Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.

This sentiment has been echoed in every sport, at all levels of competition, and throughout time. Legacies have been sealed, fortunes have been made, legends have been forged on the back of victory. History remembers winners, not losers. Would we even know who Michael Jordan was even if he hadn’t won six championships? Would we even care about Babe Ruth if the Yankees weren’t so dominate? Would Jesse Owens have become part of American folklore if he didn’t defeat all challengers in Germany?

Matt Blitz is a writer based out of Los Angeles who’s written for Atlas Obscura, CNN, Untapped Cities, and Today I Found Out. He’s currently the head of Obscura Society LA. He does laundry on a regular basis. You can follow him on Twitter @whyblitz.

In the first few weeks of World War I, Evelyn Underhill published a little book about mysticism. Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People was written during the last months of peace. But was a book about mysticism for the common man really necessary when the whole world was collapsing? Underhill decided it was, more than ever.

The contemplative life, wrote Underhill, is not some dreamy, silly pursuit; “a game fit only for idle women and inferior poets.” Neither is it a pious “special career, involving abstraction from the world of things.” Mysticism is a call to arms. It is a challenge to engage with true reality, to see things are they really are. “The mystical consciousness,” Underhill wrote in her Preface, “has the power of lifting those who possess it to a plane of reality which no struggle, no cruelty, can… More…

I’m depressed by how 2011 is going. It’s been one bad thing after another, starting with the car bomb at the Coptic Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve. Now there’s the war in Libya. Is world peace a happy delusion that we inscribe on greeting cards and nothing more? Can you help restore my faith in humanity? — MJ

 

I hear you. You would think that with all our advancements, we would finally learn how to make peace with one another.  Sometimes I think we really haven’t moved forward at all, like we’re stuck in the Middle Ages where corrupt leaders slice off people’s heads. But I always try to remember that earnest individuals have tried to make world peace a reality. By establishing peacekeeping organizations and conferences, we have tried to rise above violence. And we… More…

Some dictators don’t know how to talk. They know how to speak, of course. They are able to use language. They utter words, but they don’t say anything. Hosni Mubarak, the current president of Egypt (at least at the time of this writing) recently made a speech in an attempt to quell the street protests and demands for an end to his despotic regime.

 

You might say it was an airy speech, draped in the finery of general principles, wafting lightly on the breeze of abstraction. He uttered sentences such as, “There is a fine line between freedom and chaos and I lean toward freedom for the people in expressing their opinions as much as I hold on to the need to maintain Egypt’s safety and stability.” That’s a truly amazing sentence. My favorite part is when Mubarak… More…

Captain Ian lurched across the bar and wagged a finger in my face. “I’ve fought for apartheid,” he said, as if I’ve accused him of having not. “I’ve fought for the Germans. I’ve killed.” No one at the bar was going to dispute these facts. Just minutes before, we’d watched our drunk captain confronting another patron with truculent glee. He threatened to smash a bottle, then a chair, then his own addled head across his antagonist’s. Tempers were calmed with a great outpouring of kind words and booze. Now, itching for more action, the captain had me cornered.

 

“I learned how to take a German rifle and smash it right in the middle of your head and crush your skull to pieces,” he said. His eyes lit up, as if kindled by the sweet memory of some past… More…

In a public park where families take their children to play on the swings, in what was, just a few decades ago, East Berlin, is a wall of relief sculptures. The sculptures date from the Communist days. They depict children who are happy and healthy, adults who are industrious and kind. There is work, play. There is life. Monuments like these — the remnants of the dreams and aspirations of a lost civilization — can stimulate that most disconcerting emotion amongst Germans: ostalgie (literally, east-stalgia, nostalgia for the old East Germany). It is not the first thing you expect to encounter in Berlin, ostalgie, until you realize that nothing in Berlin is settled, no aspect of the recent past has yet been laid to rest.

 

Just up the block from the park is a square, in the center… More…

A war has been brewing in Europe and no one seems to care. Admittedly, the hostilities have been mild so far: hurt feelings, insults, diplomatic wrangling. Yves Leterme (a Flemish politician) questioned whether people in the French-speaking part of Belgium have the “intellectual capacity” to learn Dutch. Belgium, Leterme suspects, holds together as a nation only because of three things: “king, national football team and certain beers.” Not even all the beers.

 

Belgium is not the most obvious candidate for a unified state. It is, and arguably always has been, deeply and fundamentally divided between the French-speaking southern half of the country (Wallonia) and the Dutch-speaking northern half of the country (Flanders). The separation runs back to the Frankish invasions of the area back around the fifth century, which is a pretty longstanding divide even by European standards…. More…

 

There’s been a lot of griping, of late, about the decade just passed. That seems appropriate for a decade that began in terrorism and war, and ended in economic turmoil (never having gotten the terrorism and war out of its system along the way). It was crap. TIME magazine, a reasonably polite rag most of the time, called it the “Decade from Hell.” Gallup polls over the last 10 years recorded all-time lows in the collective low. Those inclined to dabble in the marketing of stocks have collectively labeled the last decade, “the worst ever.” And so on.

Whenever people get to the business of condemning decades, I think of W.H. Auden. That’s because of his famous poem “September 1, 1939”, which opens with the following lines:

I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain… More…

 

The Naked and the Dead is an enormously long novel, washed up by the choppy waters of disillusionment, leaving nothing to the imagination.” That’s what David Dempsey had to say in a review on the novel for The New York Times in 1948. Dempsey went on to say that The Naked and the Dead revealed a great new talent in American fiction, Norman Mailer, but that the book was “not great.” A half-century after the publication of The Naked and the Dead and two years after Mailer’s death, it’s clear that Dempsey was both right and wrong. He sniffed out the general talent, but whiffed on the specific work.

No matter. The special risk of criticism is to be wrong in print, wrong for eternity. It is hard to blame Mr. Dempsey. The Naked and the Dead was… More…

 

The plot of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is ridiculous. A group of Jewish American soldiers are recruited by a Tennessee mountain man played by Brad Pitt to kill Nazis during the Second World War. Along the way they discover a plan to screen a new propaganda film by Goebbels at a cinema in Paris. All the top Nazis will be there, Hitler included. Exterminating them in one fell swoop will end the war. A few twists later, that is exactly what happens. So what’s the point? What is it about this counterfactual and openly farcical scenario that so intrigued Mr. Tarantino?

It must have something to do with the relationship between film and reality. The fate of Europe hangs, in this case literally, on a movie. Directors, actors, and even film critics are central players in events of… More…