Innocents abroad

By James Fallows

Americans' faith that they can do anything, that they won't be bogged down by the frustrations that stymie lesser peoples, is one of their (our) greatest attributes. And one of the most dangerous.

The French got bogged down in Vietnam? No problem, we'll do it right. The Brits in Iraq? The Soviets (and Brits) in Afghanistan? Step aside, and we'll show you how it's done.

Thus this note in today's NYT from a writer who is determined to keep up her running discipline while in Beijing for the Olympics:

Yes, I'm going. I'll be part of the New York Times reporting team. And yes, I intend to run when I'm in China. I'll even have a training schedule and will e-mail my results to [her coach] and talk to him via Skype.

One running partner, if our plans work out, will be Mary Wittenberg, president of New York Road Runners. She hopes to run for an hour at least every other day, if not more often.

"I'm going in there optimistic," she said. "How bad can it be?"

Hooo boy. ("How bad can it be?," Donald Rumsfeld asked as he approved the stripped-down troop plans for Iraq. "How bad can it be?" asked Robert S. McNamara...)

Before coming here two years ago, I had been a pretty serious runner for many decades in the past. Never broke three hours in the Boston or Marine Corps marathons, but came close. (3:02, but who's counting.) Once insanely took part in a 24-hour relay marathon, in which teams of ten people took turns running a mile each on a track, around the clock -- and our goal was to average under 5:15 per mile over the whole period, though that was long ago.

Yet I have not found it sensible to run outside, even one time, in Shanghai or Beijing. Of course there were days when I could have done so. But on average??? That's what the indoor gym is for, with its illusion of filtered air.

Good luck to the NYT running team, and to the Olympics as a whole. And may America preserve the good parts of its touching "how bad can it be?" creed.
 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2008/08/innocents-abroad/8635/