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A Uniter At Last

Look, when the world of International Bridge comes to blows, who ya gonna blame?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, November 14, 2007.

Well, it’s come to this.

It seems the monumental incompetence and arrogant ignorance of the Bush administration can tear apart anything, be it America’s physical infrastructure, belief in our judicial or electoral systems, or our three hundred year old, predominantly African American cities still waiting for promised help. The NYT today says that after dealing with the gibes of other national teams, the "genteel world of contract bridge" has been torn asunder because one of the women in a team of female American players at a tournament in Shanghai held up a sign scrawled on the back of a menu at an awards dinner. It read, and you may want to nudge any children, clergy, and Real American Patriots out of the room….I’ll wait…..okay, the sign said "We did not vote for Bush."

They might have added “….though the heavens fall”, because the heavens did.

Bridge, I remind you, is a card game, sorta like Whist, that is by far the most compelling of all card games, and requires great skill. I stink at it, but really enjoy it. Fanatic bridge players are genteel in the sense that they do not usually carry weapons, but they are ever alert to any possible cheating by their competitors, or stupidity by their partners, and I could easily be convinced that many of the missing persons reported from cruise liners owe their death to a late night discussion on a cabin balcony about having trumped their partner’s ace earlier. Bridge players are not, really, sane.

Much like the idiocy that greeted the Dixie Chicks when they said something untoward about Bush, some Americans have called this event "treason," bespeaking their ignorance of the term and the entire basis of our nation, but the hoo-hah has been great and a few of the team members could face suspension, probation, and community service from the world of card playing, or at least anything sanctioned by the U. S. Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that vets our Bridge teams for international tournaments.

The head of the Federation, Jan Martel, said this: "This isn't a free-speech issue….There isn't any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them." Hello?

Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist, took issue. “If the USBF wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition." Indeed.

Under attack, Martel unintentionally, perhaps, revealed the real issue, and said the action by the team - which had won the Venice Cup, the international women's title, at the Shanghai event - might cost the federation corporate sponsors. Ah.

I’m not convinced but that Martel is simply behind the times. It’s long been a mantra of the American Left, still trying to fluff its resume, that it’s the mighty and evil corporations who control by their advertising dollar and/or control of the media, what gets said, what is allowed to be said, and what gets protected. True enough, but when the mandate of heaven lifts and hangs above others of a different stripe, as happens when time limited presidents get set to leave office, there is nothing quite so cowardly and fearful as an American corporation. One thing that has happened, insofar as the polls suggest, is that the vast majority of the American independent voters have flittered away from the conservatives and tilted over to the more liberal Democrats, although the Dems are absent of anything to recall Robespierre. But no clear decision is made, and corporations are clearly scared that they will position themselves by advertising or unvetted remark against the grain of the public in the next decade. You see it in the automobile advertising, where they play up both gas saving and southern baritone declarations of he-man horsepower. Depending how oil prices pan out next year, one of these themes will probably vanish.

It was quite funny to listen to the Country radio stations try to explain the absence of the Dixie Chicks from the airwaves when they had the top selling CD in the nation, and after attempted boycotts and some cancelled concerts, the band is back in the saddle again without having apologized for their remark. A stupid war in Iraq which mandated an unfinished war in Afghanistan, and facing a threatened war in Iran have not encouraged anyone to fluff up Dubya. Whatever corporations are backing our international bridge teams might find themselves easily replaced in a NAFTA world where we need to find common areas of agreement with all sorts of foreigners both for peace and business.

And George Bush has pretty much provided everyone with something to hate: the incompetent chickenhawk neo-cons and the entire Bush Administration. So pervasive is it now, that you can seriously start a conversation asking what country music and bridge have in common at an awards dinner for the Venice cup in Shanghai and find international, at least, unanimity.