Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cotto vs. Margarito II Dec 2011- Background Info

          Perhaps what I consider to be the sporting event of 2011 will be Cotto vs. Margarito II in December; it has the potential to be anyway. This is for several reasons, but one of them is that the world has likely never seen a legitimate Cotto vs. Margarito I. These are the events surrounding their first bout where Cotto was 'defeated' in what many consider to be a questionable victory.

          The saga began when Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto fought America's "Sugar" Shane Mosley in Nov. 2007.  The fight went the distance and they went to the scorecards. I've heard many announcers say that Cotto "outpointed" Shane. Experts didn't seem to want to take away from Cotto's victory by emphasizing there was no KO, but rather they emphasized how close the fight really was. Cotto went into the fight undefeated and he left with his record in tact against a man who has been a champion in 3 different weight classes.

          The next year, in July 2008, Cotto was set to fight Mexico's Antonio Margarito- Cotto vs. Margarito I. I'm not a boxing expert like my grandma, IBHOF nominee Margery Miller Welles. However, I have been following the sport for some time and this is what I knew about Margarito going into the first Cotto fight:

          Boxers are sometimes put into categories. Some are fast like Shane Mosley. Some are smart. Teddy Atlas loves to talk about people using their height to their advantage by persisting with jabs to keep an opponent at a distance until there is an opportune time to throw a hard right. One reason why Shane has been so successful is that he's both fast and smart. And then, some boxers are simply good punchers such as Joe Louis. Boxing is called the "Sweet Science" for a reason in that certain mechanics can be taught, but boxers such as Joe Louis seem to have a natural ability to put power behind their punches.

          What was odd about Margarito is that he seemed to be none of these. When I watched him fight, and when I'd seen him he had always been victorious, I could never figure out a real method or system behind what he was doing. He's tall and he's strong, but he's not fast, and he doesn't use his punches in a calculated manner.  Instead, he throws punch after punch, over and over again, until his opponents finally succumb to the beating.

          A fighter like Arturo Gatti radiated heart. I remember when Gatti died Teddy Atlas repeated over and over on Friday Night Fights that it was impossible for someone to fight with as much heart as Gatti did and to not transfer that heart into other aspects of one's life. I never saw any kind of spark like that from Margarito. 

          Cotto vs. Margarito I was the worst fight I have ever seen. Cotto started the fight undefeated and many people, including myself, wanted him to keep his record. Miguel Cotto is very likable, he seems to conduct himself with honor and integrity. It's hard to explain the beating Cotto got in the ring that day before his trainer finally threw in the towel. Sometimes boxers get cut above or below their eyes and there is natualy a lot of blood and swelling. That doesn't describe what happened to Miguel.  Since then he has not been the same in that it seems as though there is often a ghost in the ring with him. Again, Margarito looked the same as he always had, no method to speak of, to spark, no real power behind his punches.

          Mosley then agreed to fight Margarito in Jan 2009 and, although Shane was a 37 year old 4-1 underdog, he knocked Margarito out in the 9th round. Before the fight, Shane's trainer noticed as Margarito's hands were being wrapped that Margarito had plaster in his gloves. Margarito's hands had to be wrapped three times before officials were satisfied. He was suspended for only 1 year, although many believe he should have been suspended for life. 

          The world will never know if Margarito cheated in the same manner in his fight against Cotto. However, I for one cannot wait to see Cotto destroy Margarito this time. Margarito took his record and he took his confidence. Cotto can't get his record back, but I believe if he defeats Margarito this December 2011, as I know he can, perhaps Cotto will finally stop seeing ghosts. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

We Picked Up a Hitchhiker in South Texas

          During the Summer of 2004, two friends and I, Natasha and Brandon,  set off on a day trip from our homes in Austin, TX to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.  It takes about 5 hours to travel south down Interstate Highway 35 from Austin through San Antonio until you get to the Mexican border. Laredo is on one side and Nuevo Laredo is on the other. The terrain south of San Antonio is merciless desert and the temperature at the time was above 100F.

          Natasha was at the time a fellow student at the University of Texas. Her family was Polish and they'd immigrated to the Houston, TX area in order to take advantage of American doctors when Natasha's sister began to suffer from a brain tumor. It was believed that the brain tumor may have resulted from the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl but it's hard to be certain of such things. Brandon was studying at Texas A & M but we'd gone to high school together. 

          We passed through San Antonio and then traveled perhaps another hour until we noticed a woman on the northbound side of the highway standing beside a car which appeared to be aflame. She was very far away from any source of water or reliable transportation. We couldn't just pass by without doing anything to help her so I u-turned and we pulled up beside her.

          The lady didn't speak English but between the three of us we were able to speak enough Spanish to understand that she was willing to continue with us to Mexico rather than backtrack to San Antonio which was her original destination.

          So she got in the backseat beside Brandon and I started to make conversation in broken Spanish. I asked her if she had kids and she said, "No". Then I asked her what she did for a living and she said that she was a hairdresser.

          Finally, I asked her what her name was, "Como se llama?" And she replied in English, "My name is George."

          And at that moment it occurred to all three of us- Natasha, Brandon, and myself- that this was a man in the car dressed as a woman.

         George rode with us all of the way to Mexico. I don't know if she was later able to retrieve her car or not. Her manners were impeccable as she insisted on calling an English speaking friend to relate to us how grateful she was that we'd helped her. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl Plane Crash- Study of Russia is the Study of Contradictions

When you study Russia you learn to look for contradictions

Russian media coverage surrounding a plane crash that killed almost an entire Russian hockey team last week serves as a good example as to why I find Russia so fascinating. 

Here is a timeline of articles I read in the Moscow Times last week:

September 2, 2011:

State-Backed Program Promises Aviation Industry Influx of Pilots With Less Training

02 September 2011

A new school year always brings change, but flight schools are observing a landmark moment: Student pilots will fly less and graduate faster under a new state-backed program.
The shortened — and cheaper — flight lessons should help curb a deficit of pilots amid an explosion in air traffic, state aviation officials said in interviews.
But independent aviation experts fear that the new program might churn out poorly trained pilots and increase flight safety risks.
The new international training program, named the Multi-Crew Pilot License, is being taught from Thursday at the two Russian flight schools offering higher education for pilots, in St. Petersburg and Ulyanovsk, said Alexander Timokhin, a senior official with the Federal Air Transportation Agency.”

When you study Russia you read the information that’s provided in the papers but you constantly think to yourself, “What is actually going on over there?” 

Analysis: Bypassing airline safety protocols is a bizarre way for the Russian state to cut corners. 

(Five days later)September 7, 2011 Russian plane crashed killing an entire hockey team.

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia about the crash:

The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash (Yak-Service Flight 9634) occurred at 16:05 Moscow Time on Wednesday, 7 September 2011, when a Yak-Service Yakovlev Yak-42, carrying the professional ice hockey team and coaching staff of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League(KHL), crashed near the Russian city of Yaroslavl. The aircraft ran off the runway before lifting off, failed to gain height, struck a tower mast, caught fire and crashed 2 km (1.2 mi) from Tunoshna Airport. Of 45 onboard, all but two persons (one player and one crew member) perished.[3][4] The tragedy forced Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to cancel their participation in the 2011–12 KHL season.[5]

So, as a Russian Scholar, you wait to see if anyone is going to mention anything about that plan from the September 2, 2011 Moscow Times which said that the state intended to produce pilots with less training! 

Instead, you see this in the Moscow Times:

September 9, 2011Medvedev Orders Airline Overhaul After Lokomotiv Tragedy
09 September 2011
President Dmitry Medvedev declared on Thursday an urgent overhaul of domestic airlines following the Yak-42 plane crash that killed 43 people, robbing the country of the star ice hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
This is the first time that the Kremlin has recognized deep-running problems such as poor aircraft maintenance, a lack of pilots, poor flight training, aging production facilities and negligent state supervision...”

When you get news from Russia, you're invariably left with more questions than answers.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

7th Anniversary of Beslan School Hostage Crisis, Russia

Photos of the victims at Beslan school number 1 Sourch: Wikimedia Commons 
   I was in Russia studying at St. Petersburg State University 7 years ago today when Russian security forces stormed a school in Beslan, North Ossetia in order to liberate hostages from their armed Chechen captors.  

          One can never be sure of Russian casualty reports, but the official number is that out of the 1,100 hostages that had been held for 3 days, at least 334 were killed. 186 of those were children. 21 Russian officers were also killed in the raid. And those 3 days of captivity were undoubtedly tortuous. People ran out of water early on. There are reports of Russian officials going in and seeing children without clothes trying to escape the heat.

          A few days after the raid I remember I was sitting in a Baltika tent in Peter. (Baltika is a name of a popular Russian beer.) These makeshift huts are removed in the winter but in the summer and fall I often enjoyed sitting in them with my friends. On this particular day a group of friends and I were watching the television coverage of the siege and at some point a man who had been sitting alone in the corner finally spoke. He said, “I was there.” He didn’t say anything else and he didn’t need to. It was clear from his demeanor that he witnessed unspeakable horrors.

          When I returned home to Texas from my year abroad I completed my honors thesis which framed and resolved the following paradox: How can the Russian people support President Putin and still value democratic norms? So I 1) defined a democratic norm 2) argued that Russians did indeed value democracy 3) illustrated how Putin’s policies contradicted what I believed to be a democratic norm and 4) resolved the paradox by articulating how Russians could want both Putin and democracy.

          One major difficulty I had when I tried to argue that Russians valued democracy is when I came across the polling data for the Russian view of civil liberties. There is no ACLU in Russia. I’m not making a claim as to whether or not I believe wire taps to be a good or bad thing. What I am saying is that in Russia, it seems to be taken as a given that they are virtually always an appropriate solution. That assumption is not as common in America.

          There are a countless number of opinions on what kind of democracy Russia has the potential to be. And people understandably despise cultural arguments that suggest there is something in the Russian soul that doesn’t appreciate political freedom.

          I’ll never forget a Russian history professor I had once named Dr. Heenan. She had been in Military Intelligence for decades. She loved maps and history and historical maps. She always reminded us that democracy is a lot easier to achieve in a place like America because we’re surrounded by oceans and friendly neighbors. It’s a lot harder in a place like Russia because it is simply so difficult to defend.

Citizens of any nation will always have to make choices between freedom and security.

            One reason why the Soviet Union was able to defeat Hitler’s armies was that Stalin was able to turn Russia’s economy overnight into a war machine. His republican French contemporaries were not able to defeat Hitler. Fortunately for Great Britain, the English Channel kept the Nazi’s at bay until they could regroup and fight the Battle of Britain in the air.

Dictatorships are fast. Democracy is slow.

          It is important to remember that right at the beginning of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin went into hiding for about 2 weeks and nobody had any authority to act on his behalf or remove him from office. More Russians died during those 2 weeks than the total number of Americans who died during the entirety of the war.

          I don’t know if Russians will always choose security over freedom, but if they do, I understand why. I was glad I was in Peter instead of Beslan, North Ossetia 7 years ago today. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Trivia: Commodity Never Experienced Rapid Price Decline

            I have a large general knowledge base so often when someone asks me something I’ll know the answer. But the trivia question I’m the most proud to have answered correctly is illustrated below.
            A native Texan, I studied Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas. One class I took was called Geography of the Former Soviet Union and it was taught by a woman named Bella from Yakutia, Russia which is a state in Siberia that is 4 X the size of Texas. Bella is absolutely brilliant.
            One day Bella came into class and she said that she’d just read something interesting. She asked us if anyone knew the commodity that had never undergone a rapid decline in price. I thought about it, raised my hand, and answered, “sugar”. Bella smiled and asked me how in the world I knew that?
            This is what I said:
            “I didn’t know it for sure, but it makes sense to me for both supply and demand reasons. On the demand side, sugar is addictive in every form- raw, molasses, or rum. On the supply side, it only grows in certain climates, it is labor intensive, it requires heavy machinery, and it is hard on the land. It’s not practical to grow sugar in your back yard, one must import it from plantations. I’d learned in America History that sugar traders who operated in the West Indies during the early colonization of America were wealthier than any public figure we can imagine today.