Next week's big Euro 2012 games will be in Poland and Ukraine, notorious for violence and racism at their stadiums.
Supporters of a Ukrainian soccer team wave a Nazi flag at a 2007 match against an opposing squad. (Reuters).
What kind of sports event is it when the star athletes are telling fans not to go? Monday, a special report from BBC1's Panorama explored the racism in the soccer cultures of Poland and Ukraine, where the Euro 2012 soccer tournament will be held next week. The program showed Polish and Ukrainian fans beating up Asian fans and slurring opposing teams as "Jews."
The full 30-minute report is full of shocking moments. In Ukraine, there's one scene showing fans making monkey sounds at black players. There's also one where a white supremacist group admits it embraces "some aspects" of Nazism, like getting rid of non-Ukrainians. The group also happens to train its members in knife fighting. Polish slogans include "Jews to the gas" or "death to hooknoses."
When the BBC reporter showed retired English soccer player Sol Campbell some of the footage, he was horrified. When asked whether non-white fans should travel to Euro 2012, Campbell, who is black, was adamant: absolutely not, "because you could end up coming back in a coffin."
You can probably guess the next step in this news cycle: Tuesday, Poland and Ukraine said they would like it made very clear that they don't have a racism problem, thank you very much. "Nobody who comes to Poland will be in any danger because of his race," said the Polish prime minister. "This is not our custom, as is not pointing out similar incidents in other countries, although we know they take place. In Poland, they're a rarity." Ukrainian players and the Ukrainian ministry spokesman made similar comments.
Whom to believe? Yes, the BBC team could have spent three years finding instances of racism and pasting them together selectively. But is that really likely? The report wasn't quite as one-sided as Poland's interior minister is making it out to be -- it went inside a sort of anti-racist patrol class as well. Admittedly, given the historical East-West tension in Europe, a few more numbers wouldn't have hurt, and might have headed off the objectivity debate. But if things are even half as bad as the report makes out, why are these countries allowed to host the international competition?
Nothing excuses the disgusting words and actions shown in the BBC video, or, frankly, the denials and passive-aggressive blame-shifting from the host countries. ("There's racism other places, too!" is one of the lamest excuses there is.)
The immediate problem for Euro 2012, though, isn't Poland's or the Ukraine's messed up ethnic dynamics, or even their white supremacy groups' screwy rewriting of World War II history (though those are, in fact, problems). The issue is what to do about a competition that plausibly puts fans who just came in to watch a sports game at risk for racial targeting.
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which awarded the competition to the host countries, has a response to the racism charges boils that down to this: insofar as there is a trend of racial violence in these countries, Euro 2012 is an "opportunity to address" those problems. Soccer administration has its own internal problems, allegations of corruption at FIFA, the global rather than European umbrella organization, among them. That aside, though, it does seem like this do-gooder theory of hosting choices is part of a larger trend over the last decade, one not restricted just to European soccer.*
The problem with international sporting committees acting like international development non-profits, though, is obvious: a goal of helping out a struggling country by giving it a massive sporting competition can directly conflict with the goal of successfully producing said sporting competition. With the cop-out response saying referees can always suspend a game, and suggesting that Euro 2012 will help Poland and Ukraine deal with their issues, UEFA is essentially saying that "addressing" racism in Poland and Ukraine is more important than making sure fans don't get hurt.
Sure, addressing racism is important, but does anyone really think UEFA is the organization to do it?
It all comes down to how much you buy the idea that sports is fundamentally about role models, bringing people together, shining a light into darkness, that sort of thing. And sports can be about that. But to assume they are always about that is to ignore drugging, blood doping, age cheating, race-baiting (take the recent case with John Terry in England), ice fights, and many more incidents where competition crowds out Kumbaya.
If there are incidents now, obviously UEFA's going to look pretty bad. As for Poland and Ukraine, if racism really is a problem in the soccer cultures there, would such an incident really act as more of a wake-up call than an internationally distributed BBC report? If this report is accurate, now is the time to reconsider mixing hosting decisions with activism.
* -Correction, June 2: This article originally misstated the organization responsible for Euro 2012 as FIFA, rather than European confederation UEFA. We regret the error.
Why Nixon's former lawyer John Dean worries Trump could be one of the most corrupt presidents ever—and get away with it
Sometime early last fall, John Dean says he began having nightmares about a Trump presidency. He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
“Trump’s wall is already under construction,” Wole Soyinka says. “Walls are built in the mind.”
Wole Soyinka, the first African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, once fled to the United States from Nigeria. Now the fickle winds of politics are pushing him in the opposite direction.
Back in the 1960s, jailed for alleged associations with rebels amid the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, Soyinka composed protest poems on toilet paper in solitary confinement. “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny,” Soyinka wrote in the collection of prison notes he later published. In the 1990s, the Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha confiscated Soyinka’s passport after the playwright urged Nigerians to stop paying taxes in defiance of military rule in the country. Soyinka managed to sneak out of his homeland and take refuge in the United States—a period he described to me as his “political sabbatical, because I never accepted, really, that I was in exile.”Abacha sentenced Soyinka to death in absentia. Soyinka’s crime was said to be treason.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
In its fourth season the BBC show turned its main character into a superhero, and lost everything that made it special in the process.
This story contains spoilers through the most recent episode of Sherlock.
Christopher Nolan is a truly brilliant British creative talent, which makes it all the more ironic that his work seems to have (at least temporarily) unmoored two of that nation’s greatest fictional heroes. In dampening the palette and tone of superhero movies so spectacularly with his trilogy of Batman movies, Nolan created a domino effect that stretched all the way across the ocean, transforming James Bond from a louche, debonair intelligence agent into a tortured, self-medicating hitman, compelled by the death of his parents to hunt down a series of increasingly psychopathic villains. And, as “The Final Problem” revealed on Sunday, Nolan’s influence has similarly transformed Sherlock. A wry detective drama with a twist has turned into a superhero origin story, complete with agonizing childhood trauma, terrifying antagonists with improbable powers, and a final showdown in an ancestral home burned to the ground.
The Michigan billionaire’s confirmation hearing was heavy on partisanship and light on substance.
Donald Trump advocated on the campaign trail for a $20 billion federal school-voucher program. But during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday evening, Betsy DeVos, the president-elect’s choice to lead the U.S. Education Department, said school choice should be a state decision. She framed school choice as a right for students and families. And she said during the hearing that she was committed to strengthening public education for all students.
While the Michigan billionaire has backed charter schools and vouchers, which let families use public money to pay for private schools, DeVos would not, she said, try to force states to embrace school choice. But a number of organizations, largely Democratic, that had raised questions about DeVos’s commitment to expanding charters and vouchers and about her family’s financial holdings and religious causes were unlikely to find much more of the hearing reassuring.
Surfing the app on a trip back home can be a way of regressing, or imagining what life would be like if you never left.
My parents moved out of my hometown almost as soon as I left for college, and therefore I am obsessed with the idea of other people’s hometowns. Over any major holiday or break from a work schedule, hometowns become a sort of time travel, a way for people who have made adult lives elsewhere to return to their origin story.
Going home for the holidays can act as a kind of regression. Most of us know people, whether our friends, our partner, even our own parents, who suddenly turn into their teen or pre-teen self once they step foot in the house where they grew up. My mom used to say that whenever my dad got within 50 miles of his mom’s house, he suddenly became a teenage boy. Our hometowns become a kind of permission and hideaway, a place where we don’t have to be ourselves, where our actions don’t count and we get to be briefly less visible than we are in the adult homes we’ve made for ourselves elsewhere, the places where we expect ourselves to take action and achieve things and move upward through each day. For many of us, hometowns allow the luxury of a brief period of stasis, a rare few days of doing nothing.
Betsy DeVos, the nominee for education secretary, and Ryan Zinke, the nominee for interior secretary, will testify on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
Senate confirmation hearings continue this week, as Donald Trump’s inauguration approaches.
On Tuesday, Montana Representative Ryan Zinke, the nominee for interior secretary, will testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. And the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hear from Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Education.
We’ll bring you the latest updates from Capitol Hill as events unfold. Also see our continuing coverage:
White noise isn’t the only sonic hue—pink, blue, gray, and brown all affect listeners in different ways.
Most people are familiar with white noise, that static sound of an air conditioner that lulls us to sleep by drowning out any background noise.
Except technically, the whirl of a fan or hum of the AC isn’t white noise at all. Many of the sounds we associate with white noise are actually pink noise, or brown, or green, or blue. In audio engineering, there’s a whole rainbow of noise colors, each with its own unique properties, that are used to produce music, help relaxation, and describe natural rhythms like the human heartbeat. If you know what to look for, you can start to notice the colors of the noise that make up the soundscape around us.
If you decompose a sound wave, you can break it down into two fundamental characteristics: frequency, which is how fast the waveform is vibrating per second (one hertz is one vibration per second), and amplitude (sometimes measured as “power”), or the size of the waves. The noise types are named for a loose analogy to the colors of light: White noise, for example, contains all the audible frequencies, just like white light contains all the frequencies in the visible range.
The president-elect has yet to name a secretary of agriculture, a delay that has caused controversy and illustrated the difficulties governing will pose.
Three days before Donald Trump is to be inaugurated as America’s new president, just one Cabinet agency lacks a nominee to lead it: the Department of Agriculture.
The pick has become mired in politics and drama, unsettling the agriculture industry and potentially imperiling Trump’s standing with some of his most ardent supporters—the residents of rural America. In the process, it has become a case study in the difficulty Trump will face as he begins to govern, as his sweeping promises and catchy slogans run up against competing interests.
Already, the delay in picking an agriculture secretary has caused alarm. “The lack of quick and decisive action on picking a new Secretary of Agriculture by the Trump administration has given rise to charges that agriculture is not a high priority for the incoming president,” columnist Gary Truitt wrote recently in Hoosier Ag Today. “While this may or may not be true, the fact that this was the last cabinet post to be filled has raised concerns and will produce some challenges for the new nominee.”
Is there room in the movement for people who morally object to abortion?
Updated on Monday, January 16 at 4:05 p.m.
Pro-life women are headed to D.C. Yes, they’ll turn out for the annual March for Life, which is coming up on January 27. But one week earlier, as many as a few hundred pro-lifers are planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, which has been billed as feminist counterprogramming to the inauguration.
With organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring the event, pro-life marchers have found themselves in a somewhat awkward position. What’s their place at an event that claims to speak for all women, but has aligned itself with pro-choice groups? With roughly a week to go before the march, organizers also released a set of “unity principles,” and one of them is “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”