No second place in Kung Fu

Here is a fascinating article on how cultural–and I would say political–differences show up in sports, how unlike the exuberant Usain Bolt, Chinese athletes hardly ever celebrate expressively when they win, but rather keep up the Communist practice of self-criticism. And how the Chinese consider any medal but a gold as losing. From No Fun and Games For Chinese Athletes:

Chinese gymnast Cheng Fei had just won a bronze medal for her performance on the balance beam, less than a week after the Chinese squad beat out the Americans for gold in team competition. But speaking with reporters immediately afterward, all she focused on were the mistakes she had made two days earlier in the floor exercise.

“When I was a beginner, it was normal for me to make mistakes,” an exhausted Cheng said Tuesday. “But I persisted for four years just for these Games, so when I lost on Sunday it was unimaginable for me. I feel totally empty. . . . I don’t have my soul anymore, and am only left with my body.”

Even though China has captured more gold medals than any other country, it is difficult to detect success in the voices of its athletes.

Instead, the athletes’ post-competition comments reveal a world of pressure and unfulfilled expectations, in stark contrast with the more confident, even boastful comments by Western athletes.

When they do well, they fail to boast; and when they do poorly, they can be intensely self-critical. Their attitude, experts say, is largely cultural. . . .

“Our athletes have more pressure than other countries’ athletes. They feel they are really responsible for the country’s image,” said Mao Zhixiong, who teaches sports psychology at Beijing Sports University. “Many Chinese athletes practice their sports not because they like it but because they are selected by the country.”

The Chinese government also tends to reward only first-place finishes. According to a well-known saying here, “There is no first place for literature, there is no second place for kung fu.”

Chinese athletes spend so much time in training that they rarely see their families. Many struggle to find rewarding work after retirement. Foreign athletes, by contrast, often have jobs or other obligations during their careers and train in their spare time.

Diver Chen Ruolin, 15, who finished first in a preliminary round of 10-meter platform diving Wednesday, said cheering crowds were an encouragement to her. But she seemed puzzled when reporters asked if her family was present. After the question was repeated, Chen replied matter-of-factly: “They didn’t come to watch the game. I don’t care about this.”

Read what can earn you capital punishment in Egypt

Last year, the Egyptian scholar Saad Eddin Ibrahim published a column in the Washington Post criticizing Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak. For doing so, the 69-year-old was condemned to two years of hard labor. He faces 20 more charges, some of which would bring on the death penalty. Read what can get you executed in Egypt.

The Bigfoot researchers explain

The Bigfoot hoaxers explain, saying it was just a joke that got out of hand and blaming their promoter who rushed them into a news conference. What was in the freezer was actually a Bigfoot COSTUME bought on the internet. Here is a photo of what excited the world:


Russia threatens the U.S. base in Poland

Russia warns of response to US missile shield:

Russia says its response to the further development of a U.S. missile shield in Poland will go beyond diplomacy.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the U.S. missile shield plans are clearly aimed at weakening Russia.

The U.S. says the missile defense system is aimed at protecting the U.S. and Europe from future attacks from states like Iran.

The United States and Poland signed a deal Wednesday to place a U.S. missile defense base just 115 miles from Russia’s westernmost fringe.

“Beyond diplomacy”? What do you think that means? An airstrike to take out the anti-missile installation? If that happened, what should we do then?

This would not be an attack on a little Eastern European country like Georgia; it would be an attack on us. Is this threat enough to make you want to withdraw our installation, even though we have just signed an agreement with Poland, in the hopes of avoiding war? And please, don’t accuse any one here of wanting war. No one here wants Russia to do this. Is it war-mongering to go to war if attacked?

We need to think through these things, since wars often come upon a nation by surprise.

Fighting drinking with more drinking

A bunch of college presidents want to lower the drinking age. One can make that case, but why would college presidents make it? Drinking and underage drinking are huge problems on college campuses, part of the climate of debauchery that rules at most of our institutions of higher education. These presidents are saying that if the legal drinking age were lowed to 18, that would somehow help them deal with binge drinking. That is hugely naive. College students tend to drink, not so much to make the heart glad, but precisely in order to get drunk. Later, they might develop a more mature use of alcohol, but 18 year olds at fraternity parties will not.

Now McCain is ahead

The latest Reuters/Zogby poll now has McCain leading Obama by 5 percentage points, reversing Obama’s recent lead by more than that margin just a few days ago.

As I’ve said to Obama supporters and now say to McCain supporters, these polls mean little. Once the conventions are held, then they will mean more. But the only opinions that count are those that happen to be dominant on election day.

What strikes me, though, is the utter volatility of American opinion. It can careen wildly from week to week. A single faux pas or a clever zinger can seemingly sway an election. That’s a climate ripe for demagoguery and thus, potentially, tyranny.

Certainly the day to day persuasion of the electorate is what a campaign is all about. It looks like Obama is no longer inevitable and McCain has gained momentum. (By the way, note the bias in the linked article, which gives excuses for Obama and tries to refute McCain’s debating points.) I worry, though, on another level, that we have lost some of the old virtues of citizenship that took self-government more seriously.