Wednesday, September 22, 2010

College Sports

In the film Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks says, "After just three years of playing football, I got a college degree."

Americans love watching sport, especially college (i.e. university) sport, both live and on television. That makes it an extremely lucrative business, and gives universities a huge incentive to attract the best players. So it's hardly surprising that they offer gifted athletes scholarships that (in some cases more than) pay their tuition fees.

However, the best players are not always the brightest students. What's more, to get - and keep - at their best, these athletes need to train hard and long. And that in turn means that their academic obligations tend to get in the way of their sporting endeavours. And here's where the problems arise.

Because educational establishments are justifiably starting to insist that students at least get a minimum of education, college teachers regularly give their "jocks" (athlete-students) the answers to tests in advance or even write papers on their behalf!

This of course makes a complete mockery of the concept of tertiary education, but when winning is all that counts, most universities just turn a blind eye.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Religious (In)tolerance

The US is currently in the throes of a horrible phenomenon: religious intolerance.

I can take constant references to the church, prayer and God in spite of the fact that this country is constitutionally supposed to have a separation of church and state. But what is happening right now is nothing short of frightening.

It all started a few weeks back with a row over what was dubbed by its opponents the "Ground Zero Mosque" but which is actually mere plans - possibly years from fruition - to set up an Islamic community centre fully two blocks from the former site of the Twin Towers. Christian groups, Fox News and others have protested vehemently and vociferously, claiming the center is everything from insensitive to a glorification of the killings of 9/11. Fox even raved about the "radical Islamic" Saudi who had "bankrolled" the project - until it emerged that he is the second-largest shareholder in Fox's parent company (News Corp) and Rupert Murdoch's business partner.

Whipped up by this religious fervour, there have been protests against the setting up of other mosques thousands of miles from "Ground Zero", and at least one mosque has been burnt down by arsonists.

Now a church in Florida has decided to up the ante even further by holding a Koran-burning ceremony this Saturday (11 September) to commemorate the 2001 attacks, ignoring pleas from President Obama, Muslim countries, Nato, the top US commander in Afghanistan (who fears reprisal attacks "everywhere in the world"), US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and the US attorney general.

The name of this hate-formenting, insular church? The Dove World Outreach Center.