There are folks who like to believe that the world ought to be a nice place filled with nice people doing nice things all the time. And there are
folks who believe that they know what is best for everyone else and who will try to impose their worldview on everyone else because they are convinced
that only they are on the path to a nice world. People of the first kind are the naifs; people of the second kind are the crusaders. Naifs are
tolerable; you can look upon them with bemusement; crusaders are dangerous. I want to tell you about a naif and a bunch of crusaders today.
In the 24 July issue of Time, Bill Saporito starts his 'Viewpoint' column by saying 'Good for you, Zizou.' He offers three cheers to Zinedine Zidane
for delivering the infamous head butt in the World Cup Finals. He argues that Zidane's capitulation to a verbal insult was a 'message to soccer to
get rid of thugs like Marco Materazzi.' Soccer, the beautiful game, is in danger because dirty play has become acceptable and FIFA is to blame. He
even says that all of the flopping and play-acting over fake injuries is simply a reaction to dirty play on the part of soccer defenders - - and
Materazzi is his poster-child for dirty play as evidenced by the fact that they call Materazzi l'animale in Italy.
Please, stop pouring all that saccharine syrup on me. First of all, if name-calling is so horrid that it caused Zidane to deliver the head butt seen
round the world, how come Materazzi has not shriveled up into a corner and taken up thumb sucking after everyone called him l'animale. Somehow, he
manages to go on and play; somehow, he ignores the insult of it all. He somehow learned to 'deal with it'. Zidane obviously didn't.
I'm not making Materazzi out to be any kind of saint; he isn't. He is a very rough player and people have made 'highlight reels' out of some of his
most outrageous tackles and rough play. He's a tough guy. But from what we know - based on his statements and those of Zidane - what precipitated
the head butt was a verbal taunt. Now, you can admire Zidane's artistry on the field all you want; but that will not expunge the fact that at an
important moment in the final game of the largest soccer tournament on the planet, Zidane cracked. He didn't do it to send a message to FIFA about
thugs; he didn't do it to hurt his team; he didn't do it to protect the children; he cracked. As Materazzi has learned to 'deal with it' being called
l'animale, Zidane and Bill Saporito and other apologists need to deal with the fact that he cracked.
FIFA may have to do something here but FIFA is not responsible for rough play and FIFA is not responsible for taunting on the field and FIFA is
certainly not responsible for racial epithets hurled at some players by fans and by other players. The essay in Time praises the NBA for outlawing
trash talking - as if that doesn't happen anymore - and the NHL for cracking down on thuggery. Well, if those are the yardsticks for actions by FIFA,
it won't be difficult for the soccer mavens to satisfy Bill Saporito. But if they do, he has forfeited his right to complain about too many yellow
and red cards...
As I said above, a naif is easy to tolerate because they tend to get themselves into a lather over things that don't fit into some preconceived ideal
structure of the world. If FIFA made some changes along the lines that this essay suggests, it would not amount to a smidgen of skunk snot to me.
Life would go on as usual. Crusaders, on the other hand, are a different issue.
At the moment we have some governmental folks who are crusaders and who seem to be involved in a legal jihad - to mix metaphors intentionally here. I
said about a week ago that the US House of Representatives had passed a bill making it a Federal Crime to wager over the Internet. The State of
Washington has a new law making it a felony in Washington to play poker over the Internet and playing poker is now a felony in the same class as rape
and child molestation. Read that sentence again; some folks think playing Internet poker is in the same class of anti-social behavior as rape and
child molestation. Not only are those legislators crusaders, they are also nuts.
Coincidentally, the Department of Justice has found it propitious at this moment to do its own crackdown on Internet gambling. I told you about the
arrest of the CEO of the publicly traded British gambling company as he was trying to make a flight connection in Dallas. Well, they cast the net
even more broadly than that because DoJ announced charges against eleven people and four companies for taking bets from US citizens over the Internet
or for aiding companies in so doing. Make no mistake folks, the legislators in Washington and the people in the House of Representatives and the DoJ
folks are on a crusade here. They see Internet gambling as some kind of evil they can rant and rave about in an election year instead of having to
deal with real problems facing our society.
A policy analyst for the Cato Institute, Radley Balko, hit the nail on the head:
'These guys have a personal opposition to gambling and they want to impose that on the rest of the country.'
That's where the danger comes in. Their worldview may be imposed on everyone if people just ignore them. They may be able to pass some laws and
harass a few folks, but this crusade will not be any more successful than the one that ushered in Prohibition in the early 20th century. Laws will
not stop alcohol consumption; laws will not stop gambling. Imagine the enforcement of a Federal law making Internet gambling a felony; would we have
NSA tracking phone links and computer links to off-shore betting sites ' and reading a few other e-mails along the way accidentally? Whether it is
betting on sports or playing poker on the Internet, those activities are not related in any way to the war on terror. Nor will expending resources to
try to ban them solve the problems of Social Security or the spiraling Federal deficit.
If this all were to stop with a few rhetorical speeches in legislatures and a couple of arrests that led to dismissed charges against the defendants,
that might be tolerable - even though crusaders are dangerous people to have in one's midst. But according to Mr. Balko, this may have already gone
around the bend. In an interview with ABC News, Balko says that the law in the State of Washington is so restrictive that it has become a crime to
write about gambling. He said, 'The Seattle Times was told it would have to discontinue its poker column because it was now illegal.'
Go back and read that quote again. Did you feel a small chill running down your spine there? I hope so.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I enjoy playing poker with family and friends; I even play a little poker when I visit Las Vegas; I admit to
watching poker, albeit very infrequently, on ESPN . I enjoy poker. But I would never read a poker column for the same reason I don't subscribe to
pornographic magazines. Poker - like sex - is not a spectator sport. With that as background, let me say I am rooting for the Seattle Times to
continue to publish their poker column that I have never read but will now go looking for. This has become a First Amendment Issue.
Lots of folks misconstrue 'First Amendment Issues'. Real First Amendment Issues deal with governmental interference with certain freedoms because the
First Amendment says:
'Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech or of the press ...' [emphasis added of course]
And what we have here is a State Legislature making a law that will abridge the freedom of the press. For the record, I do not believe in a
completely unfettered right for the press to publish anything and everything they feel like; as with everything, there are limits. Real and palpable
national security concerns ought to trump any fuzzy-minded arguments about the 'people’s right to know'. But only a crusading zealot wearing
blinders and earmuffs could possibly construe a newspaper column about poker as such a societal threat that it ought to be declared illegal. Folks,
these people are dangerous; be wary of them.
I'll close here with a definition from Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary. Interpret this however you will:
'Idiot, noun: Any member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant. The idiot's activity is not
confined to any special field but 'pervades and regulates the whole'. He has the last word in everything and his decision is unappealable.'
But don't get me wrong, I love sports... ... ...