Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mark Kleiman, Soccer, Snark, and "Bush Voters"

Mark Klieman links to these two reports regarding injuries in youth soccer. It turns out that "heading" the ball may result in permanent cognitive impairment. It's nice to see a card-carrying liberal noticing that IQ is actually important. Given the growing popularity of soccer in the United States, this raises important issues.

The real problem is that soccer forces its players to ignore their instincts. When a ball or other object is thrown in the direction of one's head, the natural instinct is to either duck or use one's hands to block the object. The instinctive reaction is not to use one's head to bat the object away. Soccer coaches have to train neophyte players to not put up their hands to stop the oncoming ball. Might I suggest that this instinct evolved for a reason? Maybe our cave-man ancestors who had the instinct to block the oncoming rock with their heads didn't manage to reproduce.

The obvious solution is a simple rule change: ban heading. If one wanted, one could allow players to strike the ball with an open hand. Perhaps if they made the ball oblong rather than round, let players catch it and advance it, tackle the ball-carrier, throw forward passes, and score by crossing the goal line, soccer might evolve into a sport worth watching.

But I digress. If soccer costs youth soccer participants one or two IQ points, it may not have noticeable effect on any one player, but the cumulative impact is costing our country millions of IQ points. And this type of injury is virtually invisible, unless it is really serious. Any sport can result in injury, and I'm certainly not a believer in the quest for the risk-free society. If somebody were bleating on about knee or ankle injuries, I'd probably say it was a known risk that people reasonably assume. But brain injuries are in a different category, and it is reasonable to ask whether the rules of the game couldn't be modified to make them less likely.

Banning heading is a no-brainer.

But, being Mark Kleiman, he couldn't make this point without a bit of gratuitous political snark. He just had to introduce it by saying the soccer moms were "breeding Bush voters." Bush has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with his underlying point, which is well worth addressing. But any chance to bash bush is worth taking, right?

It is this same propensity for self-congratulation that led to the Red-States-are-dumb IQ hoax, and to Howell Raines' confident prediction that Kerry would outscore Bush by a mile when in fact his test scores and grades were slightly worse than Bush's. Now, it could be that this self-congratulation is merely annoying. But it could also have real consequences. Maybe it is was a part of the reason they thought John Kerry was going to be a great challenger to President George W. Bush in 2004. Think about it: he's a thin-skinned liberal from Massachusetts who looks like Lurch. He can't order a hot dog without seeming awkward. He finds it impossible to utter a simple declarative sentence with a noun, a verb, an object, and, most importantly, a period at the end. He spent four months in the damn boat in Vietnam, but he nullified that by talking about it all the time. Not to mention his questionable record as an antiwar activist.

If folks on the left weren't so full of themselves, they might have noticed that this man was not a strong candidate. And 2004 was no throwaway year, like '96 for the Republicans. They had a real shot, and they blew it.

It's also just generally bad political strategy to talk down to people. I mean, Reagan won twice, by pretty comfortable margins, and he did it by getting "Reagan Democrats" to vote for him. Don't the Democrats want the votes of people who voted for Bush? Is it really useful or productive to tell such people "hey, we think you are brain-damaged"?

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