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The World’s Game

world+cupSoccer: It Speaks the World’s Language

Someone once said that the secret to world peace was to adopt a universal language; one common language that would eliminate misunderstanding and foster shared purpose. As I’ve watched the run up to the 2010 World Cup, I’ve thought we may really be getting closer to the one world language – the language of the world’s game – soccer.

Loyal readers in this space know that baseball is my game, but when the World Cup rolls around who cannot be a soccer fan. I can still remember my two young sons darting around a soccer pitch on very cold Saturday mornings in the fall while I huddle on the sideline trying to keep warm with a cup of hot coffee. While urging them on, I stood there shivering and wondering just what the rules of this foreign game were all about. My soccer knowledge hasn’t progressed all that far in the intervening years, but I have come to appreciate the skill and athleticism of the great players and, of course, the social phenomenon of soccer is fascinating.

This World Cup, to read the experts, is all about the rise of African soccer and ESPN has a great piece on what soccer means to Africa. I know what it means in England, Ireland and South America.

I spent a day earlier this year touring Montevideo, Uruguay – now there is a soccer mad country – and quickly learned of that country’s real religion. Most Uruguayans are Roman Catholic, but soccer is the true national religion and probably has more true believers. After all the World Cup originated there. The same situation prevails in Argentina, a country bedeviled with a long history of political and economic instability, but a nation in the first rank when it comes to futbol.

So, I’ll check the baseball box scores on a daily basis as I always do, but I’ll make a point to catch some of the World Cup action over the next few days. Brazil and maybe Spain are considered favorites, but I’ll be pulling for the other South Americans – Argentina and Uruguay.

By the way, and with acknowledgement that its almost impossible to miss the World Cup hype and coverage, one of the classiest marketing efforts associated with the big event has been the campaign of the luxury brand Louis Vuitton.

The Vuitton campaign, including a really cool website, features the great Brazilian soccer star Pele, the Frenchman Zinedane Zidane and the Argentine Diego Maradona. Some marketing genius, and I mean that as a compliment, came up with the idea of having the three aging soccer stars play a Foosball game and respond to a long series of soccer questions. Great marketing and good soccer lore.

Baseball is still an American game. Soccer belongs to the world. The next month should be fascinating.

Should Judges Think?

souterMr. Justice Souter

We are soon to witness the latest chapter in the by now completely predictable theatre that passes for a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing for a new justice for the Supreme Court of the United States.

In a remarkable speech recently at the Harvard commencement, retired Justice David Souter provided the most thoughtful guidebook for how we ought to consider the business of judging that I have seen in a long time. All the participants in the coming production – Elena Kagen, the nominee, the Senators who will pass judgement on her qualifications, and the media who will cover the drama – should take a few minutes and read Souter’s speech.

This was not your typical “wear sunscreen” commencement speech and may well have left the Harvard crowd thinking that they had to endure the final boring lecture. But, in truth, Souter offered up a classy essay on how judges can – if they can – think about their jobs and the Constitution. One analyst called it a speech for the books that rivals some of the legal thinking of the great Oliver Wendell Holmes.

After noting the obvious that the Constitution contains many general statements about values that are by necessity somewhat vague, Souter said: “the explicit terms of the Constitution, in other words, can create a conflict of approve values, and the explicit terms of the Constitution do not resolve that conflict when it arises.”

The former New Hampshire attorney general then said, “a choice may have to be made not because language is vague but because the Constitution embodies the desire of the American people, to have it both ways…”

Souter was, in his kindly, scholarly way, slipping a knife into the “original intent” notion of how the Constitution must be read and applied.

Long-time Supreme Court watcher, Linda Greenhouse wrote on the Times on-line that Souter carefully did not mention Justice Antonin Scalia during his Harvard talk, but that he must surely have had the outspoken Scalia in mind when he said the modern world requires a flexible Constitution that assesses the words in the document but also considers the contemporary facts of society.

If Senators Pat Leahy or Orrin Hatch want to do the country a favor when they have judge-to-be Kagen in their confirmation sights soon, they would do well to ask her if she’s read Souter’s speech and, more importantly, what she makes of his legal thinking.

Even better, here’s hoping the Senators read the speech. It would be good preparation for judging a judge. Questions based on Souter’s speech would be a decided improvement above and beyond the usual fare served up during the typical confirmation theatre. I won’t be holding my breath, but I have a notion that Souter has said some important things with real lasting value to this incredibly important debate.

Now…For Something Completely Different

Andrus CenterCivility in Public Life – Now There’s an Idea

Jim Leach, the former Republican Congressman from Iowa and now chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, will be in Boise a week from today as part of his national civility tour.

I’m happy, through the Andrus Center for Public Policy, to be involved in hosting a lunch and speech from the chairman on June 11th. A small number of tickets remain for Leach’s speech entitled “Civility in a Fractured Society.” If you’re interested visit the Andrus Center’s website.

During a recent speech on the civility subject in Salt Lake City, as the Tribune reported, Leach “recalled an episode from Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War , in which even the cultured state of Athens murdered, enslaved and colonized the people of the island Melos for refusing to help fight Sparta.”

The former 30-year congressman said: “The lesson is that even great nations sometimes lose their way,” he said. “We’re going to have to think about whether or not we remain one country that moves together, but can also accommodate a wide variety of views.”

The lesson – U.S. challenges at home and around the world require real understanding, civility and a sense of history; not to mention tolerance.

Jim Leach is an interesting, thoughtful guy who has spent a good part of his life in politics and knows the value of engaging our adversaries armed not only with strength, but with understanding, debating our political opponents with decency and practicing the arts of democracy with civility.

By the way, Boise State University President Bob Kustra will be interviewing Jim Leach on his Boise State Public Radio show – 91.5 FM – today at 5:30 pm and Sunday at 11:00 am. The Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey has also interviewed the chairman, so look for his piece soon.

That’s Baseball

griffeyGriffey Quits…Ump Blows It

Quite a day in baseball yesterday. Ken Griffey, Jr. made a good call and an umpire in Detroit didn’t.

The good call first.

Perhaps the hardest thing in baseball, politics, business, you name it, is knowing when to hang it up. Most of us stay too long, sitting on our past accomplishments, talking too much about the good ol’ days, hanging on when we should make way. Quitting is hard. Knowing when to quit is harder still.

Ken Griffey is – was – a pro. He must have known at age 40, when most of us think we’re hitting our prime, that he was finished. Sure, he could have held on until the end of the season. Mariner fans love the guy, and we have little enough to celebrate at the moment, but I think it was time Junior took the bow and made for the showers. He knew when to quit.

I want to remember Griffey in his prime, jumping up against that ugly outfield wall in the old Kingdome pulling in a fly ball or dropping the bat at home plate after one of the most perfect swings in baseball history sent one of his 630 home runs into a bullpen in some ballpark. Griffey had a Willie Mays quality to him – they both wore number 24 – that before all the injuries, made him a joy to watch, in part, because he seemed to be having so much fun playing a little kid’s game.

As the New York Times noted, Griffey was as good as any in his generation, a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer, and no taint of scandal, no personal excess and limited ego. He was the real deal, a natural. I’ll miss The Kid, but to everything there is a season and it was time.

Griffey’s announcement in Seattle was overshadowed by umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call in Detroit that cost Armando Gallarraga a perfect game. To Joyce’s never ending credit he was in anguish after the game telling reporters that he missed the call “from here to the wall” and “kicked the s–t out of it.”

Predictably, everyone has an opinion about what to do ranging from more technology to aid the umps, a bad idea, to a suggestion from that loudmouth Keith Olbermann that the Commissioner ought to intervene. A really bad idea.

Come on. Baseball, its been correctly said, is a game of inches played on a huge expanse of grass and dirt. Few things in baseball are perfect, which is part of the reason it is such a perfect game. Baseball is a game of judgment and error. You’re a brilliant hitter if you fail only seven out of ten times. In what other game would a ball that hits the foul pole on its way out of the park be declared fair?

There is no crying in baseball and no do overs, either.

I love the Tigers and I hate it when one of the boys in blue impacts a game, but that is the game. We’ve already had two perfect games in this long season and its only the first week in June. Perhaps the baseball gods just deemed three in a season one too many.

And, by the way, how about Jim Joyce for Congress. At least the guy can fess up to a mistake.

Crying Time

Hopper“Now boys, don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry!”

When I heard that the great character actor Dennis Hopper had died – I think his character was to always play some version of himself – I immediately thought of his role in Hoosiers, the 1986 film about Indiana high school basketball.

Hopper, the town drunk, was Gene Hackman’s assistant coach for the fictional Hickory Huskies. The climax of the movie, of course, is the tiny town’s triumph in the state championship over the big school from South Bend.

Hoosiers is the best basketball movie ever and one of the best sports films ever made. I admit that I always tear up when Hackman leads his small town team into the cavernous Butler Fieldhouse in Indianapolis where they will soon play for the state championship. It’s one of the great scenes in sports filmdom when the coach has his players measure the foul line and the distance from the floor to the rim. He was making the point that the dimensions in the huge, big city arena were just the same as in the dinky little gym back home.

Hopper had a lot of famous roles, of course, Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet, among them, but Hoosiers was as good as anything he ever did.

Angleo Pizzo wrote and directed the movie and told Indianapolis Star columnist Kyle Neddenriep that Hopper’s role was central to the movie and the actor on his own came up with the line about not getting “caught watchin’ the paint dry.”

“(Hopper) had an interesting way of rehearsing and memorizing lines — he didn’t,” Pizzo said. “We’d written something else completely, which I don’t remember exactly. If you watch the first take, all of the players are laughing because they’d never heard that before in rehearsal. We liked it so much — even though we weren’t sure what it meant — that we left it in.”

It strikes me as a good line for any basketball player and for life. Hopper was saying, “don’t get caught standing around – move!”

Dennis Hopper died after a long struggle with prostate cancer – a good reminder to get that PSA checked – and he was buried today in Taos, New Mexico.

Hoosiers was on Turner Classic Movies last night. It is a classic.

Electing Judges

Sandra_Day_O_ConnorDoes Justice O’Connor Have a Better Way?

News this weekend that an anti-abortion, pro-gun, Christian group in California is targeting judges in the San Diego area comes hard on the heels of another tough contest – including independent expenditures – in Idaho for a seat on the Idaho Supreme Court.

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has been speaking out and writing about the inherent problems associated with electing judges; something that most states do.

O’Connor summarized the problem nicely in a recent New York Times Op-Ed: “Each state has its own method of choosing judges, from lifetime appointments to partisan elections. But judges with a lifetime appointment are not accountable to voters. And elected judges are susceptible to influence by political or ideological constituencies.”

Speaking to a bar group in Chicago, O’Connor recalled a contentious 2004 race in Illinois that cost $9 million. “As you might have guessed,” she said, “the winner of that race got his biggest contributions from a company that had an appeal pending before the Illinois Supreme Court. You like that?”

O’Connor advocates a merit selection system and a retention election. “In a merit selection system, a nonpartisan nominating commission interviews and investigates applicants for judicial vacancies, and ultimately recommends a few candidates to the governor. The governor appoints one from the list. Regular ‘retention’ elections are held to allow voters to decide whether to keep the judge in office.”

As a state legislator in Arizona before going to the Supreme Court, in 1974 O’Connor helped create Arizona’s system of merit selection and retention. The respected Brennan Center at the New York University School of Law tracks judicial elections and reform efforts and the Center’s Adam Skaggs said recently that O’Connor has it exactly right – politics and judges don’t mix.

Strictly speaking, the Founders thought the same. Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, “there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separate from the legislative and executive powers.”

The election of judges may soon get even more complicated thanks to the recent U.S. Supreme Court corporate contributions case Citizens United that was decided by a divided court on First Amendment grounds. Skaggs predicts, as did Justice John Paul Stevens in his dissent in the Citizens case, that more money will soon flow into judicial elections making it even more difficult for voters – and those with business before the courts – to see how judges are any different than politicians.

As Justice Stevens noted in the Citizens case “concerns about the conduct of judicial elections have reached a fever pitch” and O’Connor predicts,“the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse and quite soon.”

A superb Frontline document a while back examined Justice for Sale, It was sobering and cautionary and for anyone who really cares about the independence of the courts viewing it will send a shiver down your spine. Justice O’Connor continues her trailblazing career and her thoughtful cautions are worth a careful listen.