We wake up to a divided nation this morning. One issue appears to have galvanized and polarized Americans into two camps -- camps that are unlikely ever to reconcile their differences and find common ground.
I speak, ladies and gentlemen, of the Michael Phelps weed smoking incident. Phelps, the 23-year-old swimming sensation who won 17 or 18 gold medals for swimming in Beijing, one for the uneven bars, a silver for that thing where you dance around with ribbons, and a certificate of merit for his excellent version of apple brown betty, was caught with his Speedos down after a UK publication printed a photo of the young superstar sucking on a bong.
Now I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to assume that all devoted PWB readers know what I mean when I say the word bong. I asked Bobo the talking intern to write up a paragraph describing the function and engineering specifications of the device. Unfortunately, he went home to do some research and has yet to return to the office, having stopped off at Taco Bell for some righteous snacks.
Think of a bong as a weed delivery system. Using something we call “physics,” the pot is turned into smoke which then is inhaled into the slacker’s lungs. This instantly results in a slight peckish feeling, as well as a desire to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000.
According to research carried out by Intern Two, the by-products of a bong are increased carbon emissions, a global demand for dragon-shaped smoking implements and foul-smelling water typically spilt on the shag carpeting.
Phelps, who has turned his extraordinary athletic abilities into millions of dollars of endorsements with major companies around the globe, ran face-first into a bong during a party not too long ago. Reportedly, a party filled with college kids. Shades of Reefer Madness.
Anyway, at some point Phelps forgot that his celebrity status means he’s given up his privacy. During the party temptation reared its ugly head, perhaps in the form of a hot college girl holding a bong, and the next thing you know Bob’s your uncle.
The incident came to light because, well, Phelps is the most famous Olympic athlete on the planet and he sucked on a bong in a crowded room full of college kids. In political speak we would call this “an error in judgment”.
Someone attending the party snapped a photo of Phelps in mid-suck and that photo eventually made its way to a UK tabloid. The UK tabloid, feeling the weight of its journalistic responsibilities to the world, published the photo.
This is when America began dividing … on one side those who felt betrayed by Phelps' action and viewed his behavior as reprehensible, horrifying and permanently damaging to our children’s collective psyche; and on the other, folks who said it’s just weed, he’s just 23 years old and just leave him alone. Dude.
Phelps and his handlers leaped into action, apologizing and saying things like “I’m sorry and it won’t happen again.” They got this tactic from watching recent hearings up on Capitol Hill, where Cabinet nominees Timothy Geithner and Tom Daschle had to explain why paying your taxes is so damned hard. What a load of crap.
Here’s the thing … people make mistakes. No doubt about it, I’ve made them, you’ve made them, everybody makes them. The question to be asked is: What is the by-product of a mistake?
According to PWB research, the theoretical by-product of a mistake is known as a consequence. The equation can be written as:
Mistake = Consequence
However, research carried out by famed mathematician Lazlo Spenkman in the early 1980s identified a variant to this equation which he quantified as:
Mistake/Celebrity = Consequence X 0
This then helped the scientific community to explain the tendency for celebrities, politicians and anyone making more money than you or me to avoid consequence and live the sweet life. The Spenkman Theory, first published in Forum Magazine in 1983, held firm through the next two and half decades as individual responsibility and consequence for actions became quaint terms.
Which brings us to the PWB’s selection for this week’s Award of Excellence. The nominee is Kellogg's, purveyor of fine breakfast foods including those hard to find yet oddly tasty unfrosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts. There should be an application on the internet that maps out grocery stores still stocking these things.
In an unusual turn of events that casts doubt on Spenkman’s lifetime of research, there appears to be a consequence for what Michael Phelps did. In Phelps' case, Kellogg's has ended its contract with him, noting that bong usage is apparently “not in line with their image.” It’s possible that if they come out with a new cereal called Weedies they could rethink their decision.
It’s probably useful to state that I’m not judging Phelps for putting a death grip on a bong; I could care less what he chooses to do. He has freedom of choice, free agency, whatever you care to call it. But it is amazing to think that he hadn’t been fully briefed by his handlers that the only privacy he might find is in his own home.
Phelps chose to smoke dope, Kellogg's chose to terminate his contract. It’s a brilliant repudiation of Spenkman’s theory. Maybe it’s a sign that we’re entering a new era … an era where people take responsibility for their actions, and mistakes once again result in consequences -- regardless of who you are.
Why, look at John Thain … he spent over a million redecorating his office and the resulting outcry cost him his job. How about Tom Daschle … he forgot that taxes were due on his car and driver and the administration pushed him aside before the brouhaha could cause too much political damage. And Tim Geithner … the only man according to some senators and the White House who could save us from the recession, why he overlooked tax payments and ended up as … umm, Treasury Secretary. Huh.
Damn you Spenkman.
Finally, and in a complete change of direction, I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to write in about my Pop. Your words, stories about your own fathers and notes of encouragement were more appreciated than you’ll know. I like to think of the PWB readers as one big dysfunctional family. After the ceremony at Arlington this week I’ll fly home, drive down to Buzzy’s and toast every one of you. Thank you for your kindness.
Til’ next week, stay safe.
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Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector and has recently returned to Diligence LLC, a company he cofounded in 2000, as President. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on counterterrorism, intelligence and homeland security. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," as well as major motion pictures.