The other day, I read an article in Foreign Policy discussing land mines being a war crime. I have to admit that the article was both blunt and poignant. It also got my blood boiling to think about it. In the West, people are rather fortunate that they have not had to worry about where they can walk for fear of whether they will be either maimed or killed by these land mines. The same cannot be said for a majority of people who have lived in war zones over the last 30+ years. Throughout Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East, these explosives have deformed several generations and continue to do so. Sure, they may be easy to make and cost less in terms of material and manpower in order to defeat an enemy, but they also never go away and continue to destroy for many years after a conflict has ended. Where is the justice? Where is the right to live freely and without fear of loss of life and limb? What justification can nations offer to strip those rights away for generations? Even the current US president, he of the "Hope and Change" mantra of the 2008 election, has refused to sign the declaration to ban land mines! So what hope is there to stop the proliferation of land mines if President Hope and Change is unwilling to buck political and military expediency in order to enforce a change? Does the US really wish to continue its habit of acting in contradiction to its stated ideals? (Yes, that is a rhetorical question.)
The US off-year elections (does anyone wonder why all non-presidential elections are declared off-year, as if only the presidential elections hold any importance? Doesn't that, by corollary, then mean that Congress is irrelevant and that we are one step closer toward rule by executive fiat?) are coming up next Tuesday and I suspect that more than a few people are less-than-thrilled by the choices being offered. There is a great deal of discussion over the distinct possibility that the Republicans will be swept back into power as a result of dissatisfaction over Democrats holding the major power centers in both the executive and legislative branches. Yet, there is also no great enthusiasm over the Republicans after the previous decade under President Bush and a Republican Congress. Rather, it is a choice of the lesser of two evils. Which will lead to a situation of governmental gridlock - a situation that seems to be the intention of many voters. So we will once again entertain the question of the role of government - is it for the good of the people or better to be limited so as not to impinge on the rights of the people? Somehow, I don't think the question will be answered with this election, either.
Sticking with politics, how about the situation with NPR and its former "news analyst" Juan Williams? Certainly there is a belief that NPR is a liberal news outlet among many people (particularly conservatives) and their firing of Williams for comments he made while on a Fox show with (the less than unbiased) Bill O'Reilly only reinforces that belief. Especially when compared to other "analysts" or "reporters" who have made similar gaffes yet did not suffer the loss of their jobs with NPR, it seems to have been a politically partisan firing and makes it difficult to maintain their declared unbiased reporting. And the head of NPR's incendiary comments regarding her handling of Williams' firing only inflame the situation. Their best hope is that the situation will die down and people will forget it - but that seems unlikely so long as Williams is given an open forum on Fox News where he was immediately given a 3 year contract. Certainly in an era where the line between editorializing and factual news grows increasingly blurry, comments such as Williams' make it difficult to hold reporters and news organizations to unbiased standards, NPR's actions notwithstanding. The fact that he was immediately "rewarded" with a new contract by a competitor (that is often accused of being of a particular political bent) will make it that much more difficult to hold the line. In the end, while I am a listener of NPR, I listen while trying to filter out the obvious partisan editorial bent - the same as I do for Fox News and other news outlets. Too bad so few other people can or are willing to do the same.
Children today are constantly subjected to the standards of their parents when it comes to sports. Indeed, the level of competition, even at what is considered recreational leagues, continues to grow. I coach a youth soccer team at a recreational level. This is my first season in U-12 and the majority of my team is also playing their first season at this age group. In every match this season, we have been the smaller team and have lost most of our matches with two ties. I have been very proud of my kids and the effort they have put into each match and, while I know they want to win (as do I!), they have not gotten down on themselves but continue to work hard each week. After a heartbreaking loss today that we should have tied if not won, the father of one of my players caustically remarked that "We're not going to win any games this season, are we, coach?" Those were the same words I heard from his son before our match last weekend (that we actually tied). I told him that they were trying but it is hard when we can't get consistent practices - we have been rained out the last two weeks. Clearly upset, he took his son and, when I asked if they would be back for the second match, indicated they would not. I understand wanting to win but the only thing he taught his son was that it was ok to quit if you're not winning. Fortunately, cooler heads obviously prevailed at his home as the player did return for the second match - his mother brought him back. And while this particular player has improved dramatically (due in large part to his father who has worked as a coach before) this season, I worry that his drive in the future will be to win and to be the star at the expense of his team. He's a good player but no one player wins a soccer match - a lesson I have tried to impart with only some success to him. I hope that my weekly lessons on doing your best, working as a team and not worrying about the end score will sink in with all of my players. At the end of this season, these players will not remember how many games they won or lost. They may not even remember all of or how many goals they scored. But they will remember if they had fun and, if they didn't, they won't want to keep playing. In the end, if it is not fun, people won't want to do it (unless they have to).