Commentary Magazine


Topic: soccer

France Acts, England Dithers, Over “Quenelle” Salute

Thanks in large part to the efforts of French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, Dieudonné, the anti-Semitic French propagandist who describes himself as a comedian, is finally on the defensive. Last week, as thousands of enthusiasts turned up for one of his shows in the city of Nantes–as can be seen in the photos here, many of them were hipsters making the quenelle, the inverted Nazi salute which Dieudonné devised–Valls successfully appealed to France’s Council of State to shut down the performance.

Mindful that Dieudonné has already racked up seven convictions for anti-Semitic hate speech–including one last year following a media interview in which he stated, “the biggest crooks in the world, that’s the Jews”–Valls deemed that “peddlers of hate stop at nothing and show boundless creativity … the status quo is not a solution.” As a direct result of the ban, Dieudonné has announced that he is working on a new show with completely different material (about Africa, according to Reuters) adding somewhat obliquely, “as a comedian, I have pushed the debate to the very edge of laughter.”

The parameters of this “debate” are efficiently summarized by the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, writing in the Daily Beast:

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Thanks in large part to the efforts of French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, Dieudonné, the anti-Semitic French propagandist who describes himself as a comedian, is finally on the defensive. Last week, as thousands of enthusiasts turned up for one of his shows in the city of Nantes–as can be seen in the photos here, many of them were hipsters making the quenelle, the inverted Nazi salute which Dieudonné devised–Valls successfully appealed to France’s Council of State to shut down the performance.

Mindful that Dieudonné has already racked up seven convictions for anti-Semitic hate speech–including one last year following a media interview in which he stated, “the biggest crooks in the world, that’s the Jews”–Valls deemed that “peddlers of hate stop at nothing and show boundless creativity … the status quo is not a solution.” As a direct result of the ban, Dieudonné has announced that he is working on a new show with completely different material (about Africa, according to Reuters) adding somewhat obliquely, “as a comedian, I have pushed the debate to the very edge of laughter.”

The parameters of this “debate” are efficiently summarized by the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, writing in the Daily Beast:

…the only form of anti-Semitism with legs today, the only form capable of taking in and galvanizing large numbers of people, is one that accomplishes the trifecta of anti-Zionism (Jews as supporters of an allegedly murderous state), Holocaust denial (an unscrupulous people who, in pursuit of their purposes, are capable of inventing or staging the slaughter of their own), and competitive victimhood (memory of the Holocaust as a screen to hide other massacres on the planet). Well, Dieudonné was in the process of tying these strands together. With his accomplice, French right-wing extremist Alain Soral, he was a sapper assembling his explosive device and preparing to set it off.

Inevitably, the ban has set off concerns about the limits of free speech in France. If Dieudonné were performing in America, the First Amendment would guarantee his right to be as offensive as he wishes. Yet as Lévy pointed out in an interview with the newspaper Le Parisien, available in English here, the basis for the French government’s decision was not some abstract conception of what constitutes offensive speech, but a concrete appraisal of the country’s existing laws against Holocaust denial and racist incitement–both of which have been engaged in by Dieudonné. Indeed, after years of indulging his performances, the French government finally decided, as Lévy put it, that its “duty…was to say ‘enough!’ It does not, though, logically follow that other provocateurs in France will be similarly silenced. “There isn’t a serious judge in France,” Lévy argued, “who would say: ‘Having convicted X for defiling the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, I will now convict Y for making fun of Minister Smith and Minister Jones’.”

The same determination to clearly identify the problem that Dieudonné represents appears, sadly, to be absent across the English Channel. It was not in France, but during an English soccer match that the latest scandal around Dieudonné first emerged.

On December 28, Nicolas Anelka, a French Muslim striker who plays for Premier League side West Bromwich Albion, celebrated one of the two goals he scored against West Ham United by giving the quenelle salute. It was a gesture seen by millions all over the world, including in the United States, where Premier League games are now broadcast on NBC. In the game’s immediate aftermath, representatives of the Jewish community and anti-racist activists filed complaints with the Football Association (FA) the governing body of English soccer, urging that Anelka be appropriately disciplined.

Soon after, Anelka confirmed that he would not make the quenelle again–he had, after all, already made his point–explaining that he had engaged in the gesture as a mark of solidarity with his personal friend, Dieudonné. Notably, Anelka did not apologize or express any regret over his action. The FA, meanwhile, has remained disturbingly silent. More than two weeks after Anelka gave his quenelle, the FA has made no substantive comment on the incident, save for saying that it has retained an expert to examine the issue and that an update can be expected on January 20 at the earliest.

According to Kick it Out, an organization combating racism in English soccer, the FA’s reluctance to issue an immediate condemnation has led to “criticism, particularly from community organizations, who feel deeply and rightly aggrieved by the gesture.” Now it can be pointed out, in the FA’s defense that the disciplinary process for two players who were convicted of racially abusing black opponents during the previous Premier League season also dragged on for several months. However, in one of those cases, the FA’s room for maneuver was held up because of a simultaneous criminal trial, while in the other, conflicting evidence given by witnesses meant that the Association had to proceed extremely carefully. By contrast, there is no doubt that Anelka gave the quenelle, nor that he did so in order to support a man who has arguably become Europe’s leading anti-Semite.

There will be much speculation as to why the FA has been so slow to move against Anelka. It will certainly have crossed their minds that Anelka could, as a Muslim, allege that he is being singled out for special opprobrium. It is also possible that some FA officials have been seduced by the nonsense that the quenelle is merely an “anti-establishment” gesture, and cannot therefore be explicitly tied to anti-Semitism.

If the FA has any mettle, it will understand that the evidence built up against Dieudonné in France can be used against Anelka in England. And its verdict should be as decisive as in the racism cases I mentioned earlier, in which both players were heavily fined and subjected to lengthy match bans. Anelka deserves no less.

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PETA Red Cards an Octopus

PETA is a bunch of spoilsports. They hate zoos, aquariums, and especially circuses. They don’t approve of the term “pet owner,” because, well, I’m not sure why. But now they’ve gone too far:

Free Paul.

That’s the message the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is sending to the owners of Paul the octopus, who has gained worldwide recognition for correctly picking the teams that would win matches during the World Cup.

“It is extremely thankless, imprisoning the intelligent octopus in order to use it as an oracle,” marine biologist Dr. Tanja Breining of PETA said in a release on the PETA Germany website.

Octopuses are “capable of complex thought processes, they have short- and long-term memories, use tools, learn by observation, show different personalities and are particularly sensitive to pain,” Breining said.

But how do they know Paul isn’t having the time of his life? After all, he seems to know more about soccer than most ESPN analysts:

To get two-year-old Paul to pick a winner, two boxes are lowered into his tank. Both boxes sport a competing country’s flag and have food inside. The box Paul opens first is the team predicted to win. Paul is rarely wrong and predicted Spain would beat Germany in the semi-final match Wednesday.

Enough of all that, says the PETA gang. They’d rather he died in the wild, soccerless and defenseless:

A Sea Life spokeswoman told news agency AFP that releasing Paul would be a bad idea.”Animals born in captivity are used to being fed and have no experience finding food by themselves,” she said. “It is highly likely that he would die.”

Perhaps the PETA people should be released into the wild and leave Paul to his great joy, picking soccer winners. Do you think he does midterm elections?

PETA is a bunch of spoilsports. They hate zoos, aquariums, and especially circuses. They don’t approve of the term “pet owner,” because, well, I’m not sure why. But now they’ve gone too far:

Free Paul.

That’s the message the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is sending to the owners of Paul the octopus, who has gained worldwide recognition for correctly picking the teams that would win matches during the World Cup.

“It is extremely thankless, imprisoning the intelligent octopus in order to use it as an oracle,” marine biologist Dr. Tanja Breining of PETA said in a release on the PETA Germany website.

Octopuses are “capable of complex thought processes, they have short- and long-term memories, use tools, learn by observation, show different personalities and are particularly sensitive to pain,” Breining said.

But how do they know Paul isn’t having the time of his life? After all, he seems to know more about soccer than most ESPN analysts:

To get two-year-old Paul to pick a winner, two boxes are lowered into his tank. Both boxes sport a competing country’s flag and have food inside. The box Paul opens first is the team predicted to win. Paul is rarely wrong and predicted Spain would beat Germany in the semi-final match Wednesday.

Enough of all that, says the PETA gang. They’d rather he died in the wild, soccerless and defenseless:

A Sea Life spokeswoman told news agency AFP that releasing Paul would be a bad idea.”Animals born in captivity are used to being fed and have no experience finding food by themselves,” she said. “It is highly likely that he would die.”

Perhaps the PETA people should be released into the wild and leave Paul to his great joy, picking soccer winners. Do you think he does midterm elections?

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Soccer, Nationalism, and America

The debate today has sparked two thoughts in particular about soccer and the American left. One is that, for the rest of the world, soccer is absolutely about nationalism. People have their favorite individual teams within their countries, and many fans root for professional teams across borders, especially in Europe. But there is a robust body of nationalist chants chorused by fans when teams meet for cross-border play. Cheering on the team from one’s own country is only half the fun; equally necessary is denigrating the other team or poking fun at its nation’s history. Popular chants for English fans include this one (to the tune of “Camptown Races”), when playing a German team:

Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah
Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah day

This one is chanted at French fans:

If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English
Wasn’t for the English
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts!

These are the more printable chants. Often the French and English keep it simpler and merely yell “Hastings!” and “Agincourt!” at each other. That causes American internationalists to swoon with delight, but it wouldn’t translate to the American condition at all. Yanks would feel like fools going down to Mexico and shouting “Veracruz!” at the fans there, and like imperialist heels hollering “Anzio!” or “Bulge!” — or perhaps, monstrously, “Dresden!” — at Europeans.

National and ethnic taunts are endemic to soccer fandom; see here, here, and here for a sampling. This survey leads to my second point: that the soccer phenomenon fails to resonate culturally with Americans precisely because of the exceptionalist character the left wants us to shed. Much of what drives our culture of exceptionalism is pure geography. Our continental expanse, our few and friendly neighbors, the great oceans on our flanks; these factors fostering exceptionalism are also opposite to the ones that encourage soccer to thrive. The left can’t do much about them. But while we may not have the limiting geography of Brazil, Germany, Italy, or England, the left would like us to act as if we did.

The truth, however, is that it would be uniquely offensive for Americans to roam the world’s soccer stadiums taunting other nations’ fans with our past political victories and their defeats. It would hurt because it would matter. That, ultimately, is what the American left finds distasteful. A flip side of that coin is that we don’t have nearly as much of a psychological need to channel nationalist yearnings and ethnic triumphalism into team sports.

Except, apparently, for the employees of NPR. I understand Emanuele Ottolenghi’s sentiment — that it’s good to see leftists letting their inner nationalist come out — but the problem is that the form of nationalism they approve of has a poor record of actually doing what the nation-state is good for: defending political liberty. I’ll take our American nationalism — and the goofy, sometimes autarchic sports exceptionalism that comes with it.

The debate today has sparked two thoughts in particular about soccer and the American left. One is that, for the rest of the world, soccer is absolutely about nationalism. People have their favorite individual teams within their countries, and many fans root for professional teams across borders, especially in Europe. But there is a robust body of nationalist chants chorused by fans when teams meet for cross-border play. Cheering on the team from one’s own country is only half the fun; equally necessary is denigrating the other team or poking fun at its nation’s history. Popular chants for English fans include this one (to the tune of “Camptown Races”), when playing a German team:

Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah
Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah day

This one is chanted at French fans:

If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English
Wasn’t for the English
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts!

These are the more printable chants. Often the French and English keep it simpler and merely yell “Hastings!” and “Agincourt!” at each other. That causes American internationalists to swoon with delight, but it wouldn’t translate to the American condition at all. Yanks would feel like fools going down to Mexico and shouting “Veracruz!” at the fans there, and like imperialist heels hollering “Anzio!” or “Bulge!” — or perhaps, monstrously, “Dresden!” — at Europeans.

National and ethnic taunts are endemic to soccer fandom; see here, here, and here for a sampling. This survey leads to my second point: that the soccer phenomenon fails to resonate culturally with Americans precisely because of the exceptionalist character the left wants us to shed. Much of what drives our culture of exceptionalism is pure geography. Our continental expanse, our few and friendly neighbors, the great oceans on our flanks; these factors fostering exceptionalism are also opposite to the ones that encourage soccer to thrive. The left can’t do much about them. But while we may not have the limiting geography of Brazil, Germany, Italy, or England, the left would like us to act as if we did.

The truth, however, is that it would be uniquely offensive for Americans to roam the world’s soccer stadiums taunting other nations’ fans with our past political victories and their defeats. It would hurt because it would matter. That, ultimately, is what the American left finds distasteful. A flip side of that coin is that we don’t have nearly as much of a psychological need to channel nationalist yearnings and ethnic triumphalism into team sports.

Except, apparently, for the employees of NPR. I understand Emanuele Ottolenghi’s sentiment — that it’s good to see leftists letting their inner nationalist come out — but the problem is that the form of nationalism they approve of has a poor record of actually doing what the nation-state is good for: defending political liberty. I’ll take our American nationalism — and the goofy, sometimes autarchic sports exceptionalism that comes with it.

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RE: RE: RE: Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

Although as a kid I preferred soccer to any other sport, it was because sports were mandatory, and I could see a soccer ball without wearing my glasses. Frankly, I hated all sports as a child because, as my brother put it, with more accuracy than filial devotion, I have “the hand-eye coordination of a blind snake.” I don’t think I have watched an hour of soccer (or, as my friend James Taranto calls it, “metric football”) since. Still, like the denizens of NPR, I instinctively rejoiced when the U.S. defeated Algeria. Why? Because, like them, I am an American.

Emanuele Ottolenghi writes, “Since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.”

I think their problem is their failure to understand human nature and its pervasive, ineradicable influence over human affairs. The left, lusting to social-engineer a better world, conveniently dismisses human nature as merely an artifact of the society in which people live. Change society, argued Marx and his heirs, and you change human nature; perfect society, and you perfect humankind. In other words, humans are mere tabula rasas to be written on by the all-wise liberal elite.

But that just isn’t so. Human nature, like gravity, is always in operation. No one would walk off a cliff without expecting to die, but liberals argue that aspects of human nature can be merely waved aside. Then a soccer player half a world away puts a ball into a net, and liberals give the lie to their own argument by cheering wildly — an instinctive display of the tribal loyalty they feel but refuse to recognize for ideological reasons.

War is an aspect not only of human nature but, as Reuters reported the other day, anthropoid nature, as well. The instinct to aggrandize at the expense of our neighbors lies very deep in our bones, indeed. The young of all species that play instinctively play in ways that will make them more successful as adults. (Ever see a kitten sneak up and pounce on a litter mate? He’s honing skills needed to hunt.) With human children, especially boys (pace, Title 9), that means we play war games. It’s just that today we call them team sports.

War has become far less common than it was in the days of hunting and gathering. (It is still endemic in the world’s few remaining hunting-and-gathering societies, such as in the highlands of New Guinea.) But we have sublimated the instinct into a vast new industry called professional sports. American football is probably the most obviously warlike of all sports, involving the conquest of territory, strategy, tactics, surprise, intense teamwork, etc. But all team sports — and games like chess — are basically war by other means, an outlet for the instinct to beat up our neighbors, which is far more positive (and wealth-producing) in the modern world than war itself. It’s a beautiful example — if one that developed without conscious thought — of what Sir Francis Bacon meant when he wrote that “to be commanded, nature must first be obeyed.”

We are the end product of 3.5 billion years of evolution, and that evolution has produced one of the most intensely social animals on the planet. We thus not only feel an instinctive loyalty to ourselves and our families (especially our lineal descendants and ancestors) but to our social unit as well. Nearly 10, 000 years ago, that was a small tribe of probably no more than 50. Today, the tribe of Americans numbers 300 million. But the instinct to tribal loyalty remains quite unchanged. The NPR employees just proved it.

Although as a kid I preferred soccer to any other sport, it was because sports were mandatory, and I could see a soccer ball without wearing my glasses. Frankly, I hated all sports as a child because, as my brother put it, with more accuracy than filial devotion, I have “the hand-eye coordination of a blind snake.” I don’t think I have watched an hour of soccer (or, as my friend James Taranto calls it, “metric football”) since. Still, like the denizens of NPR, I instinctively rejoiced when the U.S. defeated Algeria. Why? Because, like them, I am an American.

Emanuele Ottolenghi writes, “Since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.”

I think their problem is their failure to understand human nature and its pervasive, ineradicable influence over human affairs. The left, lusting to social-engineer a better world, conveniently dismisses human nature as merely an artifact of the society in which people live. Change society, argued Marx and his heirs, and you change human nature; perfect society, and you perfect humankind. In other words, humans are mere tabula rasas to be written on by the all-wise liberal elite.

But that just isn’t so. Human nature, like gravity, is always in operation. No one would walk off a cliff without expecting to die, but liberals argue that aspects of human nature can be merely waved aside. Then a soccer player half a world away puts a ball into a net, and liberals give the lie to their own argument by cheering wildly — an instinctive display of the tribal loyalty they feel but refuse to recognize for ideological reasons.

War is an aspect not only of human nature but, as Reuters reported the other day, anthropoid nature, as well. The instinct to aggrandize at the expense of our neighbors lies very deep in our bones, indeed. The young of all species that play instinctively play in ways that will make them more successful as adults. (Ever see a kitten sneak up and pounce on a litter mate? He’s honing skills needed to hunt.) With human children, especially boys (pace, Title 9), that means we play war games. It’s just that today we call them team sports.

War has become far less common than it was in the days of hunting and gathering. (It is still endemic in the world’s few remaining hunting-and-gathering societies, such as in the highlands of New Guinea.) But we have sublimated the instinct into a vast new industry called professional sports. American football is probably the most obviously warlike of all sports, involving the conquest of territory, strategy, tactics, surprise, intense teamwork, etc. But all team sports — and games like chess — are basically war by other means, an outlet for the instinct to beat up our neighbors, which is far more positive (and wealth-producing) in the modern world than war itself. It’s a beautiful example — if one that developed without conscious thought — of what Sir Francis Bacon meant when he wrote that “to be commanded, nature must first be obeyed.”

We are the end product of 3.5 billion years of evolution, and that evolution has produced one of the most intensely social animals on the planet. We thus not only feel an instinctive loyalty to ourselves and our families (especially our lineal descendants and ancestors) but to our social unit as well. Nearly 10, 000 years ago, that was a small tribe of probably no more than 50. Today, the tribe of Americans numbers 300 million. But the instinct to tribal loyalty remains quite unchanged. The NPR employees just proved it.

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RE: RE: Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

Emanuele, I understand your enthusiasm for the sport the rest of the world calls football, but I’m a little confused by your argument that the World Cup is good because it allows liberal NPR-types who run down their own countries the rest of the year to engage in a little meaningless nationalist chest-beating. That may provide us with an interesting irony, but it can’t be considered commendable. Confusing sports with politics is bad regardless of whether it is done by totalitarians or democrats, and that is why I insist that wrapping national sports teams in the flag is sheer humbug. While Americans are, unfortunately, as vulnerable to the appeal of sports globaloney, such as the Olympics, as anyone else, for the most part, we much prefer our own team sports to international competitions, and that is all the better. Keeping those flags and nationalist sentiments, which are so easily and wrongly manipulated by tyrannies, out of the realm of sport is much to be preferred.

If, as you suggest, the success of the U.S. team in the World Cup will discourage those who root for American decline in the world, then so much the better. Let the foes of the United States tremble, whether the reason be substantial or not. But the notion you advance, that the possibility of future American dominance in soccer (a sport in which it has lagged behind principally because most Americans don’t care much about it) will illustrate the greatness of the American character, is, while flattering to our vanity, just as much of a humbug as the idea that Eastern-bloc dominance in other sports during the Cold War illustrated the superiority of communism.

Indeed, the best example of this was the “miracle on ice,” when an underdog bunch of American college ice-hockey players defeated the mighty professionals of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. As an American hockey fan, I was thrilled by it. But the widely believed notion that it was an illustration of American greatness or, heaven help us, that it helped win the Cold War, is sheer hyperbole. It was an amazing upset — but just a hockey game. The players on the Soviet hockey team were just athletes in red uniforms, not off-duty Gulag prison guards or KGB agents being bested by all-American G.I. Joes. The outcome had nothing to do with the triumph of American values any more than the numerous defeats inflicted on American squads at other times by that magnificent Soviet team portrayed the preeminence of the totalitarian ideology of their masters in the Kremlin.

While I wish the American team well in the subsequent rounds of the World Cup and encourage our friends around the world — who care more about this game than most of us here do — to root for them if they like, let us not make the mistake of confusing sports with politics or national character. Love of country has many admirable as well as distasteful manifestations. But good or bad, it has nothing to do with soccer or any other sport.

Emanuele, I understand your enthusiasm for the sport the rest of the world calls football, but I’m a little confused by your argument that the World Cup is good because it allows liberal NPR-types who run down their own countries the rest of the year to engage in a little meaningless nationalist chest-beating. That may provide us with an interesting irony, but it can’t be considered commendable. Confusing sports with politics is bad regardless of whether it is done by totalitarians or democrats, and that is why I insist that wrapping national sports teams in the flag is sheer humbug. While Americans are, unfortunately, as vulnerable to the appeal of sports globaloney, such as the Olympics, as anyone else, for the most part, we much prefer our own team sports to international competitions, and that is all the better. Keeping those flags and nationalist sentiments, which are so easily and wrongly manipulated by tyrannies, out of the realm of sport is much to be preferred.

If, as you suggest, the success of the U.S. team in the World Cup will discourage those who root for American decline in the world, then so much the better. Let the foes of the United States tremble, whether the reason be substantial or not. But the notion you advance, that the possibility of future American dominance in soccer (a sport in which it has lagged behind principally because most Americans don’t care much about it) will illustrate the greatness of the American character, is, while flattering to our vanity, just as much of a humbug as the idea that Eastern-bloc dominance in other sports during the Cold War illustrated the superiority of communism.

Indeed, the best example of this was the “miracle on ice,” when an underdog bunch of American college ice-hockey players defeated the mighty professionals of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. As an American hockey fan, I was thrilled by it. But the widely believed notion that it was an illustration of American greatness or, heaven help us, that it helped win the Cold War, is sheer hyperbole. It was an amazing upset — but just a hockey game. The players on the Soviet hockey team were just athletes in red uniforms, not off-duty Gulag prison guards or KGB agents being bested by all-American G.I. Joes. The outcome had nothing to do with the triumph of American values any more than the numerous defeats inflicted on American squads at other times by that magnificent Soviet team portrayed the preeminence of the totalitarian ideology of their masters in the Kremlin.

While I wish the American team well in the subsequent rounds of the World Cup and encourage our friends around the world — who care more about this game than most of us here do — to root for them if they like, let us not make the mistake of confusing sports with politics or national character. Love of country has many admirable as well as distasteful manifestations. But good or bad, it has nothing to do with soccer or any other sport.

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RE: Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

For once, I need to strike a discordant note with my colleague Jonathan Tobin about soccer (or, as most of us call it, football). The real irony of the entire NPR newsroom bursting in enthusiastic cheers as the U.S. team scores is not about US exceptionalism vs. Third Worldism and a UN-driven mentality. This is what the World Cup is about: it is the triumph of primordial nationalist allegiances over the internationalist blah-blah of the NPR newsroom (and all their traveling companions across the enlightened liberal world). If I were a Marxist, I’d attribute their enthusiasm to false conscience; since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.

Just think about it — the first World Cup tournament took place in 1930 — the height of nationalistic jingoism in world history. Until the tournament had to be suspended because of a world war, the World Cup saw three tournaments — one in South America (not the beacon of democracy at the time) and two in Europe — in Italy and in France. Benito Mussolini took enormous satisfaction at the sight of his team winning twice in a row. Since then, the biggest soccer (football) event in the world is the World Cup — a competition between national teams that brings out the wildest and most primitive form of national allegiance one can imagine, especially among all those feckless UN fans, liberal internationalists, postmodern “let’s make love not war” crowds who scorn nationalism every single day of the four years in between one cup and the next as the root of all evils. And then, as if by magic, they dump their self-righteous moral indignation against the flag and all it stands for to wrap themselves in it with pride, joy, and not uncommonly with silly paints on their faces and all matters of bizarre and fashion-challenged clothing. Just to say they stand during the month of the World Cup for everything they loathe the rest of the time.

Just think about it — the French national team leaves in shame after it implodes due to ferocious disagreements with the coach and an abysmal performance on the pitch. France’s lead player is immediately received by the president of the republic, Nicholas Sarkozy, while the coach and the team are crucified in the press. Not by the president of the national football federation — by the president of the republic! Winners are bestowed medals, titles, national recognition, and, in cases like Pele (Brazil), Roger Milla (Cameroon), Platini (France), Beckenbauer (Germany), and Paolo Rossi (Italy,) they reach iconic status as national heroes.

All this is the quintessential expression of nationalism — that spent force Europe has turned its back to, the Third World has rhetorically fought against as the ultimate manifestation of imperialist aggression, and the NPR newsroom presumably blames for most global ills — starting, no doubt, with Israel (special dispensation to Palestinian nationalism notwithstanding).

Whether national team sport, as opposed to club sport, is “sheer humbug” is of course a matter of taste. But there is no escaping the fact that most international competitions in all sports (with the few possible exceptions of cycling, skiing, tennis, and the martial arts, which are very individualistic disciplines) attract far more attention and excitement than club sports. And that the U.S. has never sat alone and apart, isolated and removed by its exceptionalism, in such disparate disciplines as basketball, volleyball, water polo, and the likes, not to mention athletics, where in all tournaments that count, it is the national flag that matters, and not some local team or training gym.

Watching the US team join the big ones in soccer (football) should mean something else altogether (and should disturb all the useful idiots that root for American decline in the world); it means that even in a sport where America always lagged behind and ranked far below, we may see a time where American DOMINANCE takes over the world of soccer (football) as well. For this is one aspect of the exceptionalism of America — the ability to lead, excel, and triumph against the odds, to master foreign things, perfect them, and make them its own, without jingoism, chauvinism, or the cultural baggage that nationalism can have elsewhere. Three cheers for the U.S. team then — and a prayer that, before long, America’s players will conquer the heights of what once was a quintessentially European form of proud expression of national prowess.

For once, I need to strike a discordant note with my colleague Jonathan Tobin about soccer (or, as most of us call it, football). The real irony of the entire NPR newsroom bursting in enthusiastic cheers as the U.S. team scores is not about US exceptionalism vs. Third Worldism and a UN-driven mentality. This is what the World Cup is about: it is the triumph of primordial nationalist allegiances over the internationalist blah-blah of the NPR newsroom (and all their traveling companions across the enlightened liberal world). If I were a Marxist, I’d attribute their enthusiasm to false conscience; since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.

Just think about it — the first World Cup tournament took place in 1930 — the height of nationalistic jingoism in world history. Until the tournament had to be suspended because of a world war, the World Cup saw three tournaments — one in South America (not the beacon of democracy at the time) and two in Europe — in Italy and in France. Benito Mussolini took enormous satisfaction at the sight of his team winning twice in a row. Since then, the biggest soccer (football) event in the world is the World Cup — a competition between national teams that brings out the wildest and most primitive form of national allegiance one can imagine, especially among all those feckless UN fans, liberal internationalists, postmodern “let’s make love not war” crowds who scorn nationalism every single day of the four years in between one cup and the next as the root of all evils. And then, as if by magic, they dump their self-righteous moral indignation against the flag and all it stands for to wrap themselves in it with pride, joy, and not uncommonly with silly paints on their faces and all matters of bizarre and fashion-challenged clothing. Just to say they stand during the month of the World Cup for everything they loathe the rest of the time.

Just think about it — the French national team leaves in shame after it implodes due to ferocious disagreements with the coach and an abysmal performance on the pitch. France’s lead player is immediately received by the president of the republic, Nicholas Sarkozy, while the coach and the team are crucified in the press. Not by the president of the national football federation — by the president of the republic! Winners are bestowed medals, titles, national recognition, and, in cases like Pele (Brazil), Roger Milla (Cameroon), Platini (France), Beckenbauer (Germany), and Paolo Rossi (Italy,) they reach iconic status as national heroes.

All this is the quintessential expression of nationalism — that spent force Europe has turned its back to, the Third World has rhetorically fought against as the ultimate manifestation of imperialist aggression, and the NPR newsroom presumably blames for most global ills — starting, no doubt, with Israel (special dispensation to Palestinian nationalism notwithstanding).

Whether national team sport, as opposed to club sport, is “sheer humbug” is of course a matter of taste. But there is no escaping the fact that most international competitions in all sports (with the few possible exceptions of cycling, skiing, tennis, and the martial arts, which are very individualistic disciplines) attract far more attention and excitement than club sports. And that the U.S. has never sat alone and apart, isolated and removed by its exceptionalism, in such disparate disciplines as basketball, volleyball, water polo, and the likes, not to mention athletics, where in all tournaments that count, it is the national flag that matters, and not some local team or training gym.

Watching the US team join the big ones in soccer (football) should mean something else altogether (and should disturb all the useful idiots that root for American decline in the world); it means that even in a sport where America always lagged behind and ranked far below, we may see a time where American DOMINANCE takes over the world of soccer (football) as well. For this is one aspect of the exceptionalism of America — the ability to lead, excel, and triumph against the odds, to master foreign things, perfect them, and make them its own, without jingoism, chauvinism, or the cultural baggage that nationalism can have elsewhere. Three cheers for the U.S. team then — and a prayer that, before long, America’s players will conquer the heights of what once was a quintessentially European form of proud expression of national prowess.

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Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

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Re: Big Bang Machine Felled by Frenchman from the Future

Anthony, we cannot rule out your theory that some Frenchman from the Future may have been behind the halt to the quixotic quest to find the “God particle” — even if you got the information from CNN. The scientist in the video you cited says $10 billion has been spent so far to find that particle, before the Large Hadron Collider up and (to use your quasi-scientific terminology) “went phfffff.”

My own theory is there may be an invisible soccer ball and an invisible ref, who may have called “time” on this particular game (although not the entire season).

The invisible soccer ball (although not necessarily the invisible ref) is the metaphor used by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi in their 1993 book The God Particle, which sought to explain particle physics’ search for the ultimate explanation. They asked readers to imagine superintelligent visitors from another planet, able to see everything except black and white — and for whom zebras, NFL refs, and soccer balls are all invisible. They watch a soccer game and cannot understand it. People run back and forth and in circles, kicking the air every so often and falling down, and once in a while the person at one end or another of the field dives, the crowd cheers, and a point goes up on the board.

Totally inexplicable, completely meaningless — until one of them comes up with a theory: assume a ball. By positing a ball, all of a sudden everything works, the game makes sense, and it can be appreciated by the human mind — although another lesson may be that we should be respectful of what we don’t know, and may never know, even as we continue to seek it.

That ball is the equal possession of both religion and science: both posit a set of laws that govern the universe, even though the critical part of the game is invisible and not totally explicable. Both share a faith (since there is no actual proof) that the sun will come up tomorrow.

The book ends with a scene from an imagined movie. A scientist is standing on the beach at night, shouting at the universe that is the product of his mind: “It is I who provide you with reason, with purpose, with beauty. Of what use are you but for my consciousness and my constructions, which have revealed you?”  At that point:

A fuzzy swirling light appears in the sky, and a beam of radiance illuminates our man-on-the-beach. To the solemn and climactic chords of the Bach B Minor Mass, or perhaps the piccolo solo of Stravinsky’s “Rites,” the light in the sky slowly configures itself into Her Face, smiling, but with an expression of infinite sweet sadness.

It is unfortunate that so many years, and so much money, have been spent chasing a particle that has now apparently hidden itself (if CNN and a scientist we can barely understand are correct). But perhaps we should have mixed, even contradictory, emotions about this.  The proper response to this news may be a feeling of infinite sweet sadness.

Anthony, we cannot rule out your theory that some Frenchman from the Future may have been behind the halt to the quixotic quest to find the “God particle” — even if you got the information from CNN. The scientist in the video you cited says $10 billion has been spent so far to find that particle, before the Large Hadron Collider up and (to use your quasi-scientific terminology) “went phfffff.”

My own theory is there may be an invisible soccer ball and an invisible ref, who may have called “time” on this particular game (although not the entire season).

The invisible soccer ball (although not necessarily the invisible ref) is the metaphor used by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi in their 1993 book The God Particle, which sought to explain particle physics’ search for the ultimate explanation. They asked readers to imagine superintelligent visitors from another planet, able to see everything except black and white — and for whom zebras, NFL refs, and soccer balls are all invisible. They watch a soccer game and cannot understand it. People run back and forth and in circles, kicking the air every so often and falling down, and once in a while the person at one end or another of the field dives, the crowd cheers, and a point goes up on the board.

Totally inexplicable, completely meaningless — until one of them comes up with a theory: assume a ball. By positing a ball, all of a sudden everything works, the game makes sense, and it can be appreciated by the human mind — although another lesson may be that we should be respectful of what we don’t know, and may never know, even as we continue to seek it.

That ball is the equal possession of both religion and science: both posit a set of laws that govern the universe, even though the critical part of the game is invisible and not totally explicable. Both share a faith (since there is no actual proof) that the sun will come up tomorrow.

The book ends with a scene from an imagined movie. A scientist is standing on the beach at night, shouting at the universe that is the product of his mind: “It is I who provide you with reason, with purpose, with beauty. Of what use are you but for my consciousness and my constructions, which have revealed you?”  At that point:

A fuzzy swirling light appears in the sky, and a beam of radiance illuminates our man-on-the-beach. To the solemn and climactic chords of the Bach B Minor Mass, or perhaps the piccolo solo of Stravinsky’s “Rites,” the light in the sky slowly configures itself into Her Face, smiling, but with an expression of infinite sweet sadness.

It is unfortunate that so many years, and so much money, have been spent chasing a particle that has now apparently hidden itself (if CNN and a scientist we can barely understand are correct). But perhaps we should have mixed, even contradictory, emotions about this.  The proper response to this news may be a feeling of infinite sweet sadness.

Read Less




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