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.
The First Lady took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention, and united a divided hall.
Most convention speeches are forgotten almost before they’re finished. But tonight in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama delivered a speech that will be replayed, quoted, and anthologized for years. It was as pure a piece of political oratory as this campaign has offered, and instantly entered the pantheon of great convention speeches.
Obama stepped out onto a stage in front of a divided party, including delegates who had booed almost every mention of the presumptive nominee. And she delivered a speech that united the hall, bringing it to its feet.
She did it, moreover, her own way—forming a striking contrast with the night’s other speakers. She did it without shouting at the crowd. Without overtly slamming Republicans. Without turning explicitly negative. Her speech was laden with sharp barbs, but she delivered them calmly, sometimes wryly, biting her lower lip, hitting her cadence. It was a masterful performance.
When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.
But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.
“Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.
For the party elders, day one of the convention was about scolding the left back together.
Against a restive backdrop, the party’s top lieutenants were forced into the role of prime time peacemakers, tasked with encouraging Democratic unity in a party that has only lately acquiesced to tenuous detente. They did so through a combination of alarmist truth telling—borne from the reality of a Trump-Clinton matchup that has lately gotten tighter—and cold-water scolding about party division—driven equally by frustration and exhaustion.
The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.
A few months ago, I presented the following scenario to my junior English students: Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you or should you not turn him or her into the police?
The class immediately erupted with commentary. It was obvious, they said, that loyalty was paramount—not a single student said they’d “snitch.” They were unequivocally unconcerned about who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario. This troubled me.
This discussion was part of an introduction to an essay assignment about whether Americans should pay more for ethically produced food. We continued discussing other dilemmas, and the kids were more engaged that they’d been in weeks, grappling with big questions about values, character, and right versus wrong as I attempted to expand their thinking about who and what is affected—and why it matters—by their caloric choices.
The Democratic chairwoman had few supporters—but clung to her post for years, abetted by the indifference of the White House.
PHILADELPHIA—As Debbie Wasserman Schultz made her unceremonious exit as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, what was most remarkable was what you didn’t hear: practically anybody coming to her defense.
The Florida congresswoman did not go quietly. She reportedly resisted stepping down, and blamed subordinates for the content of the leaked emails that were released Friday, which clearly showed the committee’s posture of neutrality in the Democratic primary to have been a hollow pretense, just as Bernie Sanders and his supporters long contended. She finally relinquished the convention gavel only after receiving three days of strong-arming, a ceremonial position in the Clinton campaign, and a raucous round of boos at a convention breakfast.
Psychologists have long debated how flexible someone’s “true” self is.
Almost everyone has something they want to change about their personality. In 2014, a study that traced people’s goals for personality change found that the vast majority of its subjects wanted to be more extraverted, agreeable, emotionally stable, and open to new experiences. A whopping 97 percent said they wished they were more conscientious.
These desires appeared to be rooted in dissatisfaction. People wanted to become more extraverted if they weren’t happy with their sex lives, hobbies, or friendships. They wanted to become more conscientious if they were displeased with their finances or schoolwork. The findings reflect the social psychologist Roy Baumeister’s notion of “crystallization of discontent”: Once people begin to recognize larger patterns of shortcomings in their lives, he contends, they may reshuffle their core values and priorities to justify improving things.
Two new novels ponder the still-urgent question of what could have compelled young women to do such terrible things.
The most fascinating part of the Manson story has always been the girls.
Not the man who cobbled together bits of hippie philosophy, Scientology and How to Win Friends and Influence People to gather followers who’d do his bidding and help make him a star (and when that didn’t work out, kill people to try to start a race war). The ones willing and vulnerable enough to be gathered. Who wanted a community to belong to.
Even now, no one knows whether Charles Manson believed his own insane manifesto, or was just using it as a tool to get what he wanted. But the girls believed. Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins—they believed. They belonged. And then, on two infamous evenings in 1969, they helped kill seven people.
Stock-market crashes, terrorist attacks, and the dark side of “newsworthy” stories
Man bites dog. It is one of the oldest cliches in journalism, an acknowledgement of the idea that ordinary events are not newsworthy, whereas oddities, like a puppy-nibbling adult, deserve disproportionate coverage.
The rule is straightforward, but its implications are subtle. If journalists are encouraged to report extreme events, they guide both elite and public attitudes, leading many people, including experts, to feel like extreme events are more common than they actually are. By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.
Take finance, for example. Professional investors are fretting about the possibility of a massive stock-market crash, on par with 1987’s Black Monday. The statistical odds that such an event will occur within the next six months are about 1-in-60, according to historical data from 1929 to 1988. But when surveys between 1989 and 2015 asked investors to estimate the odds of such a crash in the coming months, the typical response was 1-in-10.
Physicists can’t agree on whether the flow of future to past is real or a mental construct.
Einstein once described his friend Michele Besso as “the best sounding board in Europe” for scientific ideas. They attended university together in Zurich; later they were colleagues at the patent office in Bern. When Besso died in the spring of 1955, Einstein—knowing that his own time was also running out—wrote a now-famous letter to Besso’s family. “Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,” Einstein wrote of his friend’s passing. “That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Einstein’s statement was not merely an attempt at consolation. Many physicists argue that Einstein’s position is implied by the two pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now”—a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe”—a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion.