Suddenly, It All Makes Sense

03/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Well, it was a bad week, I guess. Michael Phelps was caught smoking down, and it turns out the Obama transition team wasn't really "vetting" anything. If "vetting" means, you know, "checking to see whether nominees to cabinet posts paid their taxes." That? They weren't checking on that. It makes you wonder what they were doing, exactly. At least the new season of 30 Rock is holding up.

I think, though, that it's actually good news that Michael Phelps is a marijuana smoker. For starters, it explains things that, at the time, didn't make sense. Like the fact that he was so slow off the starting block in all those races, and seemed to be half-asleep until he made that turn at the wall. That never made sense to me. "What is the deal?" I said as I watched him rack up all those victories. "It's like, in the first half of the race, he isn't even trying."

Now we know that, actually, he wasn't trying. Instead he was asleep on the starting blocks, or dreaming about Stephanie Phelps, or Amanda Beard, or whatever, until he was involuntary jolted awake by the starting gun. In every race he probably woke up in the pool, doing whatever stroke he was thinking about when he drifted off. We should be thankful he practiced as much as he did. It's not easy to wake up already performing the task you were supposed to be doing when you fell asleep. That's a consummate skill; it takes years of training. To put it into perspective for the rest of us, Phelps' achievement is the equivalent of nodding off in class and then, when the professor calls on you, answering his question while being poked awake by your buddy. Except that Phelps' achievement is the equivalent of doing this every time you get called on while sleeping in class. You have to hand it to the guy.

It's also impressive that Phelps made up all that lost distance in the second half of every race. Now we know why he was always so far behind at the mid-point of every race: He hadn't started trying yet. Or, more precisely, he hadn't realized he was in a race yet. We also know what he was thinking in that critical moment, the moment -- probably right before the turn -- when he gained consciousness. "Wha? Where am I? Holy shi*!" he would think. And then he would realize that, woah, the race has started, dude. And then, every time, he would win. How can you not love him even more?

If there's any justice in the world, the Olympic committee will give Phelps another gold medal, just for doing more in the Olympics than we knew at the time. Forget all those athletes on performance-enhancing drugs. Phelps won 8 golds on one of the most potent performance-diminishing drugs known to man.

The fact that Phelps won so many gold medals while being toked up on weed also means we should re-evaluate some of our assumptions. Like, so much for the idea that marijuana makes you lazy or kills your ambition. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Mark Spitz's record for Olympic gold was just shattered by a pothead. It would be hard to think of a better counter-example to the conventional view. Although I'm sure some people will hold onto their doubts. "Not until a Nobel scientist finds a cure for cancer in a B.C. Bud brain-fog will I believe that stoners can be successful," they will say. Scientists will point to studies, blah, blah, fine. You can't convince everyone.

We might also re-evaluate some of our geo-political fears. Like the subconscious anxiety we have that China might crush us with its super-efficient industrialization and ruthlessly-managed anti-democratic society. Not to brag or anything, but one of our stoner kids just kicked the world's ass in a supreme contest of athleticism and skill. I just don't think we have that much to worry about. Hey China, tell us when you're serious and we'll send someone whose brain isn't baked and whose lungs still function at full capacity.

Finally, thank God Michael Phelps won that last race. No, I mean really, thank God. Because if he had lost, and then it had come out that he likes to toke up, Michael Phelps never would have lived that down. We would have had one sad young man with an uncanny resemblance to Tigger on our hands. Right-wing crazies would be on every talk show holding Phelps up as a symbol of liberalism's role in America's decline. I can just hear Bill O'Reilly now. "Are you telling me that if he hadn't used drugs, he couldn't have shaved one one-millionth of a second off his time?" Typical Bill O'Reilly, talking so negatively like that.

Instead, now, every time Phelps is recognized on the street, his fans will be even more impressed. And Bill O'Reilly? He will have to make do with Tom Daschle. Perfect.