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.
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface so-called "nail houses."
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface of so-called "nail houses." These properties, standing alone amid the ruins of other buildings, belong to owners who have stood their ground and resisted demolition. Defiant property owners say the compensation being offered is too low. Some of them have remained in their homes for years as their court cases drag on and new construction continues all around them. A few homeowners have won their fights, but most have lost. Meanwhile, these nail houses have become powerful symbols of resistance against the world's fastest-growing major economy.
This wasn’t terribly surprising. When Streep was asked, last year, in the course of promoting her extremely feminist film Suffragette, whether she is herself a feminist, the actor replied that, no, she isn’t. Instead: “I am a humanist,” she said. “I am for nice, easy balance.”
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
Most people know how to help someone with a cut or a scrape. But what about a panic attack?
Here’s a thought experiment: You’re walking down the street with a friend when your companion falls and gashes her leg on the concrete. It’s bleeding; she’s in pain. It’s clear she’s going to need stitches. What do you do?
This one isn’t exactly a head-scratcher. You'd probably attempt to offer some sort of first-aid assistance until the bleeding stopped, or until she could get to medical help. Maybe you happen to have a Band-Aid on you, or a tissue to help her clean the wound, or a water bottle she can use to rinse it off. Maybe you pick her up and help her hobble towards transportation, or take her where she needs to go.
Here’s a harder one: What if, instead of an injured leg, that same friend has a panic attack?
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.