Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bridging Politics at the Water's Edge
From left, Jill Levin, Jill Meyers, Debbie Rosenberg and Irina Levitina of the Venice Cup championship team in Shanghai.

From the NYTimes:
Published: November 14, 2007

In the genteel world of bridge, disputes are usually handled quietly and rarely involve issues of national policy. But in a fight reminiscent of the brouhaha over an anti-Bush statement by Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks in 2003, a team of women who represented the United States at the world bridge championships in Shanghai last month is facing sanctions, including a yearlong ban from competition, for a spur-of-the-moment protest.

"Brouhaha"? I think there is a bit of major difference between this bridge team and Natalie Maines: The Dixie Chicks aren't overseas as "official" representatives of the United States.

At issue is a crudely lettered sign, scribbled on the back of a menu, that was held up at an awards dinner and read, “We did not vote for Bush.”

By e-mail, angry bridge players have accused the women of “treason” and “sedition.”

“This isn’t a free-speech issue,” said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. “There isn’t any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them.”

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. “If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition,” he said by e-mail.

Ms. Martel said the action by the team, which had won the Venice Cup, the women’s title, at the Shanghai event, could cost the federation corporate sponsors.

The players have been stunned by the reaction to what they saw as a spontaneous gesture, “a moment of levity,” said Gail Greenberg, the team’s nonplaying captain and winner of 11 world championships.

“What we were trying to say, not to Americans but to our friends from other countries, was that we understand that they are questioning and critical of what our country is doing these days, and we want you to know that we, too, are critical,” Ms. Greenberg said, stressing that she was speaking for herself and not her six teammates.

Speaking frankly and exercising my freedom to criticize: What an idiot. And a liar:

The sign says "we". So she was setting herself up as the mouth breather for her 6 teammates.

What a sorry excuse and an absolute lack of good judgment and self-awareness.

What does mixing bridge have to do with politics? And isn't one of the purposes of international sports competition supposed to be the absence of political conflict?

The controversy has gone global, with the French team offering support for its American counterparts.

“By trying to address these issues in a nonviolent, nonthreatening and lighthearted manner,” the French team wrote in by e-mail to the federation’s board and others, “you were doing only what women of the world have always tried to do when opposing the folly of men who have lost their perspective of reality.”

What chutzpah. What a complete lack of objective reality. There is an assumption that being against President Bush and the war on Islamic terror and the Iraq War is just a given; that it isn't a bias and partisan belief.

The proposed sanctions would hurt the team’s playing members financially. “I earn my living from bridge, and a substantial part of that from being hired to compete in high-level competitions,” Debbie Rosenberg, a team member, said. “So being barred would directly affect much of my ability to earn a living.”

A hearing is scheduled this month in San Francisco, where thousands of players will be gathered for the Fall North American Bridge Championships. It will determine whether displaying the sign constitutes conduct unbecoming a federation member.

Three players— Hansa Narasimhan, JoAnna Stansby and Jill Meyers — have expressed regret that the action offended some people.

Get it? They aren't sorry that "the action" took place; only that "the action" "offended some people".

The federation has proposed a settlement to Ms. Greenberg and the three other players, Jill Levin, Irina Levitina and Ms. Rosenberg, who have not made any mollifying statements.

Given that none of the team members have come forward expressing disagreement for the sentiment on the sign, is that not further proof that Greenberg was lying in saying she wasn't speaking on their behalf?

It calls for a one-year suspension from federation events, including the World Bridge Olympiad next year in Beijing; a one-year probation after that suspension; 200 hours of community service “that furthers the interests of organized bridge”; and an apology drafted by the federation’s lawyer.

It would also require them to write a statement telling “who broached the idea of displaying the sign, when the idea was adopted, etc.”

Alan Falk, a lawyer for the federation, wrote the four team members on Nov. 6, “I am instructed to press for greater sanction against anyone who rejects this compromise offer.”

Ms. Greenberg said she decided to put up the sign in response to questions from players from other countries about American interrogation techniques, the war in Iraq and other foreign policy issues.

“There was a lot of anti-Bush feeling, questioning of our Iraq policy and about torture,” Ms. Greenberg said. “I can’t tell you it was an overwhelming amount, but there were several specific comments, and there wasn’t the same warmth you usually feel at these events.”

So rather than defend our President's war policy or criticize it in private conversation, amongst her peers, she felt the need to publicly make a political statement. As an American, can I go overseas and hold up a sign in front of some AP photographers, saying "Ms. Greenberg does not speak for me"? Because as an American, I do not feel the need to apologize publicly to the rest of the world for the actions of my president, whether he has an "R" or a "D" laced to his name. And if I were representing my country as a member of a U.S. team, even if my personal feelings ached to speak out, I'd have the good sense to not abuse my position in front of the camera to speak on matters of politics, when I am on camera for reasons other than politics.

Ms. Rosenberg said the team members intended the sign as a personal statement that demonstrated American values and noted that it was held up at the same time some team members were singing along to “The Star-Spangled Banner” and waving small American flags.

“Freedom to express dissent against our leaders has traditionally been a core American value,” she wrote by e-mail. “Unfortunately, the Bush brand of patriotism, where criticizing Bush means you are a traitor, seems to have penetrated a significant minority of U.S. bridge players.”

Where is the common sense decency and good taste? They exercised their freedom of speech, and expressed their idiocy, for all the world to see. Why do anti-Bush liberals always feel that their exercise in free speech absolves them of criticism and backlash for behavior that is disagreeable to Americans who are not like them?

Through a spokesman, the other team members declined to discuss the matter.

Ms. Narasimhan, Ms. Stansby and Ms. Meyers have been offered a different settlement agreement, but Ms. Martel declined to discuss it in detail.

Many of those offended by the sign do not consider the expressions of regret sufficient. “I think an apology is kind of specious,” said Jim Kirkham, who has played in several bridge championships. “It’s not that I don’t forgive them, but I still think they should be punished.”

Mr. Kirkham sits on the board of the American Contract Bridge League, which accounts for a substantial portion of the federation’s financing, Ms. Martel said, and has submitted a proposal that would cut the league’s support for the federation, one of two such proposals pending.

Robert S. Wolff, one of the country’s pre-eminent bridge players, who has served as an executive and board member of several bridge organizations, said that he understood that the women might have had a legal right to do what they did but that they had offended many people.

“While I believe in the right to free speech, to me that doesn’t give anyone the right to criticize one’s leader at a foreign venue in a totally nonpolitical event,” he wrote by e-mail.

David L. Anderson, a bridge player who supports the team, said it was common to see players at international tournaments sporting buttons bearing the date “1-20-09,” when George W. Bush will hand off to a new president, as well as buttons reading “Support Our Troops.”

“They don’t go after those people,” Mr. Anderson said.

"Support Our Troops" is a political issue? Whatever.

There should be some line drawn in the sand between public behavior, as an "official ambassador" of your country, where you are representing ALL Americans and not just one political spectrum of it, and private discourse, in which you are free to criticize away to your heart's content.

And suck it up, when you are floored by the illuminating discovery that more fellow Americans- both conservative and liberal- disapprove of your soapbox moment beyond the water's edge, than support it.

Hat tip: The Dennis Prager Show

Also blogging:

Pondering Penguin

Cross-posted at Flopping Aces



Blogger mormonbradybunchdad said...

When did the U.S. get a national bridge team? How come my CNN breaking news alert didn't wake me from my sleep to give me the "good" news? And how do I get paid to play a game like brige professionally? Maybe I could buy a big house with all of that money.

Freedom of speach also gives the express right to keep your flipping pie hole shut and not say anything. Sometimes stupid people should jus shut their mouth.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 5:00:00 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I didn't know we had a national bridge team, either and that they are paid enough to make a living. I'll alert the mother in law. She's a bridge player at the Masters level so maybe she could supplement her retirement income!

I posted on this, too, because every time I thought about these hags today I grew angrier and angrier. Your post was way better, though. Nicely done.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 5:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Kate said...

"Idiot"? Well, I would have used a different 5 lettered word, but that's just me.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007 9:01:00 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

Freedom of speech? Of course we have freedom of speech but there is no guarantee it will be used maturely or responsibly as we see in the example here. What childish antics these are.

Bridge is game of cards designed to keep people busy that have nothing better to do. I suggest that these women go back to their cards because they have nothing to add to the adult conversation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 10:10:00 PM  
Blogger Dee said...

Completely despicable!!!!!!

Did we run around doing this idiotic stuff while Clinton was president? No!!

Thursday, November 15, 2007 12:17:00 AM  
Blogger Rivka said...

These days saying "We hate Bush" is the coolest, anti-establishment, idiotarian trend. It is the Euorpean thing to do.

Especially holding up a sign in such a place as this lady did. It is real popular among the Hollywierdians to do stuff like this as the Oscars, emmy's etc..

This woman has no "significance" in life. How insecure to feel the need to do something as ridiculous as this.

Thursday, November 15, 2007 3:08:00 AM  
Blogger Gayle said...

"Common sense decency and good taste," Wordsmith? They don't know the meaning of any of them! By her actions we can tell common sense and decency parted company with her long ago, probably by the age of six, and by what she's wearing it's easy to see she certainly doesn't know anything about good taste!

Thursday, November 15, 2007 8:24:00 AM  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

But throughout it all, these are nothing more than Bridge Bitches. Who, quite frankly, gives the most remote shit about Bridge and, furthermore, pays the slightest bit of attention? Their actions speak for themselves, and anything more significant than a paramecium knows better.


Thursday, November 15, 2007 10:14:00 AM  

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