Friday, July 27, 2012

Incredibly Stupid Letters to the Editor #1: Dream Team Nightmare

I have been planning this series of occasional blog posts for some time now.  My local newspaper, the Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre, PA often features very silly letters to the editors.  In fact, I had planned that they would provide the source material for the inaugural post in this series until I read something incredibly stupid in the July 30, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated.  

Earlier in the month, SI ran a very interesting article about the 1992 United States Men's Olympic Basketball team, otherwise known as the "Dream Team".  This was this first Olympics when NBA players were allowed to compete, and the Dream Team dominated the Barcelona Olympics.  In this week's issue, SI ran the following incredibly stupid letter to the editor:

What Could've Been
With all the hype over the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team, most fans are forgetting that there were two squads, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, that could have given the Dream Team a run for its money had their countries not dissolved just before the Barcelona Games.  The Soviets were the defending gold medalist from the 1988 Games, and Yugoslavia was the '90 FIBA  world champion.  It is a tragedy that colossal matchups among the three basketball superpowers never occurred in '92.
                                                     C. Fred Bergsten, Annandale, VA

If you just read the letter, I am sure that you can spot the stupidity:  essentially Mr. Bergsten is upset that the Iron Curtain fell because it cost him the chance to watch a basketball game.   Hey, any sports fan can relate to a certain degree.  I mean, what baseball fan wouldn't want to have the chance to see Ty Cobb bat against Roger Clemens?  What devotee of the sweet science wouldn't want to see how Joe Louis would handle himself against Mike Tyson?  But of course, this is impossible because time travel doesn't exist.  

On the other hand, Mr. Bergsten is not wishing for the chance to see long dead legends compete against modern stars; instead, he thinks it is a "tragedy" that the USSR couldn't put together a basketball team in 1992.  Most normal people would think it was a "tragedy" that the USSR was a communist, totalitarian state that jailed, persecuted and killed millions of its citizens in its seven decades of existence.  Most normal people would think that the end of the USSR was a victory for freedom and human rights, as well as the end of the Cold War that had forced the world to live under the threat of global thermonuclear war since the 1950's.

But C. Fred Bergsten is not "normal people".  I don't say this because I am trying to score cheap rhetorical points on a benighted basketball fan.  No.  This guy is actually a famous famous man.  In fact, I have given him short shrift above--I should have called him "Dr. Bergsten".

According to our friends at Wikipedia, there is a C. Fred Bergsten who "is an American economist, author, and political adviser. He has served as Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Treasury Department and has been director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, formerly the Institute for International Economics, since its founding in 1981. In addition to his academic work he makes his opinions known to the policy making community and engages with the public with television appearances writing for influential periodicals such as Foreign Affairs magazine and by writing books."  That is pretty interesting, but there is no way that THIS C. Fred Bergsten could possibly be the person who wrote our incredibly stupid letter to the editor, right?

So then I used Google to search for "C. Fred Bergsten" and "Annandale".  It seems that there is a Mrs. Virginia Wood Bergsten who lives in Annandale with her husband Dr. C. Fred Bergsten.  That was confirmed in the Wikipedia entry.  And there seems to only be one C. Bergsten in Annandale, who lives in a very nice brick house built in 1964.  According to the Petersen Institute website, Dr. Bergsten "was the most widely quoted think-tank economist in the world during 1997–2005 ".  He is a prolific author as well.  But nowhere does it mention that this man, who "during 1969–71, starting at age 27...coordinated US foreign economic policy in the White House as assistant for international economic affairs to Dr. Henry Kissinger at the National Security Council." was sorry to see the end of the Soviet Union.  

Dr. Bergsten is still in the news, including a nice article in the recent edition of Foreign Policy, in which the  "éminence grise in the world of international political economics" complains that "[t]he problem is that the individuals who are at the top of the foreign-policy hierarchy, both at State and at the National Security Council, tend to be less than sophisticated, shall we say, about economic issues."  But fortunately these unsophisticated, naïve buffoons can turn to Dr. Bergsten.  Because there certainly has never been a more sophisticated analysis of the geopolitics of the Cold War than this:

It is a tragedy that colossal matchups among the three basketball superpowers never occurred in '92.
                                                     C. Fred Bergsten, Annandale, VA


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