Archive - Sep 2006
From an article of the same title (sub-titled Why does the United States keep losing in international sports?) by Robert Weintraub on slate.com:
In the wee hours of Friday morning, another American basketball team met its international Waterloo, losing to Greece in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship. This squad was supposed to be a corrective to prior failures, most notably a bronze in the 2004 Olympics and a humbling sixth at the 2002 Worlds. Yet once again, despite a more strategically built team and the Madison Avenue-minted genius of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, the United States once again came up shy.
Cue the recriminations. According to the newspaper columnists and television pundits, the Americans lost because they relied too much on individual talent at the expense of team play. They didn't pay attention to fundamentals and defense. They looked to make dunks and no-look passes instead of hustling for loose balls and setting screens. They were felled by hubrisitic arrogance.
Seems like we've been here before, very recently. Two months ago, the U.S. flamed out of the World Cup under a hailstorm of criticism. But strangely enough, the American soccer team was criticized for the exact opposite reasons. The players didn't have enough flair. They were fundamentally sound but lacking in creativity and athleticism. The U.S. team was faceless, artless, and empty. They're "trained monkeys" who are "incapable of having an original or ad-libbed thought on a soccer pitch."
Basketball and soccer aren't all that different, except in scoring rates. Both sports prize fast, fluid athletes who can think on their feet. Teamwork usually trumps individuality. So, why the contradictory excuses for America's bad showings in international play?
The U.S. basketball team lost because it ran into an extremely hot Greek team in a one-and-done game...
The single biggest reason for the loss was the Americans' failure to defend the high pick-and-roll. Greece ran this simple play on almost every possession after the first quarter for layup after layup. The United States' lapses against the pick-and-roll don't have anything to do with the me-first nature of the American player, though. This was a deficiency in scoutingâ€”Coach K and his staff should have been better prepared for Greece's offense. But more than anything, team defense depends on reps and familiarity, something this hastily assembled team didn't have. By the time the 2008 Olympics roll around, the U.S. defense won't be a sieve.
Now, let's look at the U.S. soccer team. As I wrote in June, the Americans' failings in the World Cup had more to do with our guys failing to challenge themselves in the top European leagues than with the team's supposed deficit in creativity.
From an article of the same title by Steven Waldman on beliefnet:
When U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris said separation of church and state is "a lie," many critics figured this was a characteristic Harris gaffe--another sign she was out of the mainstream. Actually, she was reflecting what has become a common view in religious conservative circles--that the idea of separation of church and state was concocted by 20th-century courts, not the Founding Fathers...
Conservative activists point out that the words "separation of church and state" appear nowhere in the Constitution--and they're right about that. The phrase came from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to a group of Connecticut Baptists in which he praised the First Amendment's "wall between church and state." When the Supreme Court quoted that letter in a key church-state ruling in 1947, the "wall" became the dominant metaphor.
While political activists have lately pushed the more combative rhetoric, serious conservative scholars have long argued that the Founders were mostly attempting to block the creation of official state religions when, in the First Amendment, they wrote that Congress could not make laws "respecting an establishment of religion." Therefore, wrote former Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, "there is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the Framers intended to build the 'wall of separation.'" It's also true that when the First Amendment was approved, lawmakers assumed it would only apply to the federal government, allowing the states wide latitude in mixing church and state. (It was the 14th Amendment, passed after the civil war, that applied freedom of religion to the states)...
But there's one important difference between mainstream conservative legal scholars and the Christian political activists. Most conservative scholars argue that the Constitution can accommodate a great deal of state support for religion, as long as the government avoids favoring one faith over another. Many modern Christian activists have argued that the U.S. is "a Christian nation" and that the Founders intended not only religion in general, but Christianity specifically...
Christian activists usually make the argument by casting the Founders as orthodox Christians, except when it comes to Jefferson, who was downright hostile to organized Christianity.
From an article of the same title on beliefnet by Daniel Burke of the Religion News Service:
On the way to the church picnic, some Christians may not be sidestepping one of the seven deadly sins: gluttony.
A new study surmises that among Christians in the U.S. -- particularly Baptists, Pentecostals and Catholics -- there is a significant relationship between being religious and being obese.
The study tracked about 2,800 religious Americans of various denominations for eight years. Baptists, according to the study, were most likely to be obese, followed by Pentecostals, Catholics, Methodists and members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Denominations that stress physical health, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventists, show low levels of obesity, according to the study. There is also a very low percentage of obese Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in the U.S., the study found.
Because religion is often associated with positive health factors, such as lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and less depression, the results of the study were somewhat surprising, said Purdue University sociology professor Kenneth E. Ferraro, a leader of the research.
In an interesting article of the same title on slate.com, Fred Kaplan examines
...the spectacle of our leaders wrapping themselves in [9/11's] legacy as if it were some tattered shroud that sanctifies their own catastrophic mistakes and demonizes all their critics.
Most interesting to me was Kaplan's response to Rumsfeld's fourth rhetorical question:
"And can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that Americaâ€”not the enemyâ€”is the real source of the world's trouble?"
This is another red herring. Few Americans, and virtually no contenders in American politics, hold this view. However, a lot of people in other countriesâ€”including countries that are, or should be, our alliesâ€”do hold this view. Look at the Pew Research Center's most recent "global attitudes survey," released this past June. In only four of the 15 nations surveyed (Britain, India, Japan, and Nigeria) did a majority of citizens have a favorable view of the United States. In six countries (Spain, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan), Iran had a higher rating than did the United States. (In one more, Russia, the two countries' ratings were tied.) Most remarkable, in all but one country (Germany), America's presence in Iraq was seen as a bigger danger to world peace than either Iran or North Korea.
These views are widespreadâ€”and, by the way, they've grown steadily more prominent in the past few yearsâ€”not because of "the media" or "blame-America-first" liberals, nor because Iran and North Korea have more skillful propagandists (or, if they do, it's time for Condoleezza Rice to hire a better public-diplomacy staff). No, a country's global image is usually formed not by what its leaders say but rather by what they do.
If the war on terror is "a battle for the future of civilization," as Cheney claimed in his speech (or even if it's merely a serious struggle), and if the United States needs allies to wage it, the president and his team would better spend their time luring allies than beating up on journalists and Democrats. If Rumsfeld is serious, he should revisit the questions he asked back in October 2003. Thoseâ€”not the cleverly phrased debaters' points he muttered this past Mondayâ€”really are some "central questions of our time."