February 18, 2006

It seems that the Winter Olympics isn't quite as bad as a GOP convention, here.

Obviously, it should not be that surprising that there are only a handful of black athletes participating in the Winter Olympics, and that the reason has almost nothing to do with racism, at least as that word is typically defined. The sports being spotlighted in Turin are, for the most part, activities that originated in Scandanavia, Finland, and the Alps; had Austria or Norway possessed colonial empires in Africa, rather than Britain or France, we would be seeing more than our fair share of Nigerian speedskaters* and Kenyan cross-country skiiers in these Olympics. Sports, like other cultural activities, generally reflect the socio-political environment, and since the period in world history that first featured the growth of global empires was also the period in which athletic competition was first being developed (the mid-Nineteenth Century), African nations play soccer, not ice hockey.

How dominant a role colonialism plays can be seen where you look at those few countries in which soccer is not the predominant national sport. Those nations can be put into two camps: countries that were part of the British empire, that picked up another pastime of that country, such as rugby (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) or cricket (India, Pakistan and the islands of the Caribbean), or countries that were part of the American sphere of influence, which favored baseball. Almost without exception, every country in which baseball is the most popular sport was occupied, at one time or another, by the U.S. military: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Japan, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, the Phillipines, etc. America was locked out of having an African empire, and South and Central America were part of European empires that predated the existence of the U.S., so our sports (which were themselved descendents of British sports) have had to play catch-up elsewhere, while soccer, rugby and cricket, so popular everywhere else, are, at best, marginal pastimes here. And just as the West used the Third World as little more than trading outposts where we could plunder their natural resources for the benefit of our economy, so too are the athletes of Africa and Central America used today as little more than raw material for soccer and baseball teams in the Home Countries.

In fact, as the world's only superpower, the sport Americans have had the most success exporting in recent years isn't baseball or our own version of football, it's basketball. Like soccer (and unlike baseball or football), basketball is inexpensive, can be practiced individually, and is easy to follow. For the most part, the rules of both sports can be written onto the back of an envelope. Even the physical skills required in both sports are the same: both feature almost constant running by the participants, and movement by players without the ball is of paramount strategic importance. With the exception of Lithuania, the top countries in basketball are also soccer powers, including the Gold and Silver medalists from Athens, Argentina and Italy (as well as, I should point out, the U.S.).

Hence, the games of the Winter Olympiad are largely a Eurasian phenemonum. The leading countries in most of the sports are those in which the activity (skiing, skating, etc.) is tied into the culture, where the athletes take up the sport at an early age, and where, unlike the U.S., there is no class barrier connected to the activity (such as skiing). Historically, those countries do not have a significant immigrant population from Africa, so the competitors are, for the most part, white. And, as I mentioned earlier, these sports originated in countries that did not have colonial empires, so there is no competition from African athletes.

And of course, there isn't a lot of snow in Africa, either.

*A bit of a stretch, but, assuming that a hypothetical Norwegian empire could have existed, it wouldn't be hard to imagine that they would have also had the technology and wherewithal to build ice rinks in sub-Saharan Africa.

February 16, 2006

Apparently pointing out either the 1) lack of black athletes in the Winter Olympics, or 2) the lilly-white nature of the Republican Party, is an example of lib'rul media bias. Whatever....

February 15, 2006

Open the Fuddgates: Just when I think that Cheneyquiddick might be the type of thing that boomerangs badly on Democrats, particularly those in the blogosphere who seem to be milking this for all its worth (something about how common hunting accidents are, and collective Red State empathy concerning same), along come tidbits like this. The "I had only one beer, officer" excuse is the type of thing that you might say to the CHP after getting pulled over at two in the morning, and it usually doesn't get you off the hook there, either. Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass how long it took for the Veep to inform the media; it's the 18-hour stonewalling of the local constables that's the issue, and nothing Cheney can say now is going to remove the stink.
They also ran...No Olympics viewing can be complete without at least a daily visit to this blog, devoted to the last-place finishers in every event.

February 14, 2006

"...pay tribute to old Harry" A good Molly Ivins piece, on the other man in Elmerfuddgate, and the lessons we can draw about a man who can't shoot straight.

February 13, 2006

The Virtue of Principles: Digby, again, gets it right:
The president's approval rating is stuck at around 40% and I think it's pretty clear that it isn't the reporting in the mainstream media or by the "reasonable" Democrats at the New Republican that brought that about. If left up to them the Republicans would be coasting to another easy re-election.

I don't say this because I think that liberal blogs are taking over the world and have changed the face of politics as we know it. I say it because I know that without us there would have been virtually no critical voices during the long period between 2001 and the presidential primary campaign during 2003. We were it. The media were overt, enthusiastic Bush boosters for well over two years and created an environment in which Democratic dissent (never welcome) was non-existent to the average American viewer. In fact, it took Bush's approval rating falling to below 40% before they would admit that he was in trouble.

I believe that if it had not been for the constant underground drumbeat from the fever swamps over the past five years, when the incompetence, malfeasance and corruption finally hit critical mass last summer with the bad news from Iraq, oil prices and Katrina, Bush would not have sunk as precipitously as he did and stayed there. It literally took two catasprophes of epic proportions to break the media from its narrative of Bush's powerful leadership. And this after two extremely close elections ---- and the lack of any WMD in Iraq.
I would add that one of the most potent, albeit frustrating, aspects of the lefty blogosphere is it's tenacity in the area of media criticism. I say frustrating, because it is often a distraction we can ill afford when it comes to focusing our efforts on something that has true, long-term importance; obsessing about the wording of a Washington Post ombudsman's article seems pretty trivial when compared with something like, say, the Alito nomination (whose endorsement by the Senate was clinched the same week).

But the passion, the intensity that goes into leading such airheadish campaigns does have a very important purpose: it changes the terms of the debate, something that is of paramount importance when the electoral numbers are against you. Liberals have been losing elections for decades in America (the only time we win is when there is a national calamity or event that has discredited the party in power, such as the Great Depression or the Dred Scott decision), so crafting a winning message for national elections every 2-4 years can't be a serious priority for those of us on the sidelines. Mau-mauing the media, putting the fear of God into the hearts of opinion-crafters, making pundits believe that if they simply regurgitate Rove's spinpoints, they are going to receive a world of hurtin', now that's a strategy that anyone who is locked out of power can follow without having to compromise principles.

And as I've said before, we don't need to win every election, or even most elections, for our ideas to prevail. I wasn't put on this planet to serve the Democratic Party, and I'd desert it an instant if I ever thought it wasn't anything more than GOP-lite. Our blogosphere gives us that option, an ability to create a politics that doesn't rely on winning elections, where even those of us in the minority can quash the policy prescriptions of the majority party (read, Social Security "reform"). You don't need 50 Senators when the other side is terrified of you could do to them if you don't get what you want.

Digby concludes:
I see that the press does not know what to make of this. And I see that many Joementum Democrats don't get it either. They remain convinced that the country will wake up one day and see that our arguments are superior. They are wrong. This political era will be remembered for its brutal partisanship and sophisticated media manipulation in a 50/50 political environment. Democrats have been at a huge disadvantage because of the Republican message infrastructure and the strange servility of the mainstream press. So, we are pushing back with the one tough, aggressive partisan communication tool we have: the blogosphere.
This is called "hunting"? Still, drawing an analogy between the Cheney shooting and Chappaquiddick may be inevitable, but it's not quite apt. EMK, after all, delayed reporting the car accident, and probable death of Ms. Kopechne, to the police, not just the news media, while the Veep apparently informed the Secret Service soon after the accident (there is a dispute, though, as to when the local Sheriff's Department was notified).

Either way, the whole thing does not redound to the benefit of the Vice President....

February 12, 2006

This is the sort of thing that can only help a lawyer's practice, presuming, of course, that there's no evidence actually connecting Ken Starr to the forged affidavits in question (they were apparently prepared for another lawyer, his co-counsel, by a private dick). Knowingly filing false evidence with a court is a no-no, and will get you disbarred lickety-split, as Bill Clinton can attest, but as long as there are several degrees of separation, ruthlessness is a boon for attorneys specializing in defense practice, as Starr is currently doing. Having a rep of being someone who will do absolutely anything to get a client off the hook is great for business, particularly in the context of a death penalty case, where your adversary is typically a prosecutorial system that may have bent a few rules to put your client in his current predicament.