National Greatness Reconsidered

Team USA is doing poorly in the World Cup of Basketball which is also serving as a 2020 Olympic qualifier. Even though several top NBA players chose not to play on Team USA, many US fans still assumed the team would prevail. Now they are disappointed.

The new international basketball reality, the world has closed the considerable gap the US historically had in basketball dominance, makes me wonder why the men’s US National Soccer Team is still a third or fourth tier program?

Much more importantly, why do we let our country’s athletic performances influence what we think about ourselves? At all.

It’s odd isn’t it, the way we count Olympic medals and feel a little better about ourselves, at least temporarily, when our countrymen/women excel in international competition.

Like most places, in the US we watch our teams closely and cheer them passionately, while we simultaneously incarcerate more people, childhood poverty and homelessness increases, gun violence persists, environmental regulations are undone, and loneliness and mental health challenges mount.

If we have to compete, why don’t we change the parameters? How about a World Cup of Prison Reform. The country that reduces their prison population and recidivism the most wins. The World Cup of Childhood Poverty and Homelessness. The country that moves the largest percentage of children out of poverty and reduces their homelessness population the most wins. The World Cup of Public Safety. The World Cup of Environmental Protection. The World Cup of Social Infrastructure.

Granted, those competitions won’t translate to television and will take a lot longer, but unlike the athletic ones, the outcomes will improve the long-term quality of our lives.

American Exceptionalism

Our passivity towards gun violence is exceptional. Especially among developed nations.

Anthony Lane in The New Yorker on Tarantino’s current film “Once Upon a Time. . . in Hollywood”:

“. . . two things alone freaked me out. One was the sudden, insane burst of brutality that is inflicted by men upon women. And the other was the reaction of the people around me in the auditorium to that monstrosity. They laughed and clapped.”

One night in 1994, knowing it wouldn’t be the Good Wife’s cup of tea, I went to see “Pulp Fiction” by myself in Greensboro, North Carolina. In the film there were a few insane bursts of brutality inflicted by men upon men. Point blank shootings that prompted the crowd to spontaneously erupt in prolonged applause. That was deeply unsettling.

Twenty five years later I fear we’re even more desensitized to wanton gun violence.

Where does it end?

Paragraph to Ponder—The Normalization of Gun Violence in the U.S.

From the Economist by way of John Gruber.

The regularity of mass killings breeds familiarity. The rhythms of grief and outrage that accompany them become — for those not directly affected by tragedy — ritualised and then blend into the background noise. That normalisation makes it ever less likely that America’s political system will groan into action to take steps to reduce their frequency or deadliness. Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard them the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing. This may, however, be a bit unfair. China seems to be making progress on pollution.