Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When Sports Mirrors Politics

There aren't too many things I miss about my childhood. I was glad to shed myself of curfews, weekly allowances, and limitations on how far I could ride my bike. That being said, the last few weeks have indeed caused me to lament on something I've lost since becoming an adult: A fondness for professional athletics.

It probably began a long time ago, but it really hit home last month when a professional wrestler killed his wife and son before committing suicide in his home. As a child there was no doubt in my mind that everything I saw on WWF (not WWE) pay-per-views was legitimate. Maybe I just had a great imagination (and I did); but it's more likely that I didn't want to know that it was staged.

Chris Benoit was never my favorite wrestler, but I can't say that I ever cared a whole lot about Michael Vick, NBA referees, or Barry Bonds either. As Bonds looks to pass Hank Aaron's all-time home run record (he is three shy of passing him as of Monday), I get the feeling that most people would rather discuss the controversy than the record. And I'm one of them.

One of the greatest records in sports history is about to fall, and it's more than just a bit ironic that most professional sports organizations are embroiled in one controversy or another at the time. Bonds may have used steroids to boost his home run totals, and I'm one of the many people who feel that an asterisk should appear next to his name because of it. But the fact that we're discussing the controversy instead of the feat says something about sports today. Or does it?

Michael Vick has been indicted for his role in dog fights, and during last night's CNN presidential primary debate, MSNBC was talking about Vick instead of politics. An NBA referee is being investigated by the FBI for betting on the games he officiated. Again, it's appeared elsewhere than just ESPN.

Growing up, I remember the sports, not the controversies. I remember Brett Favre winning a Super Bowl when I was in the fifth grade, but I don't really remember his brief stint in rehab over his addiction to painkillers.

I remember the race for the single-season home run record between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa--I don't remember the steroid discussion then, or the MLB strike a few years earlier.

So maybe nothing has changed. Maybe I've changed. And that's a little frightening. Controversy has always existed in sports, but as children, we don't care about the politics. We care about the championships and the memories of fun times at the ballpark.

Hopefully children today will have something good to remember, too. Like the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Vick agonistes

I watched, with a certain degree of vicious satisfaction, the announcement of Michael Vick's indictment as it ran for roughly six years on ESPN's ticker. Like the dogs that Vick allegedly tortured and made vicious, my own moral satisfaction ran amok. I have very, very limited reserves of compassion for petulant multi-millionaire jocks -- remember Vick giving the finger to the home crowd? -- but it looks like the sporting world has already convicted the embattled Falcons quarterback.

As I've said, I have little patience with rich, spoiled athletes. Anybody who bitches about being "underappreciated" while making millions of dollars a year is a greedy jackass. And the entire Indiana Pacers organization seems to be riven by pissy, short-tempered people. Imagine: the only office Christmas party when you can get decked by Ron Artest! (Which would still be better than listening to his CD.) Or what about those idiots who get drunk/coked-up/ptomaine poisoned from drunken, coked-up eating contest before the Super Bowl/World Series/Roller Derby? These guys should repeat the following at least five times a day: "I'm getting paid millions of dollars to play a freaking game. This is great!"

Of course, the reason that so many professional athletes (and their collegiate analogues) act like such morons is that they have been handed the world on a platter at the age of 19 or so. The guys -- and make no mistake, 99% of the folks we're talking about are guys -- who are going to star in Division I sports and maybe go pro know how talented they are. They've been told how talented they are for years. It is the sudden shock of getting that scholarship or signing that fat contract; the ugly, subconscious realization that hey, there are people here who can run as fast as I can that fuels the manic self-confidence necessary to maintain their impossibly glorified self-images.

So they act out. Pacman Jones. Tank Johnson. The nasty, racist granddaddy of them all, Ty Cobb. Closer to home, Pierre Pierce. I am a god; I have the power, these animals or men or women are entirely subject to me.

And sportswriters are ready. There's nothing more Pulitzer-worthy than the story of a glorious warrior's downfall; his armor tarnished by the stains of failure and rampant ego. The unsilent story of an anti-hero, with apologies to Gay Talese.

I don't know if Michael Vick did horrific things to dogs. But if he did, it's simply another example of ego without a leash.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Faithful Sure are Frightful

The cover of Time magazine features a donkey with a halo floating above its head. To the left of the donkey, in bold, reads "How the Democrats got Religion." It seems Time was interested in religion and American culture in this issue, because on page 15 they wrote another little fun article about religion:

The religion of Harry Potter.

So maybe I'm on a bit of a Potter kick this week. The final book in the beloved series is set for release at 12:01 AM Saturday; if you're hitting the bars Friday night, be sure to stop by Prairie Lights bookstore. I'll be the guy standing outside, waiting eagerly for Deathly Hallows.

In Time, Lev Grossman discusses "the doubting Harry," and writes perhaps the funniest sentence of 2007. Allow me to quote: "If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God."

Grossman goes on to compare Harry Potter to both The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. In both of the latter examples, however, Grossman explains how the authors used their Christian faith as a guiding light while writing their famous fantasy series'. Apparently J.K. Rowling, the Potter author, doesn't share the same affinity for God (or so says Grossman.)

"In choosing Rowling as the reigning dreamer of our era, we have chosen a writer who dreams of a secular, bureaucratized, all-too-human sorcery..." Grossman says.

I may be jumping the gun a bit here, as I haven't read the last book, but isn't Harry Potter just another battle of good against evil? Besides, I always felt Harry Potter more closely resembled Star Wars than Lord of the Rings. Harry is like Luke, the chosen one with the dark past--yes, he must face the temptations of evil, but didn't Jesus do the same thing in the Bible?

Before you leave horrible comments, let me clarify: I'm not comparing Luke Skywalker to Jesus Christ. And I'm not comparing Harry Potter to either of them, either. In the end, the Potter books are a way to show children that evil exists in this world, but can ultimately be defeated by choosing wisely in your friendships and relying on love instead of hate.

Or maybe I'm wrong. If Harry dies in book seven, it's clear that J.K. Rowling is the anti-Christ and is using her demonic powers to create one of the best-selling series of books in the history of literature. All those who read the last book, upon finishing, will turn to the dark side, join her evil cult of Christianity-haters, and rise against humanity, establishing an Order of Evil never before seen on this earth.

But even if that were so--you still have to admit that they're damn good books.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Next Time Iraqis May Actually Be Involved

President Bush listed, among other things, an Iraqi connection to the September 11 terrorist attacks before the invasion in March 2003. While a majority of the "facts" on that list have proven false, including potential WMDs and the "Iraqis will welcome US troops as liberators" arguments, one of the lasting effects of the president's pre-war speeches is the Iraq connection.

In a Newsweek poll conducted this past June, 41 percent of Americans said they still believe that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks, even as several investigations have found no link between Hussein and al Qaeda.

A new intelligence report released this week, however, suggests that al Qaeda is now attempting to include allies in Iraq in planning new terror attacks inside the United States. The following question must then be asked: How has the war in Iraq made our country any safer?

I've never bought the "it's either here or there" argument. It seems obvious to me that a terrorist network based in the Middle East would prefer to attack Americans (in this case, soldiers) stationed and serving in the Middle East instead of trying to smuggle their own forces across our borders. The risks of their plot being disrupted is far too great when one can cross the border into Iraq and plant roadside bombs that murder Americans, creating the same terror stateside.

The number of Americans who have died in Iraq has surpassed the number killed on September 11, 2001. Though terrorists prefer larger targets (3,000 dead on one day as opposed to roughly the same amount over the course of four years is probably considered a greater "success"), the result is still the same.

Americans are dying in a war that has made our nation a more dangerous place to live. We are not safer than we were on September 10, 2001. Nor are we safer than we were the day after the attacks. With the foiled car bombings in London and Scotland and reports such as those stated above, it seems that Americans are finally beginning to comprehend the debacle that is Iraq.

There's no doubt in my mind that another attack on my native land is near, if not imminent. I'm not paranoid, nor an alarmist. In fact, I feel I'm acting quite rationally. Iraq is a broken nation with no signs of stability in sight. Our Congress is struggling to convince the most stubborn president in our nation's history that it's time for change.

And the next time American citizens are murdered at home by terrorists, the Iraq link may indeed be true. But it will only be true because our government made the decision to include them in the War on Terror. Iraq didn't strike first.

We'll have to live, and die, with that fact.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Shovels and explosions with a smile

The Discovery Channel can really waste your time.
In the roiling ocean that is TV, with advertisements, plot hooks, bleeped-out reality shows, and so much more, it's kind of endearing to find something as unpretentiously entertaining as "Mythbusters" or "Dirty Jobs". Many are the times I've come home from work, plopped into my mildly-difficult chair (it's just not comfortable enough to qualify as easy) and searched for a brief respite on the tube. I usually end up on the Discovery channel. My plan is to drink a beer, eat some dinner, and then get on with the evening.
Inexplicably, I awake -- as if from a daze or swoon -- after several hours, wondering where the time has gone. And why do I know how plastic is made? I believe the secret dweomer that clouds my mind is cast by the novelty of the everyday.
Just think: You are surrounded by objects and phenomena that, in all probability, you know little about. Who made your cubicle? And how? There are fantastic machines and astonishing techniques behind even this most workaday of objects.
The series "How it's made" epitomizes this idea. It's boring when you first tune in: An announcer seemingly hired straight from those "educational" videos they made you watch in school. Some goofy music that sounds like a sitcom theme written by robots, complete with curious beeps and boops.
And then you see an unimaginably massive and precise production line, making something everyday and innocuous like lightbulbs. There's a machine that shoves filaments into glass at a dizzying pace, another later on that belches blue flame to heat-treat the bulbs, and on and on. Truly, lightbulbs have come to us through steel and fire.
And back to earth. Some of Discovery's stuff is, as I said, simple and unpretentious. "Mythbusters" is all about cool explosions and painful falls. "Dirty Jobs" is kind of like the grown-up version of that Nickelodeon show where everybody got covered in green slime. "Cash Cab" is a simple quiz show with a personable host. And yet...
Holy crap, it's 8:30 already!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Avada kedavra, unfortunately

Tomorrow begins the most important Muggle holiday in recent memory. With the release of the fifth film in the Harry Potter franchise set for midnight tonight, the ten-day countdown to THE END begins.

On July 21 "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" goes on sale worldwide; if you haven't heard any buzz about it yet, take your eyes away from your new iPhone and start surfing the web (which, if you must, you can do on that "phone" as well).

For many years I was embarrassed to admit that I read Harry Potter books. When I picked up the first novel, the fate of Mr. Potter was still years away. Five years, a handful of movies, and two books later, and here I am anxiously awaiting the release of the seventh and final adventure of the Boy-Who-Lived.

The next ten days couldn't come faster.

Harry Potter fans rejoice. There will never be another week and a half like this. "Order of the Phoenix" tickets in hand, I'll begin my countdown tomorrow evening here in Iowa City. Over the next several days, only time will tell.

What I can say is this: There will be countless debates and arguments regarding whether Harry should live or die--and he should die, I recommend, to solidify his place as one of literature's most memorable characters.

The previous four films will be viewed, and then viewed again; the newest soundtrack will be a fixture on my iPod's play list (it was released today, just in case you didn't hear); and the previous six books will be skimmed for clues of what may yet come.

But here's what won't happen: There will be no viewing spoiler websites hell-bent on ruining my fun. Why wait years for the conclusion only to have it ruined by somebody who doesn't care enough to keep the ending to themselves?

Too bad the release of books wasn't always this popular.

Monday, July 9, 2007


Whatever happened to road rage?

Several years back it was--pun intended, of course--all the rage, motorists killing motorists over the simplest of infractions. From changing lanes without using turn signals to ugly stares from one car to another, Americans drivers were pissed off at each other and ready for some good-old vigilante fun on the highways.

It's not that I'm condoning road rage. I'm just curious about where it's gone. On today's roads drivers are constantly pre-occupied with cell phones, iPods, and in-car DVD players. And now that the iPhone is here (and does just about all of the above), lack of concentration on our roads is bound to decrease. Again.

As I drove from Milwaukee to Iowa City today, several drivers from a certain state I shall not name directly (the one between Wisconsin and Iowa, if you must know) glared at me as they passed--at 95 miles per hour. I don't drive slow. I just don't drive fast enough to get pulled over.

In the past some of these drivers would slow beside me to wave fingers, shake fists, and scream as if I could read lips through several panes of glass and several feet of open road. But not today. Or not recently either.

Maybe the fear of road rage decreased as the fear of West Nile Virus, SARS, and Bird Flu swept across America. Or killer bees. They've been buzzing at our borders for how long now?

Or maybe road rage wasn't as bad as my parents told me when I finally got my license some time back. "Don't do anything to cause an accident," I remember hearing. "Or road rage."

That's Pandertainment!

Friday night was a rare occasion with no presidential candidate appearances within 20 miles of my apartment. Since C-Span was showing “Road to the White House,” I decided to settle for watching them on TV. There were two democratic candidates talking to two very specific groups. I popped some corn, propped my feet up, and settled in to watch the PanderFest.

First up was John Edwards speaking to the United Steelworkers. Nobody can pander like this guy. There’s applause after nearly every sentence. He tells all about how, as president wants to raise the minimum wage and fight for the working man. He delivers the story he loves to tell... He didn't read about the working class in a book, he lived it. His dad worked in the mills, he worked in the mills himself, and he’ll do everything that they want to hear if they elect one of their own for president. The crowd loves him.

Next up, Joe Biden speaks to the gay community. I'm especially interested because it was filmed in Iowa City, and because I know that none of the candidates except Kucinich will go on record supporting gay marriage. Is Biden going to set himself apart from the rest? I'm excited to find out. Biden's going to have to bring out the big guns to beat Edwards in the pandering contest. I then wonder if Biden will go the “I’m one of you” route like Edwards. It would make for a much more interesting story.

So, I watch Biden and he's out of the running for the pandering crown. He mentions support for civil unions, but focuses on general issues rather than crowd-specific issues. Doesn't this guy know how to pander? Obviously not. At the end of the show, a young man asks him point blank, if he's president, will gay marriage being legal in five years? Biden puts his hand on the guy's shoulder, looks him in the eye and says, "No, and I'll tell you why." and goes on about how he’s going to remove any legal distinction at all between heterosexual and homosexual couples. That everyone is treated equally in the eyes of the law. But he doesn’t foresee being able to overcome the religious and political resistance to the word “marriage.”

At first, I thought “Wow. This guy sucks at pandering!” And then, I realized that this shows a flaw in our whole system. Edwards can’t single-handedly raise the minimum wage any more than Biden can legalize gay marriage. Currently, Biden is below the other candidates in the polls and in fundraising. Do we just pay people to tell us what we want to hear? Is that the election process in a nutshell? If so, it explains a lot. We elect candidates committed to our cause. When they’re up for reelection, they tell us that they tried, but couldn’t get past the opposition. “I tried, it’s not my fault, reelect me and I’ll try even harder.” Then we start pointing fingers. No wonder our country is so divided! Biden’s approach is different because he’s running on the compromise. Usually, they start with the promises, get elected, and in the end we get the compromise, but he’s telling us from the start what he can and can’t do. I’m not used to that. He explained that he voted to support the war funding because they didn’t have the votes to override a veto. Edwards can raise the minimum wage, rescue an orphan, stop a speeding bullet, and carry a piano up a flight of stairs all at the same time! Biden can’t override one little veto?

It makes me ask myself, what do we really want from our candidates? When was the last time we elected a “straight-talker?” Because I can’t help but think, of the two candidates I watched, Biden’s goals seemed much more realistic. Unfortunately, we reward idealism, not realism. We elect those that make promises, and then hold the opposition responsible when they can’t follow through. It’s nice to hear a candidate tell me what he can get done and acknowledge his limitations as president; Especially since the one we have in office now doesn’t seem to have any.

The Home-run Derby

Below are my impressions of one of the most out-and-out fun events in pro sports.

7:02 p.m. -- Ugh! Wrong-footed start, there. The Counting Crows played one of their narcotic hits before a deep-voiced announcer thundered about the importance of the Derby over a flashy graphics package.

7:04 -- The contestants jog in from center field. Chris Berman does his best Michael Buffer impression announcing them. "Llllet's get ready to rumble..." It turns out he's doing stand-up from near the pitcher's mound. He pulls a Giants hat (along with some cheap applause) from his back pocket and...

7:10 -- Hey, it's Willie McCovey, walking on those wrist crutches! Poor guy. He ceremonially doles out the contender's bats. How cool; Willie McCovey! It'd be like getting your six-shooter from Wyatt Earp!

7:11 -- Oh, and there's Joe Morgan. And Dusty Baker. Let's see some freaking home runs!

7:13 -- *Sigh.* Here's Kenny Mayne in a kayak. How cutesy. What the hell is he talking about with cameras?

7:15 -- Berman picks Albert Pujols to win the thing, even though he hasn't hit a home run since about mid-June. Reminds me of Krusty moaning "I thought the Generals were due!" Multi-hued kayaks and other craft in McCovey Cove look like massive spill of Mike and Ikes.

7:18 -- Justin Morneau stands in, and we're finally underway. He pulls three hard line drives towards right, then smacks one out of the deepest part of the park in right-center. Morneau doesn't look all that comfortable, recording three more outs in a row.

7:21 -- Spoke too soon! An absolute laser beam out to right, which looked like it could have seriously injured skulls. Unfortunately, he manages only two more, including a nice shot on the "gold ball" to dead center. Not bad.

7:27 -- Ravech and Kruk and that guy I care even less about are still talking earnestly about Morneau's swing. Alright, here's Matt Holliday of the Rockies who has two before I can grab a beer, and then accidentally taps the catcher with his follow through. Whoops, make it three, with four a truly titanic shot that goes over the foul pole. He is, as Berman and company point out, a very large young man, with muscles like hydraulic pumps, but, with another accidental(?) tap of the catcher's helmet, he bows out with five.

7:35 -- Magglio Ordonez is hitting, and the sound is still that of Barry Bonds' suspiciously high-pitched voice as he gives a plaintive interview! What a slight! Who cares what Bonds (who is not participating in the derby) has to say about Bud Selig? Ok, point taken; Ordonez is lucky to come away with two.

7:44 -- Update update update plug for Bronx is Burning series, and we're finally back. Albert Pujols immediately hits a thunderous 432-footer to center. And once again, why is there an interview going on over the main event? I mean, I'm well aware that there isn't all that much to talk about -- "He hit it out!" "He didn't hit it out!" -- but still, unless ESPN really wanted to share A-Rod's thoughts on the records that he hasn't set yet, why graft it on to the Home Run Derby? By the way, Pujols cools off to end up with four.

7:53 -- Alex Rios starts, as many of them have, strong. Joe Morgan still singing the praises of A-Rod for reasons beyond understanding. Rios still hitting the ball hard with six outs, but as the crew points out, this is a bad ballpark for home runs.

8:05 -- That does it, I'm way too steamed at ESPN. I don't want this post to end up looking like something out of Chuck Palahniuk.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Adrift among wings

I was about to board a flight from Milwaukee to Baltimore last week when the words "BREAKING NEWS" flashed across many of the television screens in the terminal. According to reports, two potential car bombs had been discovered in London, and the British government was treating the situation as a foiled terrorist attack.

Of course, I was in the one place where I couldn't say the B-O-M-B word; hand gestures didn't seem all that appropriate either, considering the setting. A few hours later I boarded a boat with no newspaper delivery (obviously) and a 13-inch television that broad casted one news station: CNN--in Spanish.

I was, for the first time, isolated.

Now I wouldn't call myself an average news viewer. I am, after all, a journalism and political science student that watches MSNBC in the morning, reads a handful of newspapers at lunch, and settles in for more political discussion in the evening. To call myself a news junkie is something of an understatement.

A potential terrorist attack in London, followed by a second attempt in Scotland a few days later, and I don't know anything about it--madness! It took me three days to find land, a copy of the New York Times, and a park bench. By then, a sweeping investigation had been launched, and I was 72 hours behind the curve.

How can anybody live like this?

Oh yeah, I heard something about the president commuting "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence, too.

What a bad week to vacation.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Bilingual? No Problemo

I'm writing this aboard a cruise ship en route from Nova Scotia, Canada to Boston, Massachusetts. Having spent the last two days in the land of our northern neighbors (even spending our Independence Day in a foreign land), I can't help thinking about something I too-often noticed.

Canada is a bilingual nation. Both English and French are considered official national languages, and all street signs (among other things) are required to be printed in both English and French. Considering the on-going debate in the United States, I was curious to see how such a system worked. I was impressed.

In Nova Scotia I was informed by a tour guide that only about 2 percent of that province actually spoke French, but the signs were required nevertheless. Even she, an ambassador of sorts, didn't speak French--but it didn't bother her much. Canadians don't seem to worry about language, and unlike Americans, don't link nationalism to the spoken word. English, French, it doesn't matter. A Canadian is a Canadian, and if they can accommodate their own, they will.

Restaurants handed me menus printed in two languages. Museums advertised in the same manner. Language matters little to these individuals. Americans should take the first step in doing the same.

Those who speak Spanish are no less American than those who speak English. Spanish-speaking citizens of this country contribute a great deal to our society, including sharing their culture and heritage with those of us who haven't experienced it.

Canada seems to be doing just fine with two languages, and I'm confident that America wouldn't have troubles either.

Rob Verhein
From Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Down Goes Kobayashi! Down Goes Kobayashi!

It's beinng touted as "a great day" for America. Over 30,000 people crammed a few city blocks in New York City to watch participants stuff hot dogs and buns down their throats in the 92nd annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. Joey Chestnut finally defeated Japan's Takeru Kobayashi, ending Kobayashi's six year reign in the competition, and bringing the title back to America.

Both athletes shattered Chestnut's previous world record of 59 and 1/3 - and the competition's record of 53 and 3/4. Chestnut finished with an incredible 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes, and Kobayashi finished at 63. And I thought 73 home runs was an accomplishment.

Making Kobayashi's total more impressive is his struggles with his jaw: Only a few days ago he allegedly could only open his mouth wide enough to fit two fingers inside. Nonetheless, he performed with the spirit of a champion. Down the stretch run it appeared he make have a Jordanesque performance - think the 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz - but ultimately he fell short to Chestnut.

The partisan crowd erupted when Chestnut was handed the Mustard Belt, but I'm more than a little upset. Kobayashi put the contest on the map - and ESPN - but it seemed nationalist feelings swept up the fans' hearts this July 4th. Without Kobayashi, I wouldn't have watched this contest the last four years. I only hope that "The Tsunami" comes back with a vengeance next year. Is 70 a possibility? Who knows.

But I'll definitely be watching.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Above the law

President George W. Bush has commuted Lewis "Scooter" Libby's jail sentence, claiming it "excessive." This is only the most recent step taken by this administration that shows they clearly think they are above the law. After revelations of warrantless wiretapping, refusing imprisoned persons in Guantanamo Bay due process, hundreds of signing statements - basically rewritten legislation passed by Congress - not to mention Vice President Dick Cheney's always-shady behavior, it seems that the law is only relevant when it suits the executive branch's purposes.

There have always been disputes over the limits of executive power - such a debate is necessary for a healthy democracy. But when an administration consistently refuses to comply with legislation passed by the people's branch, it establishes a dangerous precedent.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

I say, old bean: British politics?

Is it just me, or does Gordon Brown -- Britain's new Prime Minister -- talk a bit like Darth Vader? I just saw him being interviewed on CNN, and I kept expecting him to boom "I have you now," or telekinetically throttle the interviewer. He's probably feeling bad about tossing Tony Blair into the Death Star's innards. Blair himself, though, is far more the corrupted good guy than Gordon Brown.

Tony Blair, for a time, looked a lot like Britain's answer to Bill Clinton: bright, progressive, youthful, and popular. They both rose to power as the centralizing resurgence of their respective countries' left wing parties. "New Labour," as the anglicized spelling has it, revolutionized British politics and, for a time, made the opposition Conservative party look like political kindergarteners. Clinton had a similarly brief honeymoon, until he made like a chicken and got, shall we say, "plucked" by the 1994 elections that swept the GOP into power.

But then 9/11 happened. And as clever as Tony Blair was, he couldn't muster the political will to disagree with Dubya in the dark days of 2002-2003. You think the Iraq war is unpopular here and now? You should have seen Britain in 2003. Blair's own party was ready to butter him over the lawn of 10 Downing Street.

Gordon Brown is not the leader that Tony Blair was, even without the tarnish of the Iraq disaster. But he just might bring the British back from the dark side.