09 July 2010

Nigel Kennedy plays Kreisler

I wish this were an actual video instead of just still photographs, but the music is awesome: Nigel Kennedy playing Fritz Kreisler's Praeludium and Allegro in the Style of Pugnani.

06 July 2010

Why Americans Like to Play Soccer, But Don’t Watch It

Because the World Cup games have been going on for a few weeks, I’ve heard a lot of derogatory things said about soccer in “water cooler” conversations at work and on the radio. I’ve heard soccer called boring and stupid, devoid of strategy, inferior to other sports, and I have even heard it called a game for the ignorant and poor (this last by a conservative talk radio host who infuriates me with his knee-jerk hostility to illegal immigrants). A recent article in the Wall Street Journal pointed to some evidence that the game is downright unfair, with the low-scoring outcomes governed more by poor officiating and the “Hand of God” than by the great skill of athletes.

I am certainly not going to step into that debate. I personally do not care to watch soccer; I think it is fun to play and boring to watch. However, the sports that a person likes--if he likes sports at all--is a very personal thing. I wouldn’t criticize a fan for liking any sport, not even golf. My love of baseball and hockey, for instance, runs very deep and has roots in childhood memories. And of course, it is a well-known and uncontroversial fact that all sports, with the possible exception of baseball, would be better if they were hockey.[Note 1.]

I would not have found the topic to be blog-worthy at all if I had not heard one fascinating comment on my favorite sports radio show. A group was discussing possible reasons why kids play soccer when they are young but do not go on to be fans of the sport when they grow up. For twenty or thirty years, the game has been ubiquitous in extracurricular sports programs for elementary school kids--it gave rise to the “soccer mom” and the mini-van--but this fact has not been translated to revenue in televised sports. Despite several attempts to popularize it, Americans simply don’t care for soccer compared to football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Lots of reasons for this were suggested; for instance, perhaps parents push their kids into soccer because it seems safer than alternatives like football and hockey, but the kids themselves prefer those other sports when they get older. Among the several ideas put forth, one stood out starkly. A commentator (I believe it was former NFL linebacker Steve DeOssie, but my apologies to the actual speaker if I got it wrong) offered this: Maybe Americans don’t like soccer because it is so low scoring--and Americans admire, above all things, productivity.

This is a stunningly philosophical comment, particularly coming from a bunch of guys jawing away about sports. Whether it is substantially true about soccer or not is not even terribly important. What I love is the recognition that achievement is linked to productivity--and in sports, what you produce in order to win is points, runs, and goals. It is an amazingly sharp observation that Mr. DeOssie is making here: Americans like high-scoring games because Americans like to produce.

I don’t want to push the idea too far--it’s just sport, after all. Obviously, scoring is only one facet of most sports; good defenses often win championships in football and hockey, and true students of baseball recognize that pitching, not hitting, is what wins, especially in the playoffs. Also, occasionally baseball and hockey games can be low-scoring affairs. But it is hardly surprising that American audiences would be indifferent to a 0 - 0 stalemate between Portugal and Brazil, no matter how important that game is to those teams.

I am aware that I am forcing a comparison here, but there is something fitting about the goal-starved futility of an international soccer match; the dreary, perpetual impotence of midfield play reflects the gray, welfare-state mentality that is lauded by the rest of the world. In my ignorance of soccer’s finer points, I am tempted to draw a parallel between the game and the continents that love it: on the one hand, the fruitless repetition of passes and turnovers--athletes, numbered and anonymous, exhausting themselves to move a ball back and forth, up and down, with no ultimate gain; on the other, the endless labor of interchangeable drones, toiling in socialist and egalitarian states, meekly accepting instructions and their allotted wages. This comparison is no doubt unfair to the game precisely because it is so true of the worlds’ governments.

image from EA Sports Forums

Americans may have become quite European on the surface, but deep down, the passive lack of productivity in the typical soccer match grinds the American soul. Americans want goals. We want to see our heroes score. Above I wrote that pitching wins in baseball, and it does--but when the highlights are shown, which clips make the news? It is generally the home runs and the clutch hits that inspire: Youkilis putting one over the Green Monster or Jeter stroking a walkoff single. We want to see Crosby and Ovechkin find the back of the net after burning a defenseman with magical stick-handling. We want Ray Allen to knock down the three-pointer, and we recall in awe those times Michael soared through the air before a dunk, as if he were flying. We even put up with the antics and laziness of Manny Ramirez . . . as long as he knocks in runs.

Whether or not he understood the full depth of his point, Mr. DeOssie has touched upon something important in recognizing that Americans value productivity. The next time I see Tom Brady or Peyton Manning march downfield to put up six points, I will not only admire their skill and poise as I always do, but will remember how very, very American they really are.


1. Even though I pretty much agree with the universal superiority of hockey, I am obviously kidding about this being an objective fact. And I apologize to golf fans for my gratuitous slap at their sport!

Adventures at MiniCon

Lynne and I were not able to attend OCON this year, but we made up for it by going down to Georgia to the MiniCon 2010 that was organized by Jenn and Kelly of the Atlanta Objectivist Society.

We stayed with Jenn and her family; they were wonderful and gracious, and it was a thrill to meet them after having been online friends for some time. It was also great to meet Kelly and her “significant other,” with whom I discovered I had quite a lot in common. We made a few new friends and also reconnected with our friend Shea, whom we had met at OCON last year. All in all, it was fun and inspiring to be among like-minded individuals.