Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ten commandments in modern societies -8


“The more powerful one is, the less meaningful his apology is.”

Apology means one regrets his action, pays for the damage as much as he can, and takes concrete steps to prevent future mistakes. 

Individuals and entities such as companies say sorry all the time and often pay restitution voluntarily or as ordered by courts.  But the situation is entirely different when it comes to governments and governmental agencies such as the military.

Nobody can deny that government actions have inflicted the most damage to humanity in the past 300 years, perhaps longer.  This is because power has been vastly concentrated since the Industrial Revolution.  The ability to kill and destroy by direct and indirect means has also skyrocketed.  The trend shows no signs of abating, neither does the insatiable viciousness of the governments and elites. 

Take the US federal government as an example.  It has good (e.g., WWII) and bad records.  When it does something wrong, we expect it to say sorry.  Indeed many time it did, but to what effect?

In most if not all cases, we will see that the apology comes very late, bears little substance, or offers no guarantee against future offenses.  So if an easy statement is all about us feeling good and washing dirt off ourselves, then why not?   

Like apology for slavery.  Slavery was practiced for 400 years before being abolished officially in the US following the Civil War.  Only in recent years did the Congress issue a few pieces of paper (e.g., http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/31/race.usa and (http://www.mcclatchfuturefutydc.com/2009/07/02/71194/congress-apology-for-slavery-just.html) that apologized for slavery minus any true consequences such as reparation.  Practical concerns aside (like who will get paid what), it is curious how the always self-righteous gentlemen forgot to apologize when everybody was still alive.

Another example is the Chinese Exclusion Act from 1882.  Anybody who arrived at the US shore automatically became a US citizen then, just not Chinese, who if present in the US suffered many forms of racial discriminations by the Act as well.  It was repealed in 1943 only after China and the US became WWII allies.  On June 18, 2012, the Congress passed a statement of "regret".  Needlessly to say, it is pure words. 

There are a few exceptions to the rule.  For the Japanese interned in the US during WWII, a resolution apologized for it over 40 years later, and a puny $1.6 billion was paid.  Same with the Tuskegee and Guatemala syphilis experiments by the US.  One must note that these horrendous acts paled in comparison in brutality to many other atrocities by the US governments, such as many past and present wars.

Enough about the history, how about now?  The US is actively engaged in multiple wars and sanctions around the globe.  Most notably, in Afghanistan, killing is a daily occurrence.  A routine after 10 years of fighting is well-known: First, the US reports an air strike or night raid kills a number of militants.  The local people say a number of civilians instead including women and children are dead.  The US denies it.  Pictures show the bodies.  For the one thousandth time the Afghanistan President demands US stop.  The US admits “collateral damage” and apologizes and pays $2000 per death.  Then the US reports an air strike or night raid kills a number of militants….  According to NYT the US military is getting better at apologizing to the Afghans; but when apologizing is a game, it becomes a joke.

One can bet that the US government will continue to offer apologies for the many wrong things it did and do, including violating the civil rights of US citizens, but only at a safe distance many years later. 

The above characterizations are not intended to apply exclusively to the US government, as any government will do.  Only that the US government is one of the most powerful ones in the past 200 years, the most powerful the last 100 years, and the unchallenged one the last 30 years.  With a docile citizenry subdued by fear and propaganda, the US government has an unchecked power as it can be.

Any explanation for the disconnect between governmental apology and reality?  The usual legalese cover is that government has too many considerations.  Like, who the victims are, how much to pay, what will follow, etc.  As one ponders and time goes by, one has less urgency and incentive to apologize.  The public is not enthusiastic about apologizing to a segment of the population, much less to foreigners, in protection of the country’s image and own tax money.  The primary factor, however, is that the government is not compelled to do so, unlike a loser in a war being dictated by the winner.  The only constrain is one’s own conscience, which means little for politicians. 

So far what has been written is not really a commandment, which is what one should do in spite.  Forget about demanding empty regrets from the governments.  The citizenry needs to know what the government does.  Clearly the less need for apologizing, the better.  Next, follow up with any governmental regret.  What does it mean, does it have teeth, does any one get punished?  Don’t let apologizing become a game that sheds real responsibilities by the rich and powerful. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sports news before 2012 Olympics

1. A news piece about many American Olympians facing hardship at http://money.cnn.com/2012/07/10/news/economy/olympic-athletes-financial/index.htm.

This is true in the US as well as in other countries as well, e.g., China.  Chinese government provides funding, but the salary is quite low for most athletes.  The only big difference is that active athletes in China can claim to have a governmental job, even though they earn very little (at about the same level as most other people), which is even less than the "poor" Americans, and they typically don't have another job.  The minority, the famous ones, like those in the US, earn more money through other channels, such as sponsorship.  And once the athletes retire, they usually get a buy-out money from the government and then they are pretty much on their own.  There have been more efforts to help them through education and others, but the situation can improve only as the country becomes richer.

2.  A legal battle between Lance Armstrong and USADA, which accused him of a major doping conspiracy.

Hopefully this is the finale of the Armstrong saga.  This doping case and suspicion is the most significant in the history of sports because it involves the most accomplished winner ever in a sport for so many years, dwarfing those in MLB, 1988 Seoul Olympics, etc.  The evidence is overwhelming, if following the case for > 5 years, so one has to wonder why he was able to deny and evade positive tests for this long?  It is possible that Armstrong, because of his health history, has complicated prescriptions to mark the use of drugs or procedures.  It is entirely possible some of the drugs have legitimate medical applications for his treatments of disease.  But from the news reports of the USADA's accusations, the whole Armstrong riding team were involved in the doping scheme.  

On the other hand, a danger is to overstate the effects of drugs.  Not about the legaility of drug use, it is about how drugs affect your performance itself and against competitors who might also use the same drugs as well.  Cycling is like sports such as track and field, baseball, and weightlifting in which steroids and other drugs clearly improve performance.  But if everybody uses it, then you only hold your ground and do not gain any advantage, unless your chemist is better than others'.  Additionally, drug use in other sports does not entail a clear, real advantage.  For example, in shooting, concentration-enhancing drugs are not what they claim to be and have variable, even negative, consequences.  Using drugs in the more skill-oriented sports may even be counterproductive and has at most placebo effects.  But often people view all drug use in all sports as the same.

3.  Wimbledon 2012.

Unlike in most other sports, tennis players do not suffer from pre-Olympics fatigue because Olympics is at best the fifth GS.  At the ladies' side, Serena Williams won her 14th GS.  Radwanska played probably as well as she could, cleverly using Serena's power against her for much of the match, but Serena is truly the tennis Queen for the last 10 years.  She is old and fatter now, and her ground strokes are no more powerful than some other hard hitters in WTA.  She can run all over the place for a few points, but no longer for a game, less so for a set or match.  Then, how did she win?  Her serve is still the best.  This saves her a lot of energy and gives her confidence.  She also hits her ground strokes close to or inside the baseline, while others prefer a couple of meters behind.  This makes the opponents run a lot more than her.  Like Agassi playing.  At the end the younger Radwanska was more tired.  The most important factor, however, is that Serena is a smart player.

A frustrating aspect in watching women's tennis is that you know someone can play much better than this, yet she is making one silly errors after another and loses by 6:0, 6:1.  Men rarely do that.  There are some GS winners that are definitively not very smart, like China's Li Na.  But you can't be stupid to play at this level.  So the reason is likely that women can't control their emotion as well as men and this greatly affects their performance in court.  Serena is smart because she controls her emotion well.  By no means perfect, as there are instances that she lost it, but during Wimbledon 2012, even when she was behind, she played calmly and rarely made mistakes that were costly.

One has to wonder what if Serena has dedicated more to tennis?  Will she accomplish more than Graf?  Serana is a bit like Agassi, only that she seems to be in and out of tennis more often.  Purely speculatively, this has good and bad.  Good is that her tennis age is shorter, and she is physically better than her real age.  Bad is that she missed many GS chances.  Throughout her career only her sister (earlier days and in Wimbledon), Henin (in 2007), and Clijsters could give her real troubles, but she still has a good record against all of them   This is in contrast to Monica Seles.  Seles missed a year and a half to the stabbing instance, less than Serena's combined off-time, but her GS and rival head-to-head records are worse.

On the men's side, Federer won his record 17th GS.  Federer has technical superiority over everybody else except Nadal, so it is not an upset that he beat Novak at the semi.  Andy Murray, like his old self, played conservatively as the match progressed.  Some points he was obviously in the upper hand, but chose to play safely, handing Federer the opportunities.  This cost Murray too much energy to win just a point.  His only reliable weapon was his first serve, but his second serve was below 100 mph. At the end Murray was too tired, like Radwanska, while the 30-year-old Federer was much fresher.

The questions now are how long can Federer keep it up, which Djokovic will return, and what is wrong with Nadal?  Rosol didn't play like world #100 when he beat Nadal, but Nadal was very flat even when he beat Bellucci in the first round: Nadal came back on that match only because Bellucci could not handle underspins.  Rosol plays like Soderling, whose style innately troubles Nadal, but Nadal usually still beats it.  The rain delay after the 4th set likely hurt Nadal, but his form was definitively not enough to win Wimbledon.  It may be that Nadal aimed to beat Djokovic at GS, and once he did that in Paris he was like a balloon with the air let out.  There may also be an injury issue.  Comparing to Nadal 2008 or earlier, he runs around and uses his forehand more and more now.  Being more aggressive is all good and well, but perhaps the downside is that he uses his backhand less and less, reflecting either less match practice or less confidence.  Djokovic's constant attacks of his backhand perhaps creates a phantom insecurity in Nadal's mind such that he tries to overcompensate with his forehand, which then has too much pressure and makes too many errors.  Nadal needs to stand his ground with his backhand and returns serves more aggressively.  

It will be interesting to see how they perform in London 2012.  Federer will have his 4th and likely last chance for a singles' gold.  If Djokovic wants to be a real king, he needs to beat an in-form Federer, which is now.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

The overhyped Olympics

The 2012 London Olympics will be here in three weeks.  It is a once every four years festival, akin to World Cup Football.  It commands a great deal of attention and money, to the widest audience possible as well as to the majority of the competitors.  For them, their sports are little known to the lay people, so Olympics will be almost the only platform to showcase the sports to millions of viewers.  After all, a gold in shooting is the same as a gold in tennis. 

Olympics, however, has becomes largely a show business, and there are downsides with so much attention paid to Olympics.  The foremost is that it is too nationalistic.  It would be nice if the organizers do away with or minimize the national flag and anthem routine.  In practical terms, everybody knows which country the winner represents already.  A compromise could be you do the flag and anthem thing for only the first gold won by any country.  Even professional sports, like MLB, French Open tennis, play the flag and/or anthem, so we are absolutely saturated in our life.

The second is that Olympics have quotas.  A country has only three, often two, representatives to fight for an individual gold, and you can be world number 4 or even number 1 but be excluded.  We all know sports results are unpredictable.  Lowering the number of participants reduces the chance of upsets and deprives some truly worthy competitors a chance of winning.  So winning an Olympic gold should be evaluated based on who the winner beats and how, and should not be an automatic crowning as the best in a sport.

The third is that athletes, especially those not in professional sports like golf, tennis, and MLB, have attached so much importance to Olympics that they and the public actually suffer as a result.  Most sports are unlike swimming or track where you can do 10 events at once.  Realistically, you have no more than two shots in Olympic Games with one or two golds available each time.  If a world champion doesn't qualify for one Olympics for any reason and does not win in his chance four years later, he loses the biggest goal in his professional life.  Many people retire soon after Olympics not because they are no longer competitive, but because they realize they will be too old when the next Olympics comes.  Furthermore, athletes train for their best shapes during the summer, so you typically see so-so performances in sports up to one year prior to the Olympics and months after that.  They dispense less energy during matches and resort to excuses like avoiding injuries or preparing for the Olympics for their losses.  Athletes all say on TV it is such a honor to represent your country in Olympics.  True, but you also represent your country whenever you take part in any international competitions, and you should have the same, high standard throughout your career, not just once every four years.