Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Peace Team

You don't need to know the ins and outs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to know that it's bad. In fact, it has been so bad for so long that whenever another bombing or act of terrorism is reported, it just seems to roll like water off a duck's back for most folks.

It says something when a story of cooperation is more unexpected and surprising than a story of people blowing each other up. It says something sad about the way things are there. But it also says something awe inspiring at just how far some people will go to try to change things, even on the tiniest of levels.


When you say "football", people from different parts of the world will think of different things. Most, of course, will think of what we call in America "soccer". In Australia though, they think of their own variation of "rugby" - Australian rules football.

In 2002, Australia hosted the first ever Australian Football International Cup. The idea was to promote interest in the sport in other countries by hosting a tournament that Australia itself would not participate in. It's the kind of thing I can't imagine America bothering to host - we'd want to win our own tournament, after all. But since Australia has the only professional league for their unique sport, it made sense to sit out this tournament because winning was almost guaranteed. Why not give other teams playing their sport in other countries a chance to compete and measure their talents?

The tournament was enough of a success that it was hosted again in 2005, and now it will happen a third time here in 2008. This year 16 teams from around the world will compete for the trophy, the most since the tournament started.

When you look at the list of teams competing, one jumps out at you: Peace Team.

A strange name for a side participating in a rough and tumble game.


In January of 2008, Australian football legend Robert "Dipper" Dipierdomenico, along with some other league representatives, presented the rules of the game to a room full of 100 young men. Out of that 100, 40 were selected to participate in a 3 day clinic to learn the basics of the game.

The unusual part of the story: these young men were a mix of Israelis and Palestinians, and the clinic was in Jerusalem.

Perhaps crazy enough was the idea of getting a team of men completely unfamiliar with the sport ready to compete internationally in just under 8 months.

But even crazier was the idea of trying to do it here, with these men.

The team faced complications trying to train that would be completely unheard of elsewhere. The coach's instructions needed to be translated to both Hebrew and Arabic. The team was shut out of their Israeli training facility for 4 days during a visit by President Bush when all Palestinians were denied access, including Palestinian members of the team. Team members received threats from both sides of the conflict, either enduring the usual hate from one side or being called "traitor" by the other. Palestinian team members needed to obtain work permits for every training session, sometimes traveling upwards of 4 hours through various security checkpoints.

The pressure was too much for a number of the players. Some of them, facing threats from their own friends and neighbors, left the team.

In spite of all of this, a few kept practicing. A few kept playing. In spite of the lack of a proper field (they played on soccer fields) with proper goalposts (they had none), they kept learning.

The first time the team had seen real goal posts was when they arrived in Australia a week ago.

They play their first match of the tournament today against Great Britain.


New Zealand and Ireland will be the favorites going into the tournament. The Peace Team will probably be lucky to win a single match.

But win or lose, they will do it together.

"Everyone knows the story in Israel and Palestine, the occupation, the killings, bombings, we came here to show the people, we came for the peace, we need the peace," says Palestinian ruckman Fares Switte.

In January, it's not likely Fares Switte knew what a ruckman was.

But then again, in January, the whole notion of a team like this was pretty unlikely too.


After the tournament is over, the players on the Peace Team will return to their normal lives. They will return to face the same strife and conflict they faced before they started playing together.

They might even return to find themselves reviled in their own homes.

But they'll return changed in this small way, knowing this simple thing: if we can play together, we can live together.


Note: For a tremendous introduction to the various factions and pieces in play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I can't recommend the game Peacemaker enough. It is easily the most engaging introduction I've ever seen, better even than any book I have read on the topic.

And yes, it has a Mac version.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Olympics, and Liquor

It's an ever shrinking world.

On the one hand it means we tend to fight a little more over resources that we all need.

On the other hand, it means we have a better opportunity than ever to learn to live with each other.

I'm a big fan of the Olympics. I'm talking about an event where we get to see sports that we probably won't see for another 4 years, but with a built in rooting interest. We root for our country. We root for the human interest stories. We root for the ideal that we can all, just maybe, get along for a couple weeks.

Of course the ideal is not reality. The Olympics are bringing some of China's questionable government practices out into the world spotlight. The games are sometimes overshadowed by stories of the conflict in Georgia.

In spite of these things, sport goes on. The beauty of sport as a fan is that, for the duration of the match, game, whatever, you aren't thinking about those things. It is not a good idea to ignore what goes on in this world. But it's not a bad thing to set it aside once in awhile.


Imagine you've got a tumor in your belly growing so large that it begins to push all of your internal organs, liver, intestine, kidneys... all to the sides of your body.

Imagine that the hospital that is trying to treat you has just been taken over by a group that is likely to kill you if they see you.

Imagine that it doesn't matter anyway, since the doctors have told you there is nothing they can do to save you.

Imagine you are two years old.

This boy exists, and he lives in Iraq, the child of a Sunni family whose hospital had been taken over by Shiite militia.

On the other side of the world, in Boston, someone hears of this, a wealthy, 85 year old liquor tycoon whose own son died of an incurable form of cancer.

The world is shrinking.

The elderly fellow from Boston pays for the young boy's family to fly to Jordan where there is a very dim hope of treatment with the tumor so far advanced.

The doctors in Jordan do not know what will happen, but it is the only hope.

It is not a miracle what happens next. A miracle would be something that defies all explanation.

I don't yet believe that acts of human kindness defy all explanation.


The pursuit of athletic excellence is an ideal, just like the pursuit of global peace. They may both be fleeting things sometimes, but that doesn't mean they don't occasionally exist, even if only in very small batches.

For just a few moments, when Michael Phelps breaks another world record, for a fleeting moment he is the pinnacle of athletic excellence.

For just a few moments, when a young Iraqi boy walks out of a hospital in Jordan after treatment paid for by a elderly man in Boston, they are world peace.

The world is shrinking. And it is not a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Big 3-0

Aaaaand we're back.

So as of today I am 30 years old. Things couldn't be better.

I've written before about what I think the advantages to getting older are and I still stand by those things. Bill Watterson once suggested that people who remember childhood as an idyllic time were probably never children, and that's a statement I agree with. It's not like being a kid was bad (it wasn't), but it's a pretty amazing (and sometimes scary) thing to have a modicum of control over your life.

I also maintain it is awesome to be able to have the authority to scold those younger than you are. Age is the type of completely arbitrary authority that just increases with every passing day. Just this morning I pulled into the parking garage at work and there was a young fellow blasting music out of his car. Just the fact that I could legitimately think to myself: "That young punk, what's he doing playing music at that volume this early in the morning" and actually have a small part of that thought be automatically accurate (the part about him being "young" compared to me, not necessarily the part about being a punk, he's probably a real swell kid, I mean after all he is arriving at work at 7:30 AM just like I am, probably during his summer vacation) is the type of thing that I find internally amusing enough to keep me in a good mood.

So, where have I been these past several months? Well, I haven't been doing anything particularly epic. Since getting married, Jules had been busy studying for the Delaware Bar Exam (a 3 day test which she finished taking last week, results in October) and I've been doing... whatever it is that I do.

And frankly that's what I LIKE doing. There was a time in the heady days of my youth (you know, like 8 years ago) where I would have been terrified of the notion of working a 35-40 hour a week job, settling in to some kind of routine. Now it's really what I enjoy most. Some of my best times are just relaxing at home talking to Jules, reading a book or watching baseball on the tube together. I'm a much more boring guy than I used to be, but I consider that to be a good thing.

So why haven't I been updating the blog then? What's the excuse? Well, there really isn't any. But I've been thinking during all those months I haven't been writing about what this blog is exactly. Is it a journal? Is it a blog about games? Shouldn't it have a theme of some kind?

And I've kind of decided that there are enough blogs out there that spend their time discussing games, and enough blogs out there that are just journals. There are enough blogs out there that complain and mock various things, and really I'm not as good at any of that stuff as they are.

So as of today, I'm going to try something new with the blog. I'm going to go for a general theme of optimism. A general theme that says "life can be pretty cool." That may still involve games that I think are fun and self-deprecating personal anecdotes and some of the other random stuff I throw up here... but the gist will be the type of kerfuffle that puts a smile on my face.

We'll see, maybe it will put a smile on yours. And if you got this far, thanks for not unsubscribing from this thing.