Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Constitutional Amendment

This retrograde flap about Barack Obama's citizenship and eligibility for the Presidency begs the real question: why shouldn't we welcome as a national leader an immigrant who has, or whose parents have, renounced other allegiances decades ago? Isn't America supposed to be about ideas rather than soil?

Here's what our Constitution says on the subject of Presidential eligibility, in Article II, Section 1:

"No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

Here's my simple tweak, er, proposed Constitutional Amendment:

"No Person shall be eligible to the Office of President who shall not have been for the consecutive thirty five Years prior a Citizen of the United States, and fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

Have at it, Ah-nold.

Of course, a 34 year, 6 month old pro-life advocate could someday claim citizenship since conception. This, at a minimum, would make for intriguing interrogations of the parents. Where's Ken Starr when we need him?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Merci Beaucoup, Milwaukee!

I don't know much French beyond "Guy LaFleur", "Milles Bornes", and "German people - rubbish!" (That last one technically isn't French, but it is a direct quote from a Parisian bartender in 1978.) This doesn't stop me from thoroughly appreciating Milwaukee's Bastille Days, a French-themed street fair and cultural celebration held annually in mid-July.

Milwaukee's ethnic festivals, most of which follow the renowned Summerfest music festival on successive summer weekends, are themselves famous. Unlike its better-known fréres like Irishfest and Indian Summer, held at the controlled-access festival grounds on the lakefront, however, Bastille Days draws people to the open streets of East Town, an upscale area near Cathedral Square and the Milwaukee School of Engineering. (Cathedral Square also hosts the Thursday night Jazz in the Park series.)

A miniature, yet imposing, two-story Eiffel Tower stands on Kilbourn Avenue, the hub of the festivities. The music, the street performers, the food -- the food! -- and the arts and crafts in vendor booths are all present in abundance, but the real draw is the people-watching. From the lunchtime businessmen and women enjoying a French Caribbean specialty off the grill to the Saturday night party-goers, everyone observes and participates in the promenade as the casual, often-stylish crowd circulates around the streets. A true exercise in your basic Liberté, not to mention your Egalité and your Fraternité.

Chanteuse Robin Pluer's Edith Piaf-inspired performance and the hilarious French Waiter/Waitress Race top off the Bastille Days experience. It's the most relaxed and cheerful festival of the year, lending its joie de vivre to your esprit de corps. The perfect antidote for a case of Parisian bartender malaise. Vive la fête!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hockey Story, and a Beauty

Ken Baker is a former college hockey goalie who began as a prospect in the U.S. Olympic development program. His career reached a plateau at Colgate University, and he never fulfilled his potential. Having left the game at 21 somewhat bitterly, without understanding a hidden, physical source of his malaise, he was diagnosed a few years later with a brain tumor than had, during his college years, affected his pituitary function, altered his body chemistry, and robbed him of strength and energy. He is treated and recovers. Later, he experiences a sudden, sharp desire at 29 -- literally, a dream -- to play competitive hockey again. Rediscovering the passion and talent of his youth, he sets a goal of playing pro hockey at the minor league level as a late-career rookie in the 2001-02 season.

Ken Baker is also a writer whose post-collegiate career includes a journalism degree and stints at People and US Weekly. His first-person book about his hockey comeback attempt, They Don't Play Hockey in Heaven, documents the mundane details of his physical and attitudinal progress over two years as he rediscovers his love for the game and what it takes to compete at the professional level. He ultimately gains a benchwarmer's slot on the Bakersfield Condors, a minor league team. Will he finally get playing time in a pro game and validate his dream?

I wanted to like this book. I did like it, to a point. I'm a hockey fan and former rec league player; I can relate to Baker's depictions of the sights, sounds, and smells -- "Pee-yew!" says his fiancee, of his old goalie equipment -- of the rink-rat life. His tales of the camaraderie, competition, brutality, violence, and stomach-turning injuries in minor league hockey result in a worthy, textual companion to the classic hockey farce on film, Slapshot. There's a full airing of Baker's thoughts along the way as he pursues his dream.

It's just that there's nothing new here. The against-all-odds, aging-rookie scenario has been explored in sports movies from The Rookie to The Natural. Roger Kahn's Good Enough to Dream and the movie Bull Durham present the hardscrabble, bus-riding life in the minor leagues. Jim Bouton's Ball Four is still the standard-setter for a candid look at rude, crude clubhouse life. Canadian-American hockey culture is depicted seriously in Ken Dryden's Home Game, and comedically in the aforementioned Slapshot. George Plimpton's Open Net presents in even starker relief the enormous talent gap between pro hockey players and the average wannabe in the stands.

What's unique to the book, then? The dramatic element of Baker's athletic training starting from ground zero, in light of his recent medical recovery; the encouragement and temporary separation from his spouse in pursuit of his hockey dream; the combination of goaltender's cockiness and writer's vanity that allows him to begin an action sequence with the words "I expertly"; the colorful descriptions of the suitably archetypal characters and internal rivalries on his Bakersfield team; and 200 pages of "Will Kells put me in the game tonight?" When he finally gets in a game -- oh gosh, I spoiled it for you! -- there really aren't any surprises left.


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