Friday, July 29, 2011

Review of "Golf's Sacred Journey"

An avid golfer, I have never been able to finish a book about golf. I've received several as gifts, tried my best to read them, but never been able to get all the way through one. Not only have I never purchased a book about golf for myself, I've never even shopped for or considered shopping for a book about golf. I do read golf magazines, but mostly for their reviews of new courses and products and interviews with players. So it is a signal achievement for me to have finished—devoured may be a better word—this brief novel by David L. Cook, PhD.
I first heard about Golf's Sacred Journey watching a trailer for the forthcoming movie based on the novel. Robert Duvall stars in the picture, which is named after the book's subtitle Seven Days In Utopia. The fact that there really is a town named Utopia and it really does have a 9-hole course next to the cemetary helped lure me in—that and its location just outside San Antonio in the wonderful Texas hill country, where I've played several different courses over the years.

Given that I am currently adapting a friend's novel into a screenplay—not a golfing tale—I had extra motivation to read this book so I could compare book-to-film when the picture releases.

Big caveat: if you don't play the game, I don't know how you could enjoy this book. So many of the extended descriptions of the the grip, the stance, the swing, ball flight, trajectory, course management, club selection and unexplained jargon make this pretty much a novel only for golfers. That said, if you do play, I doubt you've ever read anything that captures better the way you feel when you pure a long iron, or execute a shot exactly the way you'd visualized it.

The novel opens with a hungry young professional golfer contending for the lead on the back nine Sunday at a mini-tour event in San Antonio. But on the par five 10th he melts down and takes a 15, including 3 penalty strokes—two for burying his putter-head into the green. In disgust and despair he drives away from the tournament heading aimlessly toward the setting sun, taking a fateful fork in the road away from Vanderpool and toward Utopia, population 373.

On Monday morning, along the banks of the Sabinal River, the crusty old owner of the Links of Utopia finds a disillusioned young pro pounding balls on his dusty driving range. Recognizing a desperate need, he challenges the player: "Spend seven days with me...and you'll find your game." And thus begins a week-long psychological deconstruction and rebuilding of not just the young man's game, but of his very soul.

While Golf's Sacred Journey won't win a Pulitzer or be taught in college english courses, the old man's object-lessons (oil painting, fly-fishing, washer-tossing, Cessna-flying) are strangely affecting. And given the universal anguish even casual golfers experience, the dawning self-awareness in the young pro rings true. But nothing in the first six lessons is remotely sacred...and then comes Sunday. By now the old man's wisdom and goodwill establish him as completely trustworthy, and the outcome of his sermon-in-a-cemetery is never in doubt. This set-piece doesn't feel the least bit contrived—and the term "buried lies" will never again be merely about a golf ball in a sand trap.

From there it's all denouement. At his next tournament the pro stays in the zone, conquers his demons, knocks down flagsticks—and has progressed so far beyond golf that the notion of life-and-death grinding on the links has become a faint echo in the warm sunshine. Golf's Sacred Journey is a good walk unspoiled.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

One death—a tragedy; one million dead—a statistic

A nurse or doctor who works daily caring for people who are about to die can't afford to think of these folks as people—they are "patients". Think of the debilitating sorrow and grief that overwhelms family members of the dying...would you want the nurses and doctors so burdened that they are barely able to function in their important tasks? Yet we do expect these professionals to show warmth, empathy and a degree of compassion in dealing with the sick and their loved ones. And, generally, those who work in the healing arts behave graciously toward those in their care. This is due in large measure to looking these people in the eye, knowing their name and dealing with them personally.

If you know somebody who lost his home in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 meltdown, or who is out of work now as a result of the lethargic economy, your heart aches for them. If you know two or three such folks, you have to be careful to avoid getting angry or depressed. But the destruction of the wealth and well-being of millions of people by this foreseeable and preventable debacle is so far beyond my ability to absorb, that I can only comprehend it in the realm of statistical analysis. And from this principle comes much evil in a technocratic state: despite an abysmal track record when attempting to manage/control economies, the statist impulse is to nonetheless intervene. These interventions always end badly, hurting most those with the least ability to protect themselves.
Human greed and venality are nothing new. Governments are supposed to punish evildoers, and ensure "honest weights and scales". But the modern Leviathan state provides the biggest companies cover for their shadowy deeds. Government interventions leading to the housing mess have been no secret: from the ticking time-bomb of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, to the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act allowing investment banks into the depository game, to the Federal Reserve's low-to-no interest rates (many say the mere existence of the Fed is a grave danger), to the moral hazard of Government Sponsored Enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to Land-Use Restrictions driving up home prices (most famously in California), to the near-trillion dollar "stimulus", the Dodd-Frank regulatory charade, and that mother of all interventions: bailing out selected firms deemed Too Big To Fail.

Obama's Justice Department has obtained zero convictions among the lenders, legislators, underwriters, raters, regulators and insurers responsible for the debacle—I'm not even aware of any investigations they've launched to hold anybody accountable. Remember that under Reagan, Bush and Clinton there were a thousand prosecutions and about 800 people convicted for their part in the S&L Crisis. How can there not have been private and public sector villains in our most recent catastrophe? For all the talk of "predatory lending", how is it that not one such predator has been brought to justice? Mister Holder—can you spare a moment from persecuting CIA interrogators to, say, enforce the laws that have laid low the greatest economy in the history of the planet?

Next up, Obamacare. Get ready for another arrogant overreach, causing the same slow motion train wreck in healthcare that crushed our housing sector and has shaken the foundations of the Republic. 

Despite a stinging electoral repudiation of their hubris, the regime now in control of the Executive Branch and half of the Congress shows no sign of slowing its headlong rush into the abyss. If America doesn't elect small-government conservatives next year, Obama's "fundamental transformation" may well be irreversible.