Weary of Mideast? Try Golf Channel

April 23, 2002|By Thomas L. Friedman

WASHINGTON - As the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians has intensified, I've found it increasingly impossible to watch TV news. Lately, whenever Middle East stories come on CNN or MSNBC, I reach for the remote and switch to the Golf Channel. Everyone needs a break from the all too real suffering that surrounds this story.

I happened to mention this in a chat with Jim Bouton, the former Yankees pitcher and author of Ball Four. Mr. Bouton says he's had the same reaction, and as we talked we came up with 10 reasons for why the Golf Channel is actually the perfect antidote to Middle East news:

1. All the commentators on the Golf Channel actually know what they're talking about, and no one is identified by the phony and meaningless title of "Terrorism Expert." Indeed, the only spin you see on the Golf Channel comes from golf balls. You have to perform your way onto the Golf Channel - you don't get on through a PR firm, by running for president and losing or by having been part of the O.J. trial.

2. There's no religion on the Golf Channel. The only time God or Jesus Christ is mentioned is in anger after somebody hits a bad shot.

3. There is no history on the Golf Channel and no arguments about history. It doesn't really matter what you did yesterday on the Golf Channel; every day starts with a fresh slate. Indeed, success in golf requires that you erase the history of what you did yesterday and focus only on today's round. In golf, unlike Arab-Israeli politics, the future always buries the past - the past doesn't bury the future.

4. There are long, glorious silences on the Golf Channel. And the commentators who cover their events - rather than shouting at each other across a split screen - actually spend a lot of their air time whispering, so as not to disturb the players.

5. There are no uniforms on the Golf Channel - only golf shirts with swooshes, alligators and umbrellas - because, refreshingly, the players there represent only themselves and their achievements, not cities, countries or religions.

6. On the Golf Channel, no one blames America for everything bad that happens to them. In golf, you alone are responsible for what happens to you. No whining is allowed on the Golf Channel. Your ball ended up in a divot or took a crazy bounce? Too bad, that's golf - that's life. Unlike on CNN, Fox News or MSNBC, where guests can wail that whatever went wrong was caused by an American conspiracy, on the Golf Channel they tell you to get over it.

7. On the Golf Channel the only "settlements" are "fairway condos," and "the right of return" is what you ask for after you've played Augusta for the first time. The only bunkers on the Golf Channel are the kind you need a sand wedge to blast out of, not a bazooka.

8. The Golf Channel is devoted to a game that respects rules and clearly defines what is inbounds and what is out of bounds. Unlike in the Middle East, where America is supposed to be the referee and all the parties cheat as much as they can get away with, in golf you are expected to call penalties on yourself. On the Golf Channel, there are real consequences for cheating, lying or breaking the rules: No one will play with you or have you on the air. In the Middle East, the more outrageously you behave, the more likely you are to be elected to high office or invited to appear on Crossfire.

9. On the Golf Channel, people want to beat up the course, not one another. It's man (and woman) against nature and man against himself, but not man against man.

10. No one on the Golf Channel is afraid of compromise or change. On the contrary, golf is a game where the very best players engage in never-ending self-criticism, self-reflection and self-correction, constantly adapting to changes in courses, conditions or age. The best golfers spend a lot of time looking at themselves in the mirror to check their swings - unlike in the Middle East, where self-reflection and self-criticism are as common as a three-hump camel.

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times.

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