Sunday, January 7, 2007


For Starters:
'Hawks Win! As a tatted up Jerramy Stevens might say: always hated, never faded. Well, the Seahawks actually were faded on seven different occasions, but here we are in the tournament and Seattle is undefeated and headed to Chicago with hopes of revenge for the 37-6 trouncing at the hands of the Bears back in week 4. The Quabbin is feeling very Qonfident that the 'Hawks can pull it off on the road and head into another NFC championship game with the head of a large bear on the end of their pointed talons. Quite frankly, I think it will be another wacky one chock full of fumbles and field goals and flags. Bring it on.
In other sporting news I ran ten miles today, once again exceeding my bounds in the name of ambition that regrettably seems to fade every four days. Having just packed it in mentally and decided to cut my proposed hour-long run down to a five mile jaunt through the woods at daylight's end, I was surprised with an unexpected visit from the Rosen family on a 12-miler that tracked past my house. It felt so good to run with another human that I ended up hanging on beyond the Pelham Meetinghouse, all the way down Southeast Road and over Route 9, to the point where I was bound for the diez. I braved it alone up the Smith's Orchard hill, struggling all the way with only the rushing sound of Scarboro Brook and the desire to warm my slowly freezing hands to keep me on task. Aye, and I made it, and in time to jot down another 3Q post.
While I was running up that last hill, my mind kept returning to the days when large inclines actually beckoned me and endurance was something that I owned and embraced. Relatively speaking, I could probably say the same thing about myself today but it is so hard to live up the past. Those thoughts got me pondering, yet again, the idea of priorities. Once upon a time my main priority was to hit my weekly mileage - whether 45, 60, 70, 75, 85 or 90 - and prepare well enough on the outside of those runs to try to live up to my slightly distorted self-image on race day. It almost never happened, but on those two or three days that it did everything was sweet. Every mile in the cold and every extra repeat and every night that I didn't go out partying was worth it because of 1580 seconds worth of ground covered on a given course.
People respect priorities, that is why professional sports is such a big deal. I have tried a number of times in my life to de-emphasize the NFL, NBA and MLB because of the great amounts of excess inherently involved in 70,000 seat stadiums and 7-year, $34M contracts for doing something that has little social impact, and often times even less athletic impact. But for the rest of the athletes on the field, success is a priority. That is why they people pay $1,000 for playoff tickets, why networks flash fantasy statistics at the bottom of the tv screen during regular season football games, why cities raise their taxes to keep a pro team in town.
I have had a number of priorities in my life, but nothing was ever as big as athletic achievement.
For others it has been business dominance, musical statement, marriage, social justice, hustling, pimping, and the success of their children. Halfway through my third decade of life, I realize that priorities are a tough thing to latch onto, and an even tougher thing to fulfill. Growing up, one's priorities may shift from week to week, and usually center on one's self. In high school and college, often times you figure out where you want to focus to lie (i.e. partying, getting laid, making the soccer team, getting a library job, driving a hot car, etc.). But once that is over the whole landscape changes. You mature into your mid-twenties and next thing you know, you want to be a little less selfish, and you want to make your way in the world. All of the sudden you realize that music career isn't going to get you very far, and you aren't going to make any money running unless you can go under fourteen minutes in the 5k.

Finding that next priority is the rub. 25-year-olds without priorities wander aimlessly through a life of odd jobs and different cities, unless you believe the bumper sticker that reads not all who wander are lost. Politicians without priorities, of course, wind up in the Senate and often win the Democratic nomination for the Presidency.
This era's political priority, for better or for worse, is most certainly Iraq. The land where Uday Hussein once oversaw the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the national Football Federation with a bloody, ball-clenching fist is now hands down the biggest concern of every major national politician. The priority today for a candidate is to be hawkish about fulfilling our responsibility or staunch about a long-standing opposition to the mess. Now with Bush, McCain, Lieberman and others calling for a "surge" in troops (sadly, not a Surge for troops), it may become that much more of a priority to America.
Joe Biden, meanwhile, finds it to be a huge priority but in some senses a false priority. He claimed recently that the Bush White House has given up and is only looking to add more troops in order to stick it to whomever takes over, saying "They have no answer to deal with how badly they have screwed it up. I am not being facetious now. Therefore, the best thing to do is keep it from totally collapsing on your watch and hand it off to the next guy -- literally, not figuratively." He goes on in another interview to add, "I’m not trying to be a wise guy in saying this, but . . . I totally underestimated the incompetence and arrogance of this administration once they were given the power to use power in Iraq. It is actually mind-blowing.” Ladies and gentlemen, Joe Biden! I've met the guy in person, and I can't tell you how happy I am that he is entering the race.
Frank Rich wrote another good column about our Iraq ties, this time in relation to The Timely Death of Gerald Ford, as he puts it. Rich recollects Ford most prescient achievement not to be the pardoning of Richard Nixon, but the ending of American involvement in Vietnam. He quotes from Ford's April 23, 1975 speech at Tulane:
"Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned...We, of course, are saddened indeed by the events in Indochina. But these events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America's leadership in the world. Let me put it this way, if I might. Some tend to feel that if we do not succeed in everything everywhere, then we have succeeded in nothing anywhere. I reject categorically such polarized thinking. We can and we should help others to help themselves. But the fate of responsible men and women everywhere, in the final decision, rests in their own hands, not in ours."
It is implicit in the speech that Ford had the courage to say such things. Certainly following a decade spent killing hundreds of thousands of Viet Cong and peasants alike, with some 60,000 US Soldiers tragically filling out the casualty list, it would have been a difficult choice for a leader to simply stop. Talk about a bad break up. Yet it was Ford who did this, and more importantly admitted that we could go on afterward in the face of the Cold War. Iraq will be a different story, with current technology allowing a small cell of Unckie Sam-hating baddies to inflict damage on our person, as opposed to a gaudy and gutless Soviet Union.
Some are born with priorities. Some achieve priorities. Some have priorities thrust upon them. I remember the days when I was just trying to break five minutes. Now we just hope the death toll stays below five US troops each day.
Ahoy from the Quabbin, sausage stew and Scotch on the rocks.