The Ebbing of Empire

From the hindsight of history it is often possible
to each a consensus on when and where an empire reaches its high water
mark. The Roman Empire in the 2nd century, the Byzantine Empire a thousand
years later, Britain on the eve of the First World War, the Soviets in
the 70s. It is dangerous if not impossible to recognize the moment as
it occurs, but pundits are born to pundificate, and the Dowbrigade has
never been fazed by danger or impossibility.

So let us go on the record, after reading the auguries
and taking the pulse of our times, in declaring that the High Water Mark
of the American Empire has come and gone.

On what do we base such an outrageous declaration? Well,
first of all, it has nothing to do with the quixotic quagmire in Iraq
– we have regularly been getting our asses handed to us on the battlefield
by smaller, more primitive nations since the Korean War, and it has not
affected our word wilde hegemony up to this point. The true meat and
method of American Empire has never been military; rather it has been
and continues
to be
economic and cultural, and in those areas our dominance is overwhelming.

So how can we say that that dominance is waning? What
evidence can we cite, when Wal-Mart is opening a branch in Ho Chi Min
City, when news photos show victims of the Tsunami on distant, isolated,
subsistence Islands adrift in unpronounceable seas in Ben
Rothlesburger NFL jerseys, when factories in tiny hamlets in the hinterlands
of China are churning out Star Wars action figures, when Paris Hilton
is a more popular internet search phrase than Paris France, how can we
say that American cultural influence is ebbing?

Well, the evidence was found, as is most of the Truth
in the daily newspaper, in
the Sports Section. How could we miss the headline, "IOC
Purges Baseball, Softball
"! Yes, America’s National Pastime,
the quintessential American game, is being dropped from the quadrennial
celebration which is the number one global sporting event.

Although most American sports fans are loathe to admit
it, the United States has long rankled at the fact that the clear reigning
champion as the World’s Most Popular Sport was Soccer, or Futbol, as
it is known to most of the planet. It is no secret that most American
consider soccer a moronic display of primitive reflexive behavior and
so boring as to have more value as a soporific than as a legitimate sporting

Yet no other sport has so  captured
the minds and hearts of sports fans worldwide.  Entire nations stop
when their national soccer teams play hated regional rivals or in any
important international tournament. The finals of the World Cup every
four years is the most watched single sporting event on the planet.

Americans wonder, why soccer? Why not baseball, a much
more complex sport,  full of statistics, a series of shoot-out-style
showdowns, and myriad arcane rules and traditions?

Baseball fans will tell you that they don’t really
care what the rest of the world thinks. Damn foreigners wouldn’t know
a real sport if one came up and hit them with a full body slam anyway.
Still it is significant that we call our league championship the
when only US (and one Canadian) teams complete. A vainglorious attempt,
perhaps, to claim the world championship crown that soccer irritatingly

Our students always ask about that one, why we call
it the World Series.  I always answer with folksy stories from our
youth, when our hometown team, the Rochester Red Wings, played in the
International League, which at that time not only included TWO Canadian
teams (Toronto and Montreal), but also the Havana Cigars from the Mafia-run
enterprise known as Cuba. Imagine those road trips!

Rumor has it that Fidel Castro, who once tried out for
the New York Yankees, would sneak out of the Presidential Palace at night,
during that brief poignant pause between the ouster of Batista and the
exile  enforced by the US shortly thereafter, and appear in center
field for the Cuban nine during the late innings of International League
games. However, if photographic evidence of this exists, we have yet
to see it.

At any rate, baseball is the one pure thing that the
Americans have in common with the Cubans, polar opposites in almost everything
else. Aside from the Caribbean rim of Latin America and improbable imperialist
outposts in Japan and Korea, the rest of the world could care less about

Still, Michael Jordan and the marketing pizzazz of the
NBA managed to make basketball a more viable challenger to soccer’s supremacy
than baseball.  Olympic legitimacy for baseball was an important
step in the Globalization of American Culture.  It’s demise is surely
an omen that even America’s overarching ambition has limits.

So, was this just the latest star-spangled smackdown?
First, the International Olympic Committee bounces New York out of
the running for the 2012 Games after just two rounds of balloting.
Then yesterday,
the Lords of the Rings chop baseball and softball from the London program.
”I don’t want to say it’s an anti-US thing, but they are two native
American sports," pointed out international softball federation
president Don

Though losing softball will be a blow to the Yanks, who’ve
won all three gold medals since the sport was introduced in 1996, they
aren’t the only victims here. Losing baseball is a huge blow for the Cubans,
who’ve won three of the four gold medals.

Only the IOC higher-ups know what the up-or-down margins
were and they aren’t saying, at least for now. It’s possible that a
few other sports had close calls. All that’s certain is baseball and
will be gone after Beijing. Since both are still considered Olympic
sports, they’ll need only a majority vote to be reinstated for 2016.
”This does
not disqualify them forever," said Rogge.

History, though, indicates that once the Lords sweep you into the dustbin,
you stay there. Croquet, anyone?

from The
Boston Globe


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