant as a compliment.

My original idea was to pick out movies Armond and I agree about, but that's a pretty narrow list indeed. He's a fairly prolific critic, having reviewed over 100 films in 2009, and I have by no means seen that many, but the only ones we feel the same about are It's Complicated, Avatar, Humpday, X-Men Origins, The Soloist, and Obsessed (negative) and Coraline, Tyson, and The Hurt Locker (positive). That's it. We both liked only three of the same movies in all of 2009, and even on The Hurt Locker, he claimed that G.I. Joe was better. Make of that what you will. I'll call his negative review of Antichrist a push, since I still have no idea what I think about that movie.

Just on a lark, let's see how he felt about this year's Oscar nominees.

1. Avatar: "Avatar is the corniest movie ever made about the white man’s need to lose his identity and assuage racial, political, sexual and historical guilt."
2. District 9: "District 9 represents the sloppiest and dopiest pop cinema—the kind that comes from a second-rate film culture."
3. An Education: "The film’s 1961 setting is a pretense by which pop novelist Nick Hornby’s screenplay (from Lynn Barber’s memoir) panders to his usual hipster market."
4. Up in the Air (he really hates this one): "Jason Reitman’s movies come in three forms: Rubbish (Thank You For Smoking), Crap (Juno) and Swill (Up in the Air)."
5. A Serious Man (he liked it!): "Any critic’s suggestion that a film as lovingly, emotionally precise as A Serious Man typifies Jewish self-hatred is ridiculous."
6. The Hurt Locker (likes it almost as much as G.I. Joe): "Bigelow conscientiously streamlines her filmmaking. Avoiding portentous Kubrickian camera dynamics—which are only about self—she’s evocative and focused, unlike the showy, undisciplined Apocalypse Now."
7. The Blind Side (he loved it!): "All Bullock’s films promote an edifying sense of human experience—she has an instinct for what people like to see—and that gift makes The Blind Side the perfect, God-sent antidote to Precious." (Which leads us to........)
8. Precious (and this line only scratches the surface): "Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious."
9. Up: "Pixar disgraces and delimits the animated film as a mushy, silly pop form.What used to be ridiculed as sentimental excess in old Disney animation now comes disguised in the latest technology."
10. Inglourious Basterds: "Only the most gullible film geek will think QT is confirming cinema’s righteous social influence."

My intention was specifically not to write a piece excoriating Armond White; that'd be too easy, and it's been done way too much. But it's what this has turned into, so let's try something a little different. Maybe his standards for Oscar movies are just a lot higher than that. Let's just pick a movie at random and see what he has to say:

"No matter how many people get verklempt over the lugubrious Benjamin Button, I know in my soul that history will avenge the Wayanses’ superior age/masculinity farce Little Man and fans who have already forgotten Eminem’s 8 Mile will one day catch up to Damon Wayans’ insightful hip-hop burlesque, Marci X."

Ah, yes. That's from his review entitled "Dance Flick: Marxian Brothers parody subverts Hollywood." Perhaps I should say no more on this matter.

*I discovered after writing this that that description was used almost word for word on Wikipedia. I swear I didn't plagiarize it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gunfight at the D.C. Corral

Over the past few days, I've been observing the reactions that have been spurred by the passage of the new healthcare reform bill. Not elite reaction, which is totally predictable, but rather reactions on Facebook and Twitter, which are also somewhat predictable but much more interesting. It gives a nice glimpse into the psyches of people you actually know, in some cases much more clearly than you'd like.

In the interest of full disclosure, I think the new bill is a Good Thing, which is not the same as it being a Perfect Thing. If anything, I'd have liked for it to go farther down the road of single-payer, universal coverage. The irony isn't lost on me that while most critics are accusing Obama of being some kind of secret socialist, I am arguing that he isn't socialist enough.

But it's not the specifics of the bill that interest me. As I said, it's the reactions. As soon as it was announced that the bill had passed, Facebook was deluged--at least amongst my friends--with outrage, vitriol, and scorn, not to mention what seemed like dozens of appearances of the word "comrade." The passage of relatively minor changes to the healthcare system apparently will lead to the imminent collapse of our society. Which seems strange, but I'm clearly out of touch.

The situation leads to several questions. First of all, why are people so opposed to changes in healthcare? Surely they can't believe the system's already perfect, and surely they can't believe the solution is to have LESS government control. I'm sure there are other reasons I'm not aware of, but the cynic in me sees an unbridled contempt for the poor and unemployed, which is bad enough by itself but made worse when so many of the complaints are coming from people who are themselves poor and unemployed. Could it be racism? It's prima facie plausible, but this bill will affect many more whites than it will any other race--although it should be pointed out that several of the people I know who've opposed healthcare are, in fact, admitted racists. It's an unfortunate reality of living in Mississippi, but it's one you learn to live with.

Or perhaps it's that I'm unable to look at it from an economic point of view. For me, providing healthcare for everyone is a moral necessity and can't be viewed from the perspective of dollars and cents. I thought this was a truism, but maybe I'm in the minority on this one. Am I the only one who believes that the closest thing to a real-life "death panel" is an insurance company denying coverage to a patient? To be fair, I didn't see any commenters use the term death panel, though I'm sure quite a bit of their rhetoric came from the same source. There are conflicting reports on what effect it'll have on the economy, but that just doesn't matter to me. There are ways to afford it. Canada affords it. France affords it. Every other industrialized nation affords it. Maybe if we, as a nation, could make healing our sick a higher priority than killing brown-skinned people, we could do it too. (Whoops! There's 2004 Chris coming out.)

Overall, the hysteria--and I don't think it's overreaching to call it that--has just seemed very peculiar to me. I wonder where these people were seven years ago when we started a war (two wars? three? who can keep track?) in a far-off country (countries?) for no real reason. A war that, incidentally, put American lives in a lot more jeopardy than the current healthcare bill. I know it's apples and oranges and times have changed and all that, but still I wonder... if it'd been our Hussein vs. theirs, would the support have been the same? I'll leave it to you to answer.

I like to believe that Americans are less selfish than recent days have made them seem. I like to believe we are a people that takes the injunction to "love thy neighbor" seriously, and as it's really meant. The neighbor is the poor, unemployed slacker, but it is also you and me and all the rest of us. The neighbor is the person you don't know, you aren't comfortable with, you don't understand. If "love thy neighbor" means anything, it includes them too. And for me, at least, loving thy neighbor means helping him in any way I can, even if it means contributing a few of MY hard-earned dollars to the cause to help them see a doctor. I feel no coercion, no tyrannical power forcing me to do this. It comes easily.

After all, I'm sure they'd do the same for me.