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The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
Polyarchy by Robert Dahl
The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen
Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
A student from Northwestern University writes:
I usually agree with most of the stuff you put in your
weblog. It's funny that the first thing that really
has moved me to respond is your bit on the World Cup.
I have to say that I agree 100% with mainstream
American on this one - we have every right to see
soccer for the sham sport that it is. You say soccer
is filled with great sportsmanship, and you have your
example of kicking the ball out of bounds when an
injured player goes down. Yeah. Do you read the
news? Did you notice that a player recently got fined
for faking an injury? An opposing player kicked the
ball into his thigh, and this gentleman fell to the
ground in agony clutching his face. His explanation?
He wanted to get the opposing player ejected from the
game. It would be fine, I suppose, if this were an
isolated incident, but it is not, not at all. Every
single game is full of players who hit the ground and
start crying, all because they want the opposing team
to get punished however they can. Great
As for the international feel of the event, well, it's
admirable that all these countries can come together
like this every four years. Happens with the
Olympics, too, of course, and in my opinion the
Olympics are better because nobody takes them so damn
seriously. Sure, I could point out the example of the
Colombian player who got killed a few years back for
scoring an own goal, but that's obvious. Soccer
causes more violence and pandemonium each year than
every other sport put together. Hopefully this year
the Cup will pass without any such incidents, but I
doubt anyone's hope is too high.
As for why Americans dislike the sport - I think one
of the biggest reasons is that we like our sports with
a little bit of uncertainty. I'm not talking about
who wins or loses. With baseball, there's always the
potential of showing up at the park and seeing Kerry
Wood throw a no-hitter, or of seeing Sammy Sosa hit a
500-foot home run. With football, there's always a
chance that the team that's down two touchdowns with a
minute to go will be able to make a spectacular
comeback. With basketball, pretty much anything can
Soccer is too certain. You show up at the park and
you KNOW the game will end with maybe 4 total goals
scored. You KNOW that the team which is down 3 goals
with 20 minutes left is going to lose. There's just
no way around it, the opportunities to score are too
few. You could argue that this means each team/player
needs to play a solid game the whole way through.
Solid games are not as exciting, though, as a game
where everything can turn around in an instant. Say
what you will, the simple fact is that soccer does not
work like that. The game can not turn on a dime. You
won't suddenly have an interception run back for a
touchdown, you won't have a relief pitcher come on to
strike out a slugger with the bases loaded.
I can understand, I suppose, the appeal of watching a
"solid game" if that's what you're into. You'll find
examples of that in all of the popular American
sports, too, only with more possibility for
excitement. Soccer, with its few opportunities for
scoring, games that end all-too-frequently with ties
(don't even get me started on that crap) and lack of
big moments just doesn't cut it.
Is a 1-0 soccer game exciting when your team keeps
getting close to, but never quite reaching, the goal
when there's only a few minutes left? For a soccer
fan, I'm sure it is. Same goes, though, for a tight
baseball game in the bottom of the ninth, or a
football game with time ticking down in the fourth
quarter. I honestly don't feel that soccer has any
qualities which our more popular sports are unable to
That much said, I quite like the weblog, and keep
sending along the interesting links.
Wow. Where to begin? In response to your multi-faceted attack on soccer as a whole and the World Cup in particular, I have this to say:
First, you find sportsmanship in soccer to be lacking based on the islolated incident the other day with a faked injury. The incident you are refering to is when Brazilian star Rivaldo embellished an injury in order to get a Turkish player ejected. Yes, this is unfortunate and all the worse considering Rivaldo is one of the world's premier players. However, this type of trickery is not common. You then refer to general embellishment of trips, pushes, and such. This is done, but if you track the history of the game, such tactics have become more and more rare. With the growth of premier leagues in Europe and Latin America, most all the stars of the world play together in the same leagues. Therefore, they know the ways of other international players and when their national teams face each other, the styles of play do not come into conflict as much, and therefore will produce a better understanding of the level of play. Yes, there are some players and some teams (I must mention Mexico here), that base far too much of their strategy on acting. However, for the majority, the game is played with honesty and gamesmanship. Sportsmanship is also gentlemanship. What other sport do you see players shake hands after a hard foul to show that there are no hard feelings? Certainly not hockey. Often times, not football either. And baseball, well there's just no contact there. Sportsmanship is a huge part of soccer and I think the sport must be commended for it's level of peaceful gamesmanship.
Your second issue is the level of violence associated with the World Cup and it's hooligan fans. Yes, there are outbreaks of violence and drunken passion associated with some matches, but you must remember that such displays are all based in national pride, personal passion and a patriotic fervor. While a few of these incidents get out of hand, you can not forget their roots. I would say that the passion of fans for their national team is something that should be envied, not attacked. American fans are intensely apathetic about their sports. Here I am refering to all sports, not just soccer. You can not even begin to compare the pride associated with a World Cup victory with an L.A. basketball fan cheering for the Lakers to win an NBA championship. Here, you also say you prefer the Olympics to the World Cup. You are of course free to have your opinion, but I must point out that the Olympics are almost completely individual sports and the few that are team sports don't garner the attention that a World Cup national soccer team receives. When was the last time you attached your patriotism to the routine of a 15 year old figure skater, the laps of a speed skater or the 100 meters of a sprinter? Never, or rarely, I would guess.
Next, you praise the "uncertainty" of other sports and give little credit to the excitement of soccer. I would say that a soccer game is never certain. Just as you enjoy the uncertainty that Sammy Sosa could hit two home runs in a game, I would say that it's just as likely that English star David Beckham could surprise everyone and score a hat trick with his recently healed broken left foot. That's a reason I would watch. Also, you question the matchups and their predictability. Would anyone have guessed that the U.S. would beat World Cup favorite Portugal? And that not only would they beat them, but they would score the first three goals of the game? I certainly wouldn't have, but that's what makes it exciting. Also, how can you doubt the excitement of tomorrow's England vs. Argentina matchup? There are more strings attached to this game than a puppet in a puppet show. With the Falkland/Malvinas Island War as inspiration for plenty of patriotism and the "Hand of God" goal of the 1986 World Cup as fire for the fight, I would wager that there is nothing that could get you more on the edge of your seat than a game of this level.
Your next argument is that the game can not change on a dime. I would say that this is exactly opposite of the truth. Soccer, more than any other American sport, has the ability to change momentum. With football, possession is guaranteed for at least four downs with the only chance at a change of possession lying in a fumble or interception. Baseball is even worse. Baseball moves at the pace of molasses and possession is controlled completely. Soccer shifts back and forth continuously. I would say that soccer more than any other sport, has uncertainty.
You then bring up how low scoring games are boring and unexciting. I would point out to you that a score of 21-14 in football is still 3-2 multiplied. It is no different than a score of 3-2 in soccer. Perhaps you have forgotten that. Also, baseball games aren't exactly paradigms of high scoring intensity. Most baseball games I see are in the area of 5-2 or something like that. This isn't all that different than a soccer score, and soccer doesn't stop for two minutes between kicks like pitchers do in baseball between deliveries. You also question how almost scoring can be exciting. How often does a possession in basketball actually produce a score? Not even half the time. Same with football, but with worse odds. American sports have nothing on soccer. The rest of the world knows this, when will America?
Having said that, I ask you to take another look at soccer and see if you can see what the rest of the world sees. Soccer is one of the most exciting sports out there. Take another look. Thank you for writing.
Here's a thought for all those who have been wondering about whatever happened to that whole let's-get-bin Laden-thing. From Eric Alterman on MSNBC:
"Who is Bin Laden’s Dick Cheney? That’s the man we need to kill."
How profound. If only that were the case. Fortunately, I think Al-Qaeda actually does put all it's eggs in one crazy, psycho, bin Laden basket. Now we just have to find the guy. It seems that whole pursue/pervail thing has fallen off the radar screen for the short term memory of today's mainstream media. But, back to the point, isn't it a shame that our executive branch is being run behind smoke and mirrors with the uncomfortable glare of Cheney to assure us that the next terrorist attack is going to be sometime in the future, somewhere in the world, against some people, with some sort of device, or not, and we should all bow down to the amazing leadership that our puppet leader is providing. How dare we speak against the Kin... I mean, President.
Boo to the general acceptance that our presidential leadership is a not so secret sham. But of course, boo even more for the empty-handed pursue/purvail docrine of September 20.
I've added some new links that I have found that I think are interesting and useful. I especially like The American Times. The other new ones are The American Prospect, InstaPundit, Live from the WTC (I know, a provocative title, but it's got good stuff), and Matt Welch. As you will find out, these aren't your mainstream newspapers and traditional sources, but instead, other web based sites that I think are just as worthy and possibly more honest and opinionated than the straight news networks and established hard copies. Enjoy.
The World Cup is awesome. Plain and simple. The U.S. beat Portugal, a favorite to be in the final, 3-2 yesterday. With this win, the U.S. is in quality position to move on to the round of 16. This is a feat that hopefully will prove to the apathetic American public that soccer, or football as the rest of the world calls it, is an exciting and special sport. It is a sport that shows the possiblities of human interaction. It is a sport of tremendous sportsmanship. When an injured player goes down, the opposing team will purposely give up possession by kicking the ball out of bounds in order to get the injured player treatment. No other sport that I know of has displays of that level of sportsmanship. Also, the tournament itself is downright amazing. Maybe it's just international sporting events in general, but there's something about the World Cup that is amazing in its international feel. To watch a game where a former French colony, Senegal, beats its former imperial power, France, the defending World Cup champion, in a game being refereed by a South American official, being played in South Korea, and being broadcast on television by a Mexican network... well, that's something that doesn't happen every day. There's something about the international feel of this, the largest sporting event in the world, that makes all the conflict and strife of the world seem bareable and managable. When nations from around the world can come together to strive for a common goal, peace in real international relations doesn't seem quite so impossible.
The World Cup is truely amazing. Cheer for the U.S., cheer for your ancestral homeland, or just cheer for the underdog. Either way, be a part of this truely remarkable event, for it is a precursor for what is possible for this troubled world.
Here's a good article that goes along with what I was saying a few days ago about how what is needed is not more agencies and more freedom for government investigations, but instead, effective crime-fighting and constitutional searches into those activities that threaten America. The FBI doesn't need new counter-terrorism powers, it needs to use what it has effectively. "Rather than inviting the F.B.I. to indulge in political spying and reach conclusions of guilt by association, we should demand that the bureau fight crime, not political dissent." This couldn't be more correct. The government needs to stop using September 11 as an excuse for broader and more egregious insurgencies into civil liberties. It needs, instead, to see September 11 as an opportunity to be an effective crime fighter and crime preventer. A paranoid FBI is the worst thing that can come from this tragedy. The FBI shouldn't take its lack of foresight out on the citizens of America, it should learn how to use what it has in a useful way that will prevent such events in the future. "[T]he mistakes that kept the F.B.I. from picking up on hints of the violence to come arose from a failure of vision, not an absence of legal authority. The agency needs to focus on terrorist crime; it doesn't need to indulge in wasteful and undemocratic monitoring of legitimate political and religious activity." The FBI needs to be a friend of freedom and a protector of it, not the enemy of personal liberty.