Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fighting Is Still The Rage

Why do they fight?

Who, you ask? The Palestinians and the Israelis? The Islamic Extremists and the Western World?
No, combatants much more relevant to everyday American life: hockey goons, of course.
It's once again the time to ask why hockey permits, or even encourages, fighting when all other major sports (with the exception of boxing and its ilk) have effectively outlawed fisticuffs. The latest questioning was precipitated by the recent tragic death of a 21 year old minor league player who lost his helmet and cracked his head on the ice during a fight.
When I played eons ago at the lowest amateur levels, occasionally even players of my class would lose their cool in the midst of a skirmish and start throwing punches. But that was not premeditated. It was just the result of the fast play and hard hitting. At the NHL level, fights were common but usually not premeditated.
Fighting has now become a ritual in which the designated goon for each team squares off against his counterpart. Usually, they have not had any meaningful interaction with each other apart from exchanging words like "let's go". The fight itself often is preceded by each combatant removing his helmet before the fists fly so they don't break their hands on the other guy's hat. Happily for fight advocates, it's still kosher to break your hands on your opponent's skull.
Ostensibly, the fighting is a self-policing action by the players to eliminate the borderline to flagrant stunts that the referees have missed or simply ignored. But that seems hard to believe. If the players see what's happening, it's pretty likely the refs see it too. Also, a fight between the goons is hard to connect logically to actions taken by other players.
The only reason why fighting still is a part of the game is because some fans like it. Without this fan support, the ritual would be gone in a flash of a league-mandated game penalty and fine. And that's just what the league should do. No one complains about the lack of fighting during the playoffs when the stakes are too high to give up a roster spot or take any penalties. Fans who are excited about the fights should go to a boxing bout. The rest of us can enjoy the skill and passion of the athletes.
Hockey is a religion in Canada and the northern part of the U.S (also known as Baja Canada). It has struggled to become relevant in the rest of America (sometimes referred to as Alta Mexico). Catering to the World Wrestling Federation crowd's sensibilities is not the way to success. The best hope for the NHL is to capitalize on the engaging personalities of its stars like Sydney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Joe Thornton, who, by the way, seem like absolute saints when contrasted with the ego-maniacs headlining baseball, football and basketball. This, along with High Definition TV and lower ticket prices, rather than fighting, is what the sport needs.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Logic of War

What's happened to wars? Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great and Attila the Hun wouldn't recognize today's version at all. It used to be that if you won, you looted the country, enslaved its people and renamed cities. No questions asked. That was the way war was. It was simple and straightforward. War was a logical (although very brutal) method of settling disputes and/or increasing a country's power and wealth. An added bonus was that it also served as a pretty effective method of increasing the pool of potential brides for the victors.
No more. Starting somewhere around World War I, wars became much more complicated endeavors. Instead of the pure simplicity of being a conqueror, the winner suddenly was faced with the prospect of taking care of the losers and rebuilding what they had just destroyed. Wars actually cost the victor power and wealth. What a loony concept!
After World War II, the U.S. celebrated its victory by creating the Marshall Plan, under which it spent a fortune building up Germany and the rest of Western Europe so they could compete with the U.S. Similar support was given to Japan. This activity was a fabulous success, as denoted by the loss of the American car manufacturing industry among its other achievemnents. Some might quibble that rebuilding Western Europe and Japan was necessary to fend off the Russians from taking over, but it still seems crazy that the winner would pay the losers.
As I write this, the U.S. is fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the Israelis are devastating the Gaza Strip. In none of these three conflicts will the likely victor win anything as simple as land and slaves.
The U.S.eradicated the Saddam dictatorship and now just wants to get the heck out of Iraq after spending 7 years, several thousand American lives and more than $600 billion first destroying and then trying to rebuild the place. The initial assault and its follow-on insurgency, along with a civil war among the entirely insane Islamic Sunni and Shia, has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and generally turned most of the rest of the world against the U.S..
In Afghanistan, the U.S. is trying to erase the nutty Taliban, probably leaving a bunch of warlords to rule in its place. Given Afghanistan's history of swallowing up the British and then the Soviets, the U.S. will be lucky to extract itself from there anytime soon. How much it will cost in lives and treasure is anyone's guess; but no matter what the cost and how badly the Taliban are crushed, the odds are pretty high that Afghanistan will slide back into the 12th century rather than become the 51st U.S. state.
In Gaza, the Israelis are beating the pulp out of the insane Hamas zealots. The Israelis say they just want Hamas to stop firing rockets at them. They haven't yet publicly said that they want to totally eliminate Hamas, but that's what they really desire. The Israelis will probably not fully achieve either objective once they're forced by the rest of the world (but mostly the U.S.) to settle for one more in a seemingly never-ending number of cease fire agreements. Actually, a simple cease fire in Gaza may be the best outcome for the Israelis. If the Iranians, who are funding Hamas, also free Hezbollah to attack from Lebanon, the costs could escalate to really ominous levels.
All in all, war made a whole lot more sense in the old days. Winners won and losers lost. Nothing more, nothing less.