Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Long Beach Speed Skater Races Against the Clocks

48-year-old Jacki Munzel eyes the 2014 Winter Olympics.

By Joseph Kellard
Fifteen seconds stands between Jacki Munzel and the Winter Olympic trials.

But the speed skater from Long Beach faces roadblocks: her age and, unlike her dominant Dutch counterparts, the inability to train regularly at a regulation-sized oval.

“I’m skating against people that are skating six days a week and I’m not,” said Munzel, who at 48-years-old has returned to the ice after hitting a barrier.

Her fastest time in the 3,000 meters is 4:32, but to qualify for the trials possibly as late as one month before the Olympics in Sochi, Russia in February 2014, she must shave her time down to 4:17.

Instead of trekking 300 miles to the nearest oval in Lake Placid, Munzel trains daily either at her West End home on a Plexiglas slide board to simulate ice, or she runs the boardwalk and performs non-stop imagination drills along the shoreline from Neptune to Tennessee beaches. She otherwise trains on a short track twice weekly, rollerblades along the Wantagh Parkway, and practices on a regulation-sized oval during three annual trips to Wisconsin and Utah or the day before official races. Each time she hits the ovals she cuts into her time.

In March, she competed in the 21st Masters International Allround Games in Germany, placing first in her age group (40-49) in all four races and first overall in two races (30 and over), all on a recently torn tendon in her left knee and with only two years of speed skating experience. Her European competition took instant notice. “They all came up to me and were like ‘who are you?,’” Munzel said laughing.

A mother of three children, ages 14 to 25, Munzel’s quest to make the Olympic trials comes after a nearly two decade hiatus from her dream of winning gold in another sport. She was a teenage figure skater who sometimes beat the best, including Katarina Witt, and made the trials for the 1984 Winter Olympics. But she was sidelined by an eating disorder, bulimia, which she developed at 18 and couldn’t find help for it.

“It was really secretive then,” said the 5-foot-7 Munzel, who weighed 110 pounds then. “So it was either I quit skating or I was going to be dead because I knew I couldn’t go on doing what I was doing to myself.”

It took her many years to recover, she said, and during that time she moved from her native Illinois to Merrick, got married and, at 24, started to teach skating. When she picked up speed skates two years ago, the sport came natural to her since as a figure skater she was known of her speed. Today she teaches youth hockey players to skate faster and with greater control at ice arenas in Long Beach, Bethpage, Freeport and Bellmore. K.J. Tiefenwerth, 20, a hockey player from Bellmore, trains with her regularly. “She’s the real deal,” he said. “She’s always on you. She mixes form with intensity.”

Her coaches are Canadian Stephen Gough, an Olympic-level trainer, and Glenn Corso, president of the Flushing Meadows Speed Skating Club. Another top trainer, Dante Cozzi, has taught and advised Munzel from her youth, and he believes firmly that she can make the Olympics and win a gold medal.

“I don’t care what her age is,” Cozzi said. “Her technique and her skill level and her determination and work — a lot of people understand what work is but they don’t really know how to apply it. She does.”

When entertaining ideas of making the Olympic team at 50, Munzel appears torn. Her rapid development in the sport has inspired cautious optimism. “If my times are great in the Olympic trials and I was one of the better skaters, yes,” she said about the prospect. But other realities, including that she would then compete against 20-somethings who eat and breath the sport, weigh on her. “I’m going to be realistic: there is no chance that I can do it without training every day on the ice,” she said.

But Cozzi believes she sells herself short and fears committing to the belief that the Olympics are within reach. Two years ago she didn’t believe she could be in the favorable position she’s in today, he noted.

“If she keeps progressing at the same pace she’s doing, she’s making the team and she’s going to be going to Russia,” he said. “She has got the ability, the skill and the drive to make the team.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Kristof and Consensus of 'Experts' Evade Facts about Iranian Regime

By Joseph Kellard
In a recent op-ed, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof cited an alleged “consensus” of foreign policy “experts” who believe it would be “abominable” at this time for Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

Among those whom Kristof quotes is W. Patrick Lang, a former head of Middle East affairs for the Defense Intelligence Agency: “Unless you’re so far over on the neocon side that you’re blind to geopolitical realities, there’s an overwhelming consensus that this is a bad idea.”

Echoing the broader points of these “experts,” Kristof writes that a military attack would set back Iran’s nuclear program no more than three years while escalating Muslims’ anger toward Israel and America and possibly inspiring Iran to sponsor attacks on American targets. He believes we should wait for economic sanctions against Iran to “work” — but toward what ultimate end he does not say.

Kristof concludes:
So as we hear talk about military action against Iran, let’s be clear about one thing. Outside Netanyahu’s aides and a fringe of raptors, just about every expert thinks that a military strike at this time would be a catastrophically bad idea. That’s not a debate, but a consensus.

Observe that while Kristoff treats a consensus of security wonks as akin to an unquestionable axiom that renders all debate on the matter irrelevant, he downplays or evades the essential facts about the Islamist regime that warrant its immediate destruction. While Kristof and company support another round of toothless sanctions, the ruling mullahs and ayatollahs in Iran continue their more than 30-year campaign of terrorizing, maiming, and murdering Americans, hundreds if not thousands, from Beirut to Saudi Arabia to Iraq to Afghanistan. Just this month, security services in Azerbaijan arrested twenty-two people who reportedly were trained and hired by Iran to carry out terrorist attacks against U.S. and Israeli embassies and British oil company BP.

The State Department is aware of decades of such efforts, which is why it annually places Iran on the top of its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

For security experts and politicians in Washington to advocate mere sanctions against the Iranian regime is to relinquish their moral and professional responsibility to protect Americans against a deadly enemy.

By any rational standard, it is time to destroy not only Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities, but also the Iranian regime itself. If the U.S. government is too irrational to do anything about it, the least we can do is not dissuade the Israelis from acting for their survival.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

North Korea’s “National Script”: Yet Another Fair Warning

By Joseph Kellard
While reading an interview with novelist Adam Johnson as he described his experiences in North Korea, I was struck by how closely his characterization of life under the communist dictatorship paralleled that of an Iinternet aquaintance who once told me of the bleak and automoton-like existence of its inhabitants. In my second post for The Objective Standard's blog, I touch on the ideas that lead to this horrible state of being.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Is 'Johnny U' for You?

Tom Callahan's biography on a legendary quarterback offers inspiration even for the non-sports fan.

By Joseph Kellard

On Super Bowl Sunday, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts will once again don the same white helmet with blue horseshoes that another star quarterback wore in a championship game nearly 50 years ago. I draw this timely parallel simply to recommend a biography that matches its hype.

Tom Callahan’s Johnny U: The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas is conversational-style account of the legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback, based on interviews with Unitas’s teammates, opponents, friends and relatives, and captures the essence of a man many consider the greatest to ever play his position.

Sports fans or anyone eager to encounter an admirable individual should read “Johnny U,” if only for the examples of his famous “cool,” both on and off the field, and particularly while under pressure — a product of his quiet confidence. One of the Hall of Famer’s college coaches from Louisville, on a team that fell to 1-8 one season, said of Unitas: “Losing didn’t kill his self-confidence … He was the most confident person — confident in his own ability — that I ever met, that I think anyone ever met.”

In part, Unitas’s confidence and abilities grew out of his dedication to the game, a quality that Callahan highlights. “Every week, John sat and watched both [televised games: the Bears and the Browns],” a Louisville teammate recalled. “‘C’mon, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go out,’ I’d say. ‘No, I have to see the games.’ ‘You mean to tell me that after practicing all week, after sitting through all the meetings, after playing every single down of every single game, you still haven’t had enough football?’ ‘Nope.’ None of the rest of us knew exactly what we wanted to be. He did.”

Unitas’s renowned work ethic was embodied best in his relationship with his top receiver, Raymond Berry. Even after team practices the duo routinely worked together on mastering their pass-and-catch precision and on two-minute drills that proved invaluable in big spots.

“Johnny U” also shines a light on both Unitas’s exceptional football smarts and leadership, exemplified by an ability to tap his vast memory bank to call plays on his own like no other quarterback before him.

“You couldn’t outthink Unitas,” said Sam Huff, a New York Giants defenseman. “When you thought run, he passed. When you thought pass, he ran. When you thought conventional, he was unconventional. When you tried thinking in reverse, he double-reversed. It made me dizzy ... We were one of the greatest defensive teams ever put together ... But we didn’t have a defense for Unitas.”

A critique of “Johnny U” that I encountered is that Callahan failed to dig deeper and answer more questions about Unitas’s private and family life. Certainly another outstanding biography, When Pride Still Mattered, David Maraniss’s take on legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, is heavy on such details. Yet that book still managed to detour from a road most modern biographers like to travel. A road on which all sorts of non-essential, often-unsubstantiated claims about a subject are made and blow up in an alleged attempt to make the subject more “human,” or the biography more “balanced.” But dig deeper into the biographer’s motives and you’ll often find he was determined to find feet of clay on his admirable or heroic subject.

Instead, Callahan opted to focus on what is most relevant about his subject, or any individual’s life: his productive abilities, his profession, his career. This value primarily drives our purpose in life and can, above all else, reveal a man’s core. In “Johnny U,” Callahan shows us a man who essentially loved his work and performed it exceedingly well and with shining confidence, particularly on the grandest stages.

In 1958, Unitas and the Colts defeated Huff and the Giants in the NFL championship, later dubbed “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” In this classic, first-ever overtime battle, Unitas commanded a two-minute, game-tying march downfield and an 80-yard, game-winning drive that became signature innovations of his quarterback play. The game generated unprecedented television ratings that catapulted the pro game in popularity on a par with Major League Baseball.

Immediately after winning his first pro championship, Unitas simply
turned and walked off the field. “You weren’t going to see him jump up and down,” said one teammate. “He didn’t have to do that. It was one of the best things about him.”

* This review was originally written and posted January 31, 2007. I did some minor editing to the original.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

What’s So Super About the Super Bowl?

By Joseph Kellard
The Objective Standard’s blog posted a commentary I wrote on what makes the Super Bowl so mega-popular. And you think it has to do with the gambling, glitzy commercials and New Year’s party-like atmosphere? Think again. There’s another reason involved and it has to do with the fundamental nature of football.

“On Sunday, restaurants, bars, and pizza-delivery chains across the nation will rake in big bucks thanks to the mass appeal of the big game. That appeal is rooted in the immense value fans derive from watching superlatively honed athletes who demonstrate exceptional determination and ability in a seriously dangerous contest with near equals.

“Is it any wonder the Super Bowl has reached the status of a national holiday?”

Photo by Joel Scott

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

By Joseph Kellard

Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs presents Apple’s creator as a passionately driven producer that demanded excellence, both of him and others, and who was beset by intense emotionalist tendencies.

Jobs’ legacy is that he primarily transformed existing systems into innovative products, from the Macintosh to the iPad — which others either couldn’t create or even foresee. As Isaacson writes: “On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, ‘Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?’” (p.170)

Jobs embedded in Apple’s DNA the premium he put on integration, whether it was software and hardware; aesthetics and engineer/exterior design; or multiple products — computers, phones, music players — into singular devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

While Isaacson lauds and emphasizes Jobs’ masterful work, he paints with a heavy brush when portraying his relationships with others. Here, his motif is Jobs’ “reality distortion field” — a term his colleagues coined to describe what is a basically a package deal that includes examples of putting an “I wish” above a “what is”; pushing his workers to meet seemingly impossible deadlines that they sometimes met; and outright deception, as when he tried to deny fathering his first child. Moreover, to Jobs, there was usually no middle ground between your ideas or work: they were either brilliant or “shit.”

Yet Jobs was also a straight shooter, often harshly so, and so he’s painted sensationally as an insensitive jerk. When asked about this characterization, Jobs basically replied that his honesty was necessary to rid Apple of anyone other than A players.

But in writing his chapter on Jobs’ legacy, Isaacson concludes: “Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible.” (p.565)

Unfortunately, Isaacson falls short of truly uncovering the particular philosophic ideas that drove Jobs’ trailblazing work. He mostly writes about them superficially (e.g., Jobs’ love of “simplicity” in his products is attributed to his beliefs in Zen Buddhism), and often Isaacson explains his insights in terms of “instincts”/“intuition,” as did Jobs.

Of course, this is to be expected in our anti-philosophical age, as well as from a biographer who was a former editor at Time and a chairman at CNN, neither news organization of which represents objective journalism. Obviously, like most modern biographers, Isaacson felt compelled to “balance” every prominent personality and character trait.

Ultimately, while Isaacson is incapable of concluding that Jobs was a moral giant for his outstanding innovations, his biography nevertheless manages to evoke a spirit that projects this fundamental truth and makes it a particularly worthy read.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Seed of My Love of Reading

By Joseph Kellard

Go ahead, you can say it. The image accompanying this blog post looks like a book that’s been through a war. Well, not quite.

I salvaged Four Stars from the World of Sports from a flood in my apartment, due to a Calcutta-like downpour a few years ago. I had to keep this book from my childhood. I realized, even if not explicitly until now, that it held a certain significance to me. I believe it is the first sports book, and perhaps the first “real” book after a diet of Green Eggs and Ham and others like Charlotte’s Web, that I had read on my own.

I recall my mother buying it for me at my elementary school, P.S. 21 in Flushing. I think I was in third grade and I bought it at a book fair there. It featured some of the great athletes of the day from the four major sports, baseball’s Henry Aaron, football’s Roger Staubach, basketball’s Kareem Abdul Jabbar and hockey’s Bobby Orr.

Leafing through its time- and weather-beaten brown pages now, I remember some of its photos and illustrations, but I remember little, if anything, about the stories. One of my problems as a young boy was that I didn’t read very well, and had particular trouble with comprehension. But I do recall enjoying the book and learning about the lives of these sports idols.

One of my earliest memories of watching sports was rushing home one summer night to the living room in my parents’ second-floor apartment on 26th Avenue, as I watched on television Henry Aaron hit his historic 715 home run that broke Babe Ruth’s career record.

On that same set (probably a Zenith), I vaguely recall watching Joe Namath play football. I had already heard enough about the legendary quarterback to realize I was watching someone special. I remember vaguely that earlier that year I watched my first Super Bowl, when the Miami Dolphins defeated the Minnesota Vikings. That’s when I became a Dolphins' fan.

Since I didn’t read well as a young boy, so I didn’t read much. At that time, my interest in watching sports was in its fledgling state, so I don’t recall reading many or any other sports books after Four Stars. Maybe I did; maybe I didn’t—and if I did they didn’t make enough of an impression on me to save them. Four Stars did. Maybe because it was the first book I read in which I was offered (real-life) heroes.

My parents thought my reading problems had something to do with poor eyesight, so they bought me reading glasses. I thought this was totally senseless. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. At about that time, my parents brought me to a reading specialist, and she said I had dyslexia. I ditched the eyeglass, but mainly because wearing them wasn’t cool.

When I reflect back on this now, I realized my troubles could be traced and reduced to one main issue: motivation. Sure, when reading, I definitely mixed up letters and words, and that certainly made it a struggle; but it actually wasn’t until a few years later, when my parents observed my already intense interest in sports, that they got the bright idea to buy me a subscription to Sports Illustrated.

Their thinking was this: why not have him read about a subject that interests him? I remember the days of my mother working with me, having me read story after story in Reader’s Digest. I enjoyed some of the stories, especially one about a captain of a boat who remained calm through a storm that threatened to capsize the vessel and navigated through the squall. But it wasn’t until I started to read about sports that I read consistently and often, and my problems with reading just faded away.

That’s really the genesis of my love of reading that has endured to this day. I believe that seed was planted with this one book, Four Stars.