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Sports, Separatism, Nationalism, Globalization, and the crisis of Western Liberalism in the United States and Spain

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The ills of the current world system are playing out on sports fields around the world. From Donald Trump’s battle with the kneelers of the NFL (National Football League) in the United States to Barcelona’s decision to protest La Liga’s call to play against Las Palmas in Spain, we are seeing a real battle between the globalist forces of global media and global capital and those who believe in the unifying power of civic nationalism.

In the United States, we see that—actually—a majority of adult Americans (58 percent) polled from 25-26 September, 2007, believe that players should be required to stand for the American national anthem before sporting events. At the same time, a similar majority (57 percent) believe that players should not be fired for not standing for the national anthem. In keeping with a sense of healthy—and uniting—civic nationalism, the majority of Americans got it right. It makes sense that players should be required to stand and respect their country’s national anthem; players should realize that it is their country—in this case, the United States—that has given them a chance to make millions for essentially moving a ball around a field. Few countries offer sports figures such astronomical sums as the United States does, and it is not absurd that players should recognize this fact. On the other hand, players should certainly not be forced (by threatening their jobs) to stand since that would be overly coercive. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady agrees with the majority of Americans’ position, saying President Trump’s call to fire players was “divisive”.  In the end, on Sunday 1 October 2017, the New England Patriots lined up for the national anthem in a way that—I believe at least—every American can be proud of.

 

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The Patriots Live Up To Their Name. Image Courtesy Of: https://nep.247sports.com/Bolt/New-England-Patriots-Tom-Brady-an-anthem-display-Happy-we-respon-108300938

 

On the other side of the coin, it is not surprising that multinational corporations—like Nike and Ford—sided with the kneeling players against President Donald Trump. This is not because they approached the controversy in a nuanced way (like apparently most Americans did), but because it is these multinational corporations that profit the most from globalism. These are the same multinationals that have transformed football from what was once “the beautiful game” into what is now known as “industrial football”—where local clubs in Britain are run by billionaires from East Asia and Middle East. It is a football world where—somehow—a European team like Portugal’s Vitoria Guimaraes can field a team made up of only non-European players in the UEFA Europa League (at the expense, of course, of local Portuguese footballers).

For the multinational companies, their “support” represents a poor attempt to gain good PR. It is as if—by “supporting” the players’ “right to freedom of expression”—the exploitation inherent in Nike’s East Asian sweatshops will be forgotten; what happened to those who protested Nike’s use of child labor and their workers’ poor working conditions? It is all part and parcel of the contradictions of modern liberalism. The current world order has—somehow—conned well-meaning “liberal” individuals into believing that they are “fighting a good fight” while really contributing to their own—and other’s—continuing subordination by what we may call the one-dimensional thought of modernity, to borrow from Herbert Marcuse. This is because constant media narratives (from the West) and commentary from celebrity figures continually encourage the one-dimensional thought of the masses around the world. It is illiberal liberalism.

A recent football related development in Spain represents a perfect examples of how this process plays out. FC Barcelona played their fixture against Las Palmas on 1 October 2017 behind closed doors as a form of protest against the Spanish government’s treatment of Catalan protesters during a referendum on independence from Spain. FC Barcelona’s statement read:

 

FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression.

Given the exceptional nature of events, the board of directors have decided that the FC Barcelona first-team game against Las Palmas will be played behind closed doors following the Professional Football League’s refusal to postpone the game.

 

The team’s statement had all the hallmarks of modern “liberal discourse”, including the “democratic right to free expression”. For the team, it is a PR coup. They also had the classic celebrity backing, in this case coming from a “tearful” Gerard Pique who threatened to quit the Spanish national team. Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola also weighed in, saying he wouldn’t have played the game at all, while his statement “Spain will try to hide the reality, but the rest of the world’s media will show it” represents a perfect example of the synthesis between celebrities and Western (in this case, non-Spanish) media in shaping public opinion. Even the football shirts worn in the match were political, as Barcelona donned a strip in the colors of the Catalan flag while Las Palmas showed up with a Spanish flag embroidered on their jersey.

 

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The Empty Stadium At Least Served for FC Barcelona to Send their Message: More Than a Club (Don’t Think That This Was Not Intended). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/41459838

 

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The Political Jerseys of FC Barcelona (Middle) and UD Las Palmas (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/41459838

 

Amid the maelstrom of controversy (because, somehow, the modern world—despite its inherent “liberalism”—is rife with conflict), the inevitable question rises: Which side, if any, is right? The answer is not easy, and in order to even attempt to answer this question we must attempt to break free of the kind of one-dimensional thought that threatens to paralyze our ability to think independently in the modern world. We must open our minds to alternative interpretations of events, free from the narratives we are constantly fed by our newsfeeds on social media and in the 24-hour news cycle of modern mass media.

First of all, in regards to Barcelona’s decision, it is unclear who the winners are: the players were unhappy (Pique was “tearful”), Mr. Guardiola was unhappy, and I don’t think Barcelona was very happy since they were caught between a rock and a hard place; either they could make a real political statement and boycott the match and then stand to have six points deducted, or they could save the six points and keep their hopes for winning a championship alive and (of course) earn more money for their brand in the process (they chose the latter). The biggest losers were most certainly the fans, since tens of thousands of people travel to Barcelona every year just to experience a game at the legendary Nou Camp. Those fans—who paid good money for a trip to Spain and a match ticket—were denied this experience. Perhaps the only winners were multinational corporations—like Nike—since the match served as a giant advertising campaign: Nike’s Catalan flag-themed shirt was on display along with their traditional “swoosh” due to the empty stands. It was the same old story of industrial football, the fans lost and the corporations won, all while the players cried crocodile tears. What is most interesting is that nowhere in the mainstream media will you find this analysis; mainstream media is too busy fawning over the romantic notions of “democracy” and “freedom” (even if it comes at the expense of the “middle class”, the ticket-purchasing fans).

 

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Nike Wins Big…As The Fans Lose. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/10/02/pep-guardiola-condemns-decision-play-barcelona-vs-las-palmas/

 

Second of all, in regards to Catalonia’s decision, it is similarly unclear who the winners would be in the event of Catalan independence from Spain. It is even unclear how many people want independence or even what these protests mean, despite mainstream media’s analyses. The BBC believes it is more populism than it is separatism, yet it is “leftist” Antifa forces who are calling for “occupation forces” to get out. If the Catalan referendum is about populist nationalism, then why is it a leftist cause? Here we clearly see the crisis of modern liberalism. Since the issue has been framed as one about “democracy”, one would be forgiven for believing that most Catalans want independence. The BBC says first that the vote in support of independence was nearly 90 percent, before going on to tell readers that turnout in the referendum was…just 42 percent. So what about the other 58 percent that did not vote? Any novice statistician (as well as marginal sociologist) might be able to explain that there may have been a social desirability bias in play; those who wanted to vote “no” may not have voted because a “no” vote was framed—by international media and celebrities—as one against “freedom” and “democracy”, among other things that no humanist individual could honestly be against. In fact, according to the BBC, a July 2017 “public survey commissioned by the Catalan government suggested 41% were in favour and 49% were opposed to independence [for Catalonia],” supporting the argument that the 58% percent of referendum abstainers were, in fact “no” voters.

 

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Catalans Calling Spanish Police “Occupation Forces”. Image Courtesy of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41479048

 

That so many Catalans should reject independence is telling. While it may be mind boggling for some to wrap their heads around, I believe there are many reasons that Catalans might reject independence from Madrid. First and foremost, geopolitically speaking, an independent Catalonia would make just one more insignificant nation-state carved out of a formerly significant nation-state. Once powerful states like Yugoslavia—and now Syria—have been torn apart by civil wars (encouraged or ignored by outside powers); it seems that what is happening in Catalonia is yet another example of this process, yet one done in a more civil manner. It is encouraged non-violently by the media rather than violently by international arms traders (please see my piece on globalization as a more humane form of imperialism for more on this topic).

 

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Is it “democracia” in Catalonia? …. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/10/02/pep-guardiola-condemns-decision-play-barcelona-vs-las-palmas/

 

_98097208_scoreboardempty.jpgOr a Showcase for International Capital (Like Rakuten, Beko, and Nike? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/41459838

 

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Rakuten Takes (Literally) Center Stage as the Company Becomes Bigger Than The Sport. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/41459838.

 

Secondly, economically speaking, an independent Catalonia would be far from an economic powerhouse. As a small nation—which would likely have poor relations with their neighbors Spain—an independent Catalonia would be beholden to international finance and/or the European Union for support. Perhaps that is why international media and celebrities are so keen on pushing for Catalan independence; with it the transnational visions of the European Union might be rekindled as yet another state will fall prey to the forces of predatory globalism (to borrow from Richard Falk). This may also be the reason that the European Union has been unable to deal with their own hypocrisy, as the New York Times notes in a typically biased piece:

 

Police officers in black RoboCop uniforms and Darth Vader helmets blocked ordinary citizens from voting. They beat people with batons, fired rubber bullets and wounded pensioners. All of it was captured by smartphones and news cameras and spread around the world. It is the kind of violence the European Union would ordinarily condemn in high moral terms and even consider punishing. But that was not so easy this time. The nation in question was one of its own: Spain.

 

The New York Times, like the BBC cited earlier, tries to connect the Catalan case to “nationalism” and “populism”, since these are verboten terms in the modern media narrative…yet this poor attempt to “frame” events also shows the hypocrisy—and illiberalism—of modern liberalism at the same time. A left-leaning news site, Slate, makes this contradiction even clearer in a piece written by Joshua Keating:

 

Over the past two weeks, two very different nations—Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia—have taken steps toward declaring themselves independent states. Both have been met with hostility by the countries they’re trying to split from, and indifference from the rest of the world. Both have sent a strong message to nationalists and secessionists around the globe: The established countries are an exclusive club that’s typically reluctant to admit new members. Both places have learned just how few advantages separatists have in breaking into that club.

 

In this comparison between Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia, Mr. Keating paints a sympathetic picture of the separatists since they are the are the underdogs to the nationalists. They are not part of the “established” and “exclusive” group of countries, they are “without privilege” in Sociological terms. These sentiments are, of course, a part of the politics of victimhood. Yet Mr. Keating continues his piece, describing Catalonia, with this sentence:

 

The level of political breakdown on display here [Catalonia] is something new and unprecedented for a Western European democracy in recent years.

 

It is almost as if Mr. Keating is unable to understand that Western European Democracies—as well the United States—have been fomenting this kind of “political breakdown” for years by encouraging the emergence of identity politics. Since the days of “self-determination”, proposed by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, Western democracies have pushed identity politics both at home and abroad as a way of garnering votes. Just a cursory look at voting charts in the United States shows just how important identity politics—particularly based on race and gender—are in determining voting patterns. It is unforgivable for a journalist (from a left-leaning website, no less) to be seemingly oblivious to the dangers of identity politics.

Thirdly, sociologically speaking, an independent Catalonia would be devastating. The new nation state would be one founded on division, as well as one that would be far from the inclusive vision of civic nationalism. In fact, an independent Catalonia would be one founded on racial and ethnic exclusion, Catalonia for the Catalans! It is my hope that ostensibly “liberal” onlookers take note; supporting division based on ethnic identity is as far from the “inclusive” vision of modern liberalism as it is from “civic nationalism”. If anything, it is reminiscent of the fascistic forms of ethnic nationalism that gave Europe two world wars in half a century.

Catalans and Madrid must come together and negotiate a better way forward together. This is not Brexit, where “together” (part of the slogan of the “remain” camp) meant the continuation of a transnational union at the expense of national sovereignty. In Spain, “together” means the Spanish nation state coming together to resist the forces of transnational globalism in support of national sovereignty. If there is any connection between these two events, it is the positions of “Leave” the EU and “no” to Catalonia as a republic. Nations can only be strong if they stay together and, most importantly, work together. Humanity cannot sustain being broken into smaller and smaller units, which—ironically—causes more division than it (supposedly) heals without alleviating the problem of domination (in the Foucauldian sense). Spaniards and Catalans are better off solving their issues and remaining united; with the alternative of the Syrian example (a conflict also framed in the name of “human rights” at the outset) close at hand, observers would do well to think about just how dangerous—and bloody—encouraging division really is.

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Late Stage Capitalism and One-Dimensional Thought in the Modern World: From Football Shirts to Hollywood and Beyond

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As readers may know, collecting soccer/football shirts is one of my main hobbies; it gives me a souvenir to collect in the cities I visit as well as a way to intimately get to know every city I visit. Each polyester shirt serves mainly as a memory of a team, a neighborhood, a city, and a country. In that sense, the shirt can serve as device for building personal, local, and national memories. Unfortunately, modern shirts are become less and less about either personal or national memories and more about extreme capitalism. The German team Schalke 04’s new shirt will have a payment chip in it as part of a sponsorship deal. Fans will apparently be able to buy halftime beers and sausages with…their shirts.

 

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Just Lean Your Shoulder Towards the Register . . . Image Courtesy Of: https://www.wareable.com/smart-clothing/schalke-smart-jersey-pay-4516

 

While this is a troubling attack on what shirts should mean, the Americans have a different way of turning football shirts into vehicles for consumption in the age of late-stage capitalism. While in Europe shirts are being produced to allow people to consume more with money they may not have, in the United States the trend of “throwback jerseys” is creating a market for shirts that once existed; it is an odd form of double consumption. The throwback jersey encourages spending on pseudo-vintage items to the point where, according to Ebay at least, the new “vintage” item sometimes costs more than the actual vintage item itself! The U.S. soccer team LA Galaxy has done a Throwback shirt night at a game, while Sporting Kansas City brought back their throwbacks (from the Kansas City Wiz era) for one night only in April of 2016. Interestingly, USA Today originally labelled the Kansas City Wizards shirts as being too ugly to come back. Yet, in the age of late-stage capitalism, it came back. How did this happen? It is symptomatic of the world of extreme capitalism we live in: People will spend money on anything, as long as it appeals to some sort of human emotion—affection for the past is one such emotion. It is also an example of the one-dimensional thought (to borrow from Herbert Marcuse)  that characterizes the time we live in, a kind of thought that discourages all forms of creativity and different lines of thought.

 

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Old and New…New and Old? Images Courtesy Of: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/mls/sporting-kc/article69923152.html

 

The field of movies can provide us with a few more examples. Rather than develop new films and new storylines by encouraging creativity, the film industry has instead taken to recycling old ideas. Star Wars, which some cultural critics argue should have stopped at one film, and the recent fourth installment of Indiana Jones are two great examples. The latest culprit of rehashing is the Transformers franchise; the newest movie is apparently “racist” according to some critics, while others simply called it terrible.

Like most male children growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I loved Transformers; who wouldn’t love cars that transform into robots? It was, after all, far more interesting than what we see today—human beings transforming into…(i)robots—but I digress. In order to capitalize on the nostalgia of my generation, the purveyors of late-stage capitalism in the film industry have taken to re-making the films of our childhood in hopes that we, many of us now parents, will pass the interest on to our children! The re-appearance of Batman, Superman, the Ninja Turtles, and Power Rangers—just to name a few—are all further examples of this process. Along with the films come merchandise and toys; essentially money is being made on recycled ideas and there is little room for new ideas. Interestingly, some toys/franchises from the 1980s have not seen a revival. Among them are GI Joes and Barbies (perhaps because they push messages that run counter to the one-dimensional thought that dominates our current age of late-stage capitalism: American nationalism in the former case and cisgender normativity in the latter case).

 

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I’m Not Sure What This Is, Since It Bears No Resemblance to the Optimus Prime I Know. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cbr.com/the-last-knight-15-ways-it-killed-the-transformers-franchise/

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This Is More Like It. Can I Have My Childhood Back? Image Courtesy Of: http://tfwiki.net/wiki/Optimus_Prime_(G1)/Generation_1_cartoon_continuity

 

Interestingly, sometimes these remakes even end up changing the original to fit the needs of the dominant strains of existing one-dimensional thought: It is a world where Barbie’s beau, Ken, sports a man bun. It is also one where the new Spider man is black, Iron Man is now a young black girl (how the fictional character’s name is still Iron “Man” is unclear, but that is something the progressives clearly failed to acknowledge), and the superhero Thor is now…a woman (Again, the fact that Thor is actually a Norse God—and a male—was missed by progressive minds). We should not, of course, be surprised that cultural history is being re-written; American history itself is also being re-written, as evidenced by the war on Confederate monuments in the South. But we should be surprised that—in a cynical bid to make more money—the purveyors of extreme capitalism are pandering to one dimensional thought by changing the genders and races of comic book characters while they remake them and resell them to the general public and no one seems to care. Wouldn’t it be nicer if comic book executives came up with new  superheroes, and made them whichever race or gender they pleased, rather than succumb to tokenism by changing the existing superheroes in order to pander to the demands of one-dimensional thought? Unfortunately that would require something called “Creativity”, something that has been stifled in the brave new world we now live in.

 

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In This (Brave) New World, Ken Sports a Man Bun. Image Courtesy Of: http://barbie.mattel.com/en-us/about/fashionistas.html

 

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Also, Spider Man (Top) and Iron Man (Bottom) Have changed Races and Genders, Belittling the Causes of Race and Gender Equality Advocates By Becoming Symbols of Tokenism. Images Courtesy of http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/miles-morales-to-replace-peter-parker-as-first-black-spider-man-in-marvel-comics-10336153.html (Top) and http://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2016/07/06/marvels-new-iron-man-teenage-black-woman/ (Bottom).

 

This kind of one-dimensional thought has become so pervasive that there was outrage when U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted an admittedly comical Gif of him body-slamming Professional Wrestling entrepreneur Vince Mcmahon with a CNN logo superimposed over his head. Instead of recognizing the humor, there was only outrage. Unfortunately, the outrage did not go far enough since few people batted an eye when CNN essentially blackmailed the creator of the Gif when they threatened to publically expose the individual’s identity. When a media company acts like the mob one would expect outrage. Instead, there is silence because the public has succumbed to one dimensional thought; the public refuses to recognize that the mainstream media is—and has been for years—essentially lying. When the New York Times calls globalism a “far-right conspiracy theory” you have to question the media’s legitimacy: Academics have been critical of globalization for years!.

Again, this refusal to question dominant narratives is not a new phenomenon. If the government said they would be taking pictures of everyone’s homes and neighborhoods and making it publically available, they would be outraged. But when Google does it people do not bat an eye. If the government told people that they had to “check in” and publically announce where they are during the day, there would be outrage. But when people voluntarily give such information on Facebook, or their online comments are stamped by the location of their phone or computer’s IP address, people do not bat an eye. It is, indeed, a dangerous world.

People would do well to break free of this type of one-dimensional thought fostered by late-stage capitalist society and encouraged by mass media and Hollywood celebrities. Society will be better—and more “diverse”, to use a liberal catch phrase—if alternative perspectives are allowed.

The media would be better if freedom of thought was encouraged. Academia would improve if freedom of opinion was encouraged. Movies and comic books would be better if creativity was allowed. We are tired of the same old things, the same old stories, the same old one-dimensional thought being re-hashed with only the goal of making money in mind. We want new things—and new ideas—to help us break free of the conservatism and rationality of the late-stage capitalist world.

American Media Uses Sports to Send a Political Message in President Barack Obama’s Farewell: A Photo Essay

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The media has a unique power to shape our perceptions of the world, and even our perceptions of our own selves (Kellner, 2015). That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that American sports media giant ESPN should use the occasion of the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs’ visit to the White House to send political messages. The baseball team’s trip to the White House on 16 January 2017 was, as ESPN noted, the final official event of Barack Obama’s presidency.

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Another Day, Another Jersey For Mr. Obama. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/18488717/president-obama-celebrates-world-series-champion-chicago-cubs

 

In a way, it is fitting that the holder of the world’s most powerful job should end his tenure by presiding over an event dedicated to sports since it shows the continual importance of sport to modern society. In President Obama’s words (the full event can be seen here): “Sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle but ultimately made us think differently about ourselves and who we are. … Sports has a way of changing hearts in a way politics or business doesn’t”. Perhaps that is true, and President Obama showed how much he believed it to be true when he visited Cuba in the midst of a historic rapprochement. But if we take Mr. Obama’s words in another direction—and note that sport is itself a business and rarely separate from politics—then I am left wondering…can sport, if connected to both business and politics, truly change hearts in the manner that Mr. Obama believes?

From ESPN’s perspective, judging by their reporting on this event, sport is clearly seen as a tool in order to send a political message and is—therefore—not independent of either business or politics; in this respect the United States is no different from Turkey. Even Mr. Obama saw a chance to use the event to his benefit, astutely opening the event with the multilayered line “they said this day would never come”, which could refer either to the Cubs’ long-awaited championship, his presidency, or its imminent end.  His triple entendre, so to speak, is a tribute to Mr. Obama’s oratory skills that have enabled him to become a revered–even “saint” like–figure in America and the world, even if I believe history will view his presidency in a less than favorable light. Since I am a fan of jerseys, however, I will present you with a selection of Mr. Obama’s collection since it is pretty substantial. Mr. Obama’s collection just goes to show that sports and politics (as well as business) are rarely independent of one another, even if the outgoing President believes that they can be separate.

 

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November 2013: The NHL Champion Chicago Blackhawks Visit the White House. From USA Today: “the Chicago Blackhawks visited the White House for the traditional meeting with the president. As is customary, the team gave President Obama a customized jersey — this time, a road sweater with Obama’s name and the number 13, representing the year of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory. Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2013/11/blackhawks-jersey-obama

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A Little Bonus Coverage Of Sports And Politics In The US Media Here. The USA Today Noted That The Chicago Blackhawks Presented Mr. Obama With Three-Year Old Jersey (One Above). In Response, They Posted The Above Picture With the Caption: “At least it’s not as bad as the time the 1972 Miami Dolphins completely misspelled the president’s name.” Of Course, The 1972 Miami Dolphins Were Not Misspelling Mr. Obama’s Name, They Were Celebrating Their Undefeated 1972 Season; The Comment Represents A Small Shaming Of The Team For Not Presenting An “Obama” Jersey. Critical Readings Of The Media Are Necessary. Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2013/11/blackhawks-jersey-obama

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April 2013: The University of Alabama (American) Football Team Visit the White House. From USA Today: “The University of Alabama Crimson Tide, college football champions for the third time in four years, presented the president with one more jersey — as well as a helmet and football — during a White House ceremony Monday, adding to an ever-expanding list of presidential gifts.” Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/04/15/obama-alabama-jersey-gifts-national-archives/2084645/

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April 2015. NFL Champion New England Patriots Visit The White House. Note The Political Tensions Inherent In This Comment By Mr. Obama: “‘I usually tell a bunch of jokes at these events, but with the Patriots in town, I was worried that 11 out of 12 of them would fall flat,’ Obama quipped, referencing the Deflategate saga.” The main protagonist of the “deflategate” controversy was New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, a Prominent Republican Who Did Not Attend This Ceremony. Image And Quote Courtesy Of: https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/04/23/patriots-minus-tom-brady-set-for-white-house-visit/ozlYSf3PvGBiSPdsRF9lvJ/story.html

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Bonus! Just Because Its an Amusing Picture. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/patriots_nfl/the_blitz/2015/04/obama_jokes_about_deflategate_as_white_house_salutes_patriots

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May 2016. College Basketball Champions Villanova University Visit the White House. Mr. Obama Doesn’t Seem Too Pleased; Perhaps He Prefers Un-Framed Jerseys. From rollcall.com: Barack Obama showed his love of college basketball one last time as president by welcoming this year’s NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats to the White House.” Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://www.rollcall.com/news/hoh/villanova-basketball-fan-ncaa-obama-president
470461508.jpgApril 2015. Mr. President Doesn’t Look Too Pleased, Perhaps Because It Means He Will Need a Bigger Closet. College Basketball Champions Ohio State University Visit the White House. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gettyimages.com/event/obama-welcomes-national-champion-ohio-state-university-buckeyes-to-white-house-549283835?#president-barack-obama-receives-a-team-jersey-as-he-hosts-the-ohio-picture-id470461360

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August 2010. The NFL Champion New Orleans Saints Visit The White House. Post Hurricane Katrina, President Obama Sends a Political Message. From CBS News: “’I’m a Bears fan, I’m not going to lie, but this was a big win for the country – not just New Orleans’ the president said. He noted that after Hurricane Katrina the Saints had to play an entire season on the road because their home stadium, the Superdome, was ruined in the storm”. Image And Quote Courtesy Of: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2010/08/09/obama-welcomes-saints-to-white-house/

Lebron-Heat-Obama-jersey-and-autographed-ball-e1359494230358.jpgJanuary 2013. The NBA Champion Miami Heat Visit the White House and Mr. Obama Is More Enthused Alongside Lebron James. Image Courtesy Of: http://thatsenuff.com/2013/01/29/mama-i-made-it-heat-visit-the-white-house/

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February 2016. NBA Champion Golden State Warriors Visit the White House. Interestingly, Mr. Obama Managed a Near Carbon Copy of His January 2013 Smile. Image Courtesy Of: http://abc7news.com/sports/warriors-honored-by-obama-at-the-white-house/1186562/

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October 2015. The FIFA Women’s World Cup Winning US Women’s National Soccer Team Visits the White House. Note the Amazing Design Of the Numbering, Hats Off To Nike. From npr.org: “This team taught all of America’s children that ‘playing like a girl’ means you’re a badass,” he [Mr. Obama] said. Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/10/27/452260571/obama-to-u-s-womens-soccer-team-playing-like-a-girl-means-youre-a-badass

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For Those Interested in Mr. Obama’s Connection to Football, Please Check Out Sports Illustrated’s Article. It Includes This Amazing Image From 2009, when Brazilian President Lula Presented the American President With a Brazil Jersey. Judging By Mr. Obama’s Reaction, It Just Isn’t The Same as Receiving an American Jersey. Image courtesy of: http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/photo/2017/01/19/president-barack-obama-soccer-mls-usmnt-uswnt-world-cup

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One Final Bonus Comes From a Russian News Site. Russia-insider.com Managed To Dig Up This Piece. It Shows the Odd Connection Between Sports, Militarism, Nationalism, and Politics In the United States. Note Russia-insider’s Caption “A Big Fan Of Himself”. Image Courtesy Of: http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/obama-rails-against-putin-many-others-un-speech/ri10016

I’m Experiencing the Dystopia of an American Airport While American Olympic Athletes Distort Reality in Rio: What it Says About Wider U.S. Society’s Interactions With the World

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A few weeks ago I was returning from Turkey to the United States via Germany. I didn’t mind the eight-hour layover since it meant that I could drop into one of my favorite cities in the world, Munich, and have a relaxing summer stroll around the city. When I got to the border of the European Union I handed my passport and boarding pass to the police officer on duty. He took a look at the boarding pass and reminded me that I had a connecting flight in eight hours. I assured him that I was well aware of that, and that I was only going to take the train into the city for a few hours. He looked at the pages of my passport and just shrugged (probably thinking “this guy won’t miss his flight”); then he stamped me in and handed back the passport and boarding pass with a smile. And that was that. No elaborate questioning, just two people interacting.

I got a day ticket for 13.75 Euros and took the S1, getting off at Moosach. Since I am interested in seeing the famed Munich Olympiastadion, built for the 1972 Summer games, I head in the direction of the Olympic Park. The wide tree lined streets which feel like a mix between central and eastern Europe are peaceful and I take in my surroundings, my last tastes of Europe before returning to the United States. It is one of those times where the traveler thinks “what would my life have been like if I grew up here?”

The Olympic park is off the main street and when I finally enter it feels like a secret garden. The rolling hills and small pond make for an idyllic setting, one of those that could only be on the “old continent”. I hike up the tallest of the park’s hills and, at the top, am rewarded with a stunning view of urban Munich on the one side and natural Munich on the other. The day is calm and peaceful, August in Germany, and I feel as if my senses have been heightened by virtue of these few moments in this small pastoral greenery in the middle of Bavaria. I decide to grab an 11am beer at a beer garden—one of those things that would be impossible to do across the Atlantic—and think about my route to the center; after all no trip will be complete without a few jerseys.

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Beautiful Park, and the Beautiful Munich Olympiastadion. Images Courtesy of the Author.

Among the tourist hordes in central Munich I find a couple shirts from last season on deep discount—a Puma Borussia Dortmund shirt and Kappa Wolfsburg shirt. For lunch I head to one of the Turkish kebab places in the red light district by the Hauptbanhof; to my surprise the man behind the counter speaks Turkish to everyone in line except me (I am spoken to in German—guess I’m not Turkish looking enough). I eat my doner and watch a group of Turkish construction workers come in for their lunch, like the Mexican construction workers at the Mexican restaurants I would frequent in Texas. I can’t help but think how strange it is that societies get stratified like this, cheap labor from abroad creates a social hierarchy based on ethnicity—the economic system comes to define the ethnic group and create a new social reality where none existed before. Knowing its nothing I will change, I go back to my doner—the must-try snack of Germany that has overtaken the traditional German snack of bratwurst as the nation’s most popular fast food. Of course, the popularity of the street food itself shows how the imagined ethnic hierarchy can take on a mind of its own.

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The Shirts Spread Out on the Counter at a Munich Airport Bar. Because…I wanted to. Images Courtesy of the Author.

Back at the airport I myself get stratified into another kind of imagined hierarchy, this one based not on ethnic background but on nationality. I take the long trek to gates H43 through H48 at the Munich Franz Josef Strauss Airport. It feels like a Japanese death march, the long grey nondescript corridor leading to the special zone of the terminal where flights to the United States depart from. At the ID check kiosk I ask the man if there is anything beyond me—I do it every year, just hoping—praying—that it will change. But it never does. “Just a vending machine. And toilets. There is no restaurant or bar”. Since the disappointment on my face is noticeable, the gentleman levels with me: “I’ll give you the stamp—you have a while until boarding, it won’t board on time. Go back to one of the bars and when you come back just show your stamp and walk to the gate”. I thank him for being a human being and head to the convenience store for a Lowenbrau to pass the time. Its 3.25 Euros, and the lady accepts the 3.20 Euros I give her.

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Its a Lonely Walk to the End of the Line. Image Courtesy of the Author.

When I enter the boarding area at Gate H45 it feels like I have entered another world. Indeed, there is nothing to eat save for what one can scrounge from the vending machine with their left over Euros. My fellow Americans count their (Euro) pennies to perhaps purchase a small bag of potato chips as sustenance before boarding. There are not enough seats to accommodate all the passengers bound for a transatlantic flight so everyone stands around like refugees awaiting their departure to a new future. In the bathroom, the paper towel dispenser is broken and it is clear that the single rest room cannot possible satisfy the demand of four gates worth of passengers. I marvel at the chaos all around me that marks my trip to the United States, sequestered in a small corner of one of the world’s most modern airports. When I ask why we are sequestered as such, a Lufthansa employee tells me that it is for “security”. I can only nod, finding myself wishing I was back in the Olympic park taking in the fresh air of Munich instead.

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The Toilets Have Seen Better Days While We Stand Like Refugees. Images Courtesy of the Author.

After an eight-hour flight full of romantic comedies I find myself waiting in line for one hour at the Boston Logan International Airport. U.S. citizens are left in a hallway, being let inside to the main “processing area” in fifteen person groups. I marvel at the tight security—certainly the tightest I have seen on my journeys over the past summer. “These guys are crazy” mutters the gentleman in front of me, an Italian-American, and we begin talking. I find it amusing that entering countries in Europe rarely necessitates as much song and dance as entering the United States—my own country of residence and birthdoes. The man uses the word “dystopia” to describe the proceedings and I have to admit that its an apt description.

As the “cowboys” of U.S. Customs & Border Patrol “herd” me into the “processing area” where I wait to use one of the automated self processing passport scanners, I wonder how efficient this system is. While the process to enter the United States at airports is one of the most draconian I have ever experienced on my travels, the Mexican border is still porous and many Americans are up in arms when talk is made about increasing security on a border that has become so world famous that even people from as far as Africa are flocking to it. The man in front of me is as frustrated as I am when he mumbles “I don’t think they even catch anyone”. I have to agree—the police state mentality only exists in the world of airports, a realm that is dis-engaged from life on the ground outside. It’s a sort of nether region between the Orwelllian world and the real world. But it is also this emphasis on “security” that allows the United States to portray itself as an oasis of stability in a world rapidly becoming characterized by seemingly random outbursts of violence; it is a city on a hill while chaos swirls below. And that is where I now move into discussing this in the context of the sports world.


On 14 August 2016 four members of the U.S. Olympic men’s swimming team accused Brazilian police of robbing them at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro when they were returning from a party. American Olympians Ryan Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and Jimmy Feigen claimed that their taxi was stopped by people posing as police officers and that money and personal belongings were demanded from them. The state media organ of the United States, the New York Times, was quick to frame the story as one reflective of security concerns in the Brazilian city when they wrote that the robbery heightened “anxiety over violent crime in the host city of the Summer Games” in the article’s opening paragraph. It is not surprising that the New York Times was quick to denounce Brazil and play up its instability, but they may be regretting their decision now.

Four days later, on 18 August 2016, it emerged that the swimmers had actually fabricated the whole story. In fact, if it was just a mere fabrication it might not have been so bad; instead it was an outright lie trying to cover up the fact that the swimmers themselves had been the ones in the wrong. They allegedly urinated on the wall of a Shell gas station, then vandalized the bathroom in a drunken rage and refused to pay for the damages. Mr. Lochte himself then claimed that he mistook the gas station’s security guard for local police—something I might have believed had I been born yesterday.

Police in Rio didn’t believe it either and charged Mr. Lochte with filing a false robbery report, and the swimmer was forced to admit that he “over-exaggerated” parts of the story which, I imagine, is the politically correct way of saying “I lied through my teeth”. On 19 August 2016 Mr. Lochte wrote on his Instagram (the post-modern form of apologizing, in which the most crucial part—looking the one you offended in the eye while asking forgiveness—is impossible): “It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave.” For some reason, his defense hinges on his being in “a foreign country with a language barrier”; in Mr. Lochte’s mind this simple fact exonerates him for vandalizing someone else’s property. In all honesty it is an embarrassing defense, but one that cannot be separated from the situation perpetuated, in part, by the United States itself.

Take this small excerpt from ABC News’ 30 August 2016 story as an example:

“I think it’s everyone blowing this way out of proportion. I think that’s what happened,” Lochte, 32, said today on “Good Morning America” when asked whether he embarrassed the United States with his actions in Rio de Janeiro.

“Like I said, I did lie about that one part,” Lochte said of his claim that a gun was held to his head at a Rio gas station. “I take full responsibility. I’m human. I made a mistake. A very big mistake.”

Here Mr. Lochte is still downplaying his actions when he says it was “blown out of proportion”, and when he does admit lying it is only about “that one part”, the gravity of the situation—that there is a larger lie that is insulting to another country—is missed. Even when admitting responsibility, it is only on an individual level. “I take full responsibility”. ”I’m human”. “I made a mistake”. Of course, this focus on the individual can be traced back to the American ideals of individualism and “freedom”. But don’t think that Brazilians aren’t, rightly I may add, a bit perturbed. In a 18 August 2016 New York Times story Brian Winter, vice president for policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas, tells the truth in no uncertain terms: “[The episode] has tapped into one of Brazilians’ biggest pet peeves — gringos who treat their country like a third-rate spring break destination where you can lie to the cops and get away with it”. Although Eliseu Padilha, the chief of staff for Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer, said that “This episode will not in any way interfere in the relations between the U.S. and Brazil . . . This could have happened with individuals of any other nationality,” I do not believe it. I’m not convinced that it could happen with individuals of any other nationality.

And this is where I return to the immigration line at Boston’s Logan International Airport. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to visit many interesting international (and domestic) destinations around the globe, something that I owe my parents a huge thank you for encouraging no matter the destination. Therefore, I have been able to see that all is not what it may seem. Of course the United States is a safe, stable, country. Of course in the United States things run fairly smoothly and with (comparably) minor disruptions when compared to some other places in the world. But—and this is important—that does not mean the United States is without its flaws, and it does not mean that other countries do not have their positive sides as well. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you can commit a crime in a foreign country—like vandalism—and expect not to be held accountable for it. Like the golden rule in life, doing unto others as you would want done unto you, there is the golden rule of travel: Do not do in foreign country what you would not do in your own country and expect to not face the consequences.

Too often in the United States we hear about “how bad it is over there”. “There” can be anywhere. It can be Mexico when we hear about the drug cartels. It can be the UK when we hear about the Brexit. It can be Africa when we hear about Ebola. It can be Greece when we hear about the financial crisis. It was Turkey when my neighbor, having heard the news about the 2013 Gezi Park protests, told me “I heard its really bad there”. Unfortunately, the judging that is implicit in such comments comes without any real knowledge of the situation. Just like the reporting done by the state media organ The New York Times, which rushed to emphasize security concerns in Brazil following the first reports of the swimmers’ “robbery” so as to frame the swimmers as innocent victims, U.S. newspapers are often all-too-quick to frame events taking place in foreign countries. (Note the use of the term “state media”—you might hear it mentioned in many publications in the United States, but never in reference to domestic media. This is an example of that framing). And, given that just 35% percent (a generous figure) of Americans have passports, many Americans are unable to visit places to see the truth for themselves. Although the number of passports in circulation is increasing, I tend to believe this is more due to the increased global interconnectedness of the world that necessitates a passport—if only for one trip—that then stays in circulation albeit unused. I even have friends who have passports but have never used them.

It is this combination—the desire to portray the United States as somehow above the fray of the world and the population’s relative ignorance of international affairs—that creates a dystopian reality at airports. It is also one that, unfortunately, sometimes results in people acting out and confirming the image of the “ugly American” abroad that is already present in people’s minds. Perhaps the most absurd thing about the whole incident is that Mr. Lochte really didn’t face any repercussions for his actions. Instead, he was handed a role on the reality TV show Dancing With the Stars. Only in America can you embarrass yourself, your team-mates, and your country and…be given a role on TV in the end. Life—and the American Dream—go on.

Euro 2016’s Poor Quality Puma Kits: “I Hope Puma Doesn’t Produce Condoms”

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These humorous words belong to Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri complaining about Puma’s Switzerland kit; an unprecedented four shirts were ripped during the Swiss side’s draw with France. Puma claim that the error stems from a batch of material where “yarns had been damaged during the production process, leading to a weakening in the final garment.” Later, it came out that the damaged shirts had actually been made for Puma in Turkey by the Istanbul based company Milteks. The company’s president Kemal Bilgingüllüoğlu said it was possible that the shirts were exposed to extreme heat when the name and number sets were applied by heat press. Mr. Bilgingüllüoğlu said he had no knowledge of where the name and number sets were applied. Seeing as how nine of the twenty-four teams participating in Euro 2016 had their shirts made by Milteks, such an error is alarming and raises other questions about industrial production in Turkey.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/554521/Puma__Yirtilan_formalar_Turkiye_de_uretildi_.html

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Image Courtesy Of: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/20/football/shaquiri-switzerland-football-shirts-puma-condoms/

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is keen to promote Turkey as a rising power in the world, as well as a sound destination for foreign investment. Even though some commentators question whether Turkey’s rise may be coming to an end, the country is still a destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Despite such figures, however, inflation remains dangerously high and industrial output is down. These trends–coupled with growing instability in the region—should be of concern to Turkish politicians.

I have written about the extreme capitalism enveloping Turkey, characterized by large construction projects throughout the country. But construction alone cannot provide long-term economic development; production must also increase. Unfortunately, Turkey does not produce large-scale industrial goods for export. And now, as Euro 2016 has shown, the country cannot even produce a polyester football shirt. A simple football shirt may not seem like an economic bell-weather in most cases, but in this instance it does provide an interesting example through which to begin thinking about the future of the Turkish economy.

24 Hours in Munich BONUS: Bayern Munich 2014-15 Home Shirt AND Germany World Cup 2014 Home Shirt

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I have one night in Munich to live it up. What happens in Munich stays in Munich, like Vegas. I’m riding an emotional high as I arrive to spend the night for my layover between my flight from Izmir and my flight on to Boston, sipping a Smirnoff Ice outside the Flughafen branch of the Bayern Munich shop. I soon realize that the only similarities between Munich and Vegas exist on the small “strip” leading from the Hauptbanhof to my hotel. Strillerstrasse is lined with Turkish kebab shops, casinos, strips clubs, and . . . women in Niqabs. A group meanders past a “Girls Girls Girls” advertisement, the neon from the sign reflecting off of their modest black garb. In Munich, in this spot where Vegas and Mecca have come together, it makes me feel like—just maybe—this world will come together too before it tears itself apart.

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I’m thinking it’s like a bad joke as I head up the dark stairs of the Hotel Daheim to my third floor room, the floorboards creaking with each step. As I throw my bags onto the surprisingly clean bed I reason that it’s just for one night, just a place to park my things, and myself, and I head out to explore (but not before closing the window, which opens to a fire escape accessible to all the other rooms).

With the mix of Persian, Arabic, and Turkish voices around me on the streets it feels like Istanbul…or so I lull myself into thinking, before seeing the Atlantic City club advertising Table Dancing specials for tonight. I laugh at the ridiculousness of it all and head towards Marianplatz and Munich’s picturesque center.

On the way I find a four-story sporting goods store where I partake in the solemn act that all tourists upon visiting Munich must experience: purchasing a Bayern Munich football shirt. Last year’s design has been discounted to 39 Euros from 80; an amazing deal considering that this year’s shirt isn’t much to write home about and costs 85 Euro—insult to injury! I also add Germany’s 2014 World Cup shirt to my collection for 25 Euros. When asked which match I want printed on the shirt I immediately give a knee-jerk reaction: The final against Argentina. Then I wake up. That’s cliché. “Do you have the USA match?” I ask, remembering the game I watched in St. Petersburg, Russia, when Joachim Low had his team take it easy on his countryman Jurgen Klinsmann. We are, after all, living in an international world and life is international.

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Shirts in hand I head to Marianplatz, which, under construction, has lost some of its grandeur. I continue on to the river instead, past an amazingly attractive Mini Cooper Polizei cruiser. And who says the Germans don’t get on with the British? Oh…wait…Mini is owned by BMW.

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Yes, I’m thinking the world could slowly be melding into one homogenous entity…before the strangely beautiful yet wholly mechanical “DEE-DOO-DEE-DOO-DEE-DOO” siren of an ambulance cuts through Munich’s serenity and I, watching the view over the Isar with the siren’s soundtrack in my mind, feel as if I’ve stepped into a Lego town. No, the world still has its differences. Here, drinking a mug of Munich’s famous beer in public and watching the sunbathers catch the last rays of a summer day, I could only be in “Europe”. The Europe of American backpacker’s dreams, the Europe of month long summer vacations designed to break the monotony of Suburban America.

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The next day, aboard my homeward-bound Lufthansa flight, I’m reading the papers and am again convinced that world is not completely homogenized by way of globalization…yet. According to my free copy of USA Today—two steps above or below a tabloid, depending on your point of view—9 CEOs in America are paid 800 times more than their workers. The dark side of the story is telling: “the average CEO is paid 216 times more than workers now,” compared to the “20 times more [they were paid] on average in the 1950s, according to a 2013 analysis by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.” Roger Cohen’s piece in the International New York Times (the successor to the famous International Herald Tribune that defined my childhood) “Incurable American Excess”, also rang true for me:

“To return from Europe to the United States, as I did recently, is to be struck by the crumbling infrastructure, the paucity of public spaces, the conspicuous waste (of food and energy above all), the dirtiness of cities and the acuteness of their poverty. It is also to be overwhelmed by the volume and vital clamor of American life, the challenging interaction, the bracing intermingling of Americans of all stripes, the strident individualism. Europe is more organized, America more alive. Europe purrs; even its hardship seems somehow muted. America revs. The differences can feel violent.”

“What We Learned from German Prisons” by Nicholas Turner and Jeremy Travis taught me that “While the United States currently incarcerates 2.2 million people, Germany — whose population is one-fourth the size of ours [the United States] — locks up only about 63,500, which translates to an incarceration rate that is one-tenth of ours [the United States].” The ability to be able to compare the United States and Germany first-hand allowed me to uniquely view the points that these journalists were making. But make no mistake; it is our differences—in the United States and in Europe—that make us stronger. Globalization need not make all cultures the same, indeed such rampant homogenization is not the solution for a more utopian society. After all, Germany is not the United States and bad people—unfortunately—do exist, no matter how much we attempt to homogenize and sanitize our views of society.

We learned this once again on August 22, 2015 when a group of three American soldiers vacationing in Europe foiled an attempted terrorist attack on a train in France. My hats off to the three brave young men who took matters into their own hands…and an extra shout out to Alek Skarlatos, who appears in an FC Bayern Munchen shirt—the same shirt I found on my one day jaunt around Munich. Perhaps the more things change the more they stay the same. All we can do, as individuals curious about the world around us, is get out and see the differences before they’re gone. After all, you never know what homogenizing force—constructive or destructive—will come along next.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/23/world/europe/americans-recount-gunmans-attack-on-train-to-france.html

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