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The Masters, 2011 Edition

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Charl Schwartzel sinking putt on 18 to win Masters

[Photo by Zachary Boyden-Holmes/Augusta Chronicle]

I have to say something, don’t I? My favorite sport. One of the year’s four major men’s tournaments. The one whose televised production is the best of all golf tournaments. (Few ads, no network promos, great camera work.) Almost eight months since the previous major. The beautiful course.

There truly is nothing like Masters Sunday. Whatever happens, I’m going to be watching, and I’m going to love it, as one champion emerges amid all the heartbreak.

Sure enough, this is how yesterday went, except that it was even better than anyone could have imagined. If you saw it, I need say no more. If you didn’t, I can’t possibly capture the drama. Eight players led or were tied for the lead coming home. As many as six were tied simultaneously, as players kept reaching a cumulative score of -10 and falling back. Finally, Tiger made it into the clubhouse at -10, after a glorious front nine that set high expectations and a flat back nine that gave him a piece of the lead. Then Geoff Ogilvy joined him at -10, thanks to a back nine stretch of five straight birdies. But too many players were even with them or just behind, with holes still to play. Finally, Adam Scott moved to -11. And then came Jason Day, also at -11. And then they moved to -12. It became clear that -10 wasn’t going to do it.

And finally, what will never be forgotten by golf fans, Charl Schwartzel’s glorious final four holes. He had opened with wondrous a chip in birdie from off the green on one and a hole in from the fairway for an eagle on three to jump from -8 to -11, only to fall back with a bogey on four. Then came ten straight pars, keeping him at that seemingly magical score of -10. And then: a birdie on the par five 15th brought him to -11, as Scott and day ahead of him were making their moves. A birdie on the par three 16th put him at -12. A birdie at the par four 17th and he was in the lead at -13. Safely on the green in two on the par four 18th, all he needed was two putts from 18 feet to win. But the way he was putting, you just sensed that he was going to go for it. He did, the ball dropped in, he had his fourth straight birdie, he was at -14, and the Masters was his.

Boy oh boy. A great start, a historic finish, those ten straight pars in the middle. What a round! What a tournament!

Categories: Golf

Change We Can Believe In, XVII

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Drone Warfare

David Cloud’s story in yesterday’s LA Times on a US drone attack 14 months ago in Afghanistan is a must-read. (Hat tip: James Fallows.) Here is an excerpt from its opening:

Nearly three miles above the rugged hills of central Afghanistan, American eyes silently tracked two SUVs and a pickup truck as they snaked down a dirt road in the pre-dawn darkness.

The vehicles, packed with people, were 3 1/2 miles from a dozen U.S. special operations soldiers, who had been dropped into the area hours earlier to root out insurgents. The convoy was closing in on them.

At 6:15 a.m., just before the sun crested the mountains, the convoy halted.

“We have 18 pax [passengers] dismounted and spreading out at this time,” an Air Force pilot said from a cramped control room at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, 7,000 miles away. He was flying a Predator drone remotely using a joystick, watching its live video transmissions from the Afghan sky and radioing his crew and the unit on the ground.

The Afghans unfolded what looked like blankets and kneeled. “They’re praying. They are praying,” said the Predator’s camera operator, seated near the pilot.

By now, the Predator crew was sure that the men were Taliban. “This is definitely it, this is their force,” the cameraman said. “Praying? I mean, seriously, that’s what they do.”

“They’re gonna do something nefarious,” the crew’s intelligence coordinator chimed in.

At 6:22 a.m., the drone pilot radioed an update: “All … are finishing up praying and rallying up near all three vehicles at this time.”

The camera operator watched the men climb back into the vehicles.

“Oh, sweet target,” he said.

None of those Afghans was an insurgent. They were men, women and children going about their business, unaware that a unit of U.S. soldiers was just a few miles away, and that teams of U.S. military pilots, camera operators and video screeners had taken them for a group of Taliban fighters.

The Americans were using some of the most sophisticated tools in the history of war, technological marvels of surveillance and intelligence gathering that allowed them to see into once-inaccessible corners of the battlefield. But the high-tech wizardry would fail in its most elemental purpose: to tell the difference between friend and foe.

In a post on the war in Afghanistan last month, I raised the question of what our goal there is at this point, nearly a decade into the war. In revealing the horrors of drone warfare, Cloud provides further evidence that this is a war we can’t “win”, whatever winning would look like.

It’s Obama’s war now, drones and all. As Glenn Greenwald suggested in a tweet today, “The only sensible response to this story is to award a second Nobel Peace Prize.”

Categories: Technology, War