Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Farcical Football Awards???

While football may not seem the most worthy topic to be discussed on this board, I believe the philisophical nature of the disagreements that have sprung forth since the awarding of the Balon d'Or today warrant an exception. The Balon d'Or is the award given to the best player in the world (the merits of assigning the award to a single player in what is possibly the world's most team oriented sport are dubious, but i will leave that debate for another day). This year's winner is the italian defender Fabio Cannavaro. He played his club football for Juventus of Turin before they were relegated to the italian second division for match fixing. He then captained Italy to world cup glory this summer and joined Real Madrid this fall.

Now that we have the background over with I will air my gripes. In the history of professional football only one defender has ever one the award. His name was Franz Beckenbauer and he was the tall grey haired gentleman that you saw in the stands 2 or 3 times each world cup match. not only was the world's most accomplished defender, but his charges upfield with the ball earned him the nickname der kaiser. he was a complete player who's dribbling and passing were second to none. Since then we have seen other great defenders with the skills to play anywhere on the field such as Carlos Alberto, Fernando Hierro, Roberto Carlos, and Paolo Maldini (who started playing professionaly for AC Milan before we were born and still plays there today). None of them have won the award. There are even contemporary examples of complete defenders such as Gianluca Zambrotta, Rafael Marquez, Eric Abidal and Rio Ferdinand. This year's winner has little in common with these players. He is a tough, fast, take no prisoners type of player. He is the archetipical defender, but nothing more. he lacks the skills to control, protect and pass the ball. When pressured he uncerimoniously boots the ball into the stands. And when he is beaten he resorts to fouls. I have no problem with this type of player (I am this type of player). The skills required to stop the Ronaldinhos of the world are just as important to victory as attacking finesse. Should all players be judged within the sphere of thier vocation, or should they have to transcend it? should 'the best' be the decisive player of the skillful player? Is Cannavaro's selection a victory for all hard working, self sacrificing football players like he claims it is? or is it the imposition of heartless resultism that misunderstands the emotions of the game? Does the Balon d'Or in a world cup year need to be on the winning team? This would be a nice return to the team ethic for this paradoxical award, but that makes it hypocritical. To call him the world's best player and base that status on being arguably the best player on the best team is markedly unjust.

I invite your opinions on all of these questions and of course on the parallels in the world in general, because the beauty of football is that football is life. Everything that exists in life and the world is present in football. It includes men of every size, shape and origin. It has fair play and cheats, an imperfect justice system, tribalism, nationalism, political alignments, history, globalization, a winner, a loser or neither all within 90 minutes.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A post NOT about capitalism, democracy, or war...

...but about the Islamic faith, and, all things considered, probably still pertinent. I have sincerely found great pleasure and moments of deep thoughtfulness in reading your posts about various aspects of (and faults in) Uncle Sam's great land, but I must confess, dear friends, that I feel I have grown more removed and out of touch with our home every day. Forgive any burgeoning ignorances or naivete. Here's something from the other side of the planet, another side of the coin, the Other side of our world...

I was resting one day in my hotel room in Agadir, in the company of the flies and cockroaches that happily shared my living space and probably enjoyed the viciously scorching midday heat as little as I did, when Mohammed Farai, a manager of that particular establishment, knocked on my open door and announced that I had a visitor. I had not been expecting any one and indeed knew not a soul in the city, so you can imagine the surprise that slowly emerged in my dozing mind like the head of a turtle sedately protruding from the confines of its shell to investigate its surroundings. I followed 'M' (as I took to calling Mr. Farai, whose behavior on more than one occasion had me convinced that he was a Moroccan mob boss with the hotel gig serving as a convenient cover) down the stairs to the dingy hotel lobby. Seated at one of the tables was a plump smiling Arab man wearing a white robe and a red fez, and as I approached he stood and greeted me in English (to my relief, as my French is pitiful and my Arabic even worse). He introduced himself as Aomar Saadaoui, a devout Muslim and a man who knew something about birds, and we talked for some time about various aspects of my project and of people and places I should visit while in the area. Possibly because the important month of Ramadan had recently begun, but possibly because he was simply a devout Muslim, Aomar also frequently slipped off onto tangents about the Islamic faith, especially the importance of Ramadan as allowing people to remind themselves of the Outer World, a realm of the spirit that has no regard or business with the physical, material sphere of which food and human hunger is an integral part and a powerful symbol. In relation to the habit of seabirds like terns to fold their wings back and plunge-dive from great heights into the ocean in the hunt for fish, Aomar related to me a Berber fable that I found particularly pertinent and interesting. His translation conducted on the spot certainly left the parable only partially complete, but in my mind its power still stands. According to Berber tradition, in the impossibly brief fraction of a moment directly after a seabird like a tern sees a fish and decides to dive, but before it folds its wings and lets itself fall like a stone from the familiar world of air and light to the foreign dark wet world of the ocean, an affirmation passes through its head with absolute certainty: 'Life is limited and must come to pass, and the living of this moment is intimately connected with that life in its whole form'. With the realization that life is limited and that God controls all, the bird relinquishes all humility, accepts no humiliation, and dives into the waves, knowing, accepting, and believing with complete totality that the only fears worthy of being faced and overcome are a fear of death and a fear of hunger.

For someone like me, traveling on a tight budget, devoting myself to simplistic living and a near-ascetic diet, often living in or passing through places that have gained a reputation (sometimes misconstrued) of being dangerous, the concept of overcoming fear and plunging into the unknown with such grace and courage naturally holds a great deal of attraction [in case you are wondering why I decided to do the bungy jump off the Bloukrans bridge, the highest jump in the world, the answer may lay in the desire to approach a real understanding of a seabird's dive]. Interestingly, I have always been awestruck when I have watched seabirds plummet into the sea in search of food, but my envy and fascination has generally been of a scientific nature (speed of the dive, depth of the plunge, etc), without ever drifting into the realm of considering any spiritual potentialities of the birds' bold lifestyles. Unbelievable, no, to think that a discussion of Ramadan could allow a different understanding of seabirds' predation strategies?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hell, no.

Wouldn't sacrificing yourself in a war on behalf of a liberal government be dying for the government that wasn't supposed to kill its citizens? If that liberal government buries you in a gigantic, monolithic supercemetary well-garnished with flags, doesn't its monolithic presence feed on your blood just as thirstily and debasedly as any authoritarian regime that gets a standard-raising erection from public executions? Shouldn't any liberal government which requires that its citizens die to maintain its dominance be ashamed of and shaken by this gross contradiction? The moment liberalism requires a 'patriot', it has failed as an ideal.

Take WWII. We beat the Nazis. But they didn't lose. They pissed in the well of human decency, and we firebombed Dresden, we conducted scientific experiments on minority populations and even servicemen, and we still profit off of the information gathered by Nazi scientists (ever wonder how, when your teacher in elementary school tells you how long humans can survive without food on the one hand versus water on the other, we know that? Or regarding overexposure?). Liberalism, that permanent refusal to give shame to another, truly can't exist without being a totalizing ethos.

So do we act 'like them' and engage in dirty tricks in a 'war to end war' mentality? Or do we act the purists and refuse to do anything that even slightly resembles causing another any suffering? We can't do either. We need to do both. We need to be the United Nations in this country of mine that can't stop killing.

So when Charles Rangel suggests we reinstate the draft to make politicians "think twice" about going to war (bullshit: politicians are always thinking about going to war), I immediately think of previous wars for which there was a draft, and especially WWI, where there was massive dissent and public opinion weighed heavily against it… and how we went to war. The problem is that if you can force a person to do something, they will rationalize by recasting that action as being of their own election. Hazing makes people part of a team by putting them through trauma so ego-shattering that they have to incorporate that trauma, that violence into themselves, like flesh growing over a bullet that can't be removed. This is why the 'ignorant' underprivileged lay down their lives so readily for the country that wrongs them and kills them: it's not stupidity but Stockholm syndrome. And as a privileged white young man, I've been lucky enough to have been kept with one foot outside of the door to the kidnappers' safehouse.

This is why I don't want a draft, is because people need to be kept free of patriotism, and subjecting the many to it (even as a stake in a gamble) does not free any from it. If the powerful want to go to war, they will go to war, and thank god that this time—unlike the real Vietnam—our volunteer-driven corps allowed for an entire middle class basically freed from the war which could look at it from a distance and object. The people on the inside were given no voice with which to object so long as the media was on the fence, so all we knew was jingoistic yokels. They were wronged ideologically and quite materially as well inasmuch as they got fucking shot to death in the desert. And nobody should be wronged like that. Including me.

General drafts do not deter war. They encourage righteous wars. And that's why that mother------- ways & means chair was on the side of nobody good when he proposed reinstating the draft. He can't conceive of a world without war, but only a world with just wars. He figured himself as George Bush's inverted double, as a philosopher king. That's still a king, that's still a demagogue. Sic semper tyranus, bitches.

Friday, November 17, 2006


From our friend at work, John Mulligan:

The daily publishing newsletter from www.shelf-awareness.com had an article on OJ Simpson's If I did it. I was mildly appalled by certain booksellers' opinions on whether or not to carry it. One bookseller on OJ Simpson's If I Did It:

"Do we take a 'stand' on such a book, thereby sending our customers who want to buy it to our competitors? Is this a form of censorship? Or do we make it available without displaying it other than having it on the shelf?" She added, "I'm disturbed to be put in such a position. Freedom of the press notwithstanding, the way they're marketing the book raises huge ethical questions. We all know the publishers are desperate to make money on commercial books, but this takes the cake." Late yesterday, Olson said, the store decided to sell the book but donate proceeds "to Interact, a nonprofit here that shelters battered women and children."

Okay, I have some serious problems with this:

Not selling something is only "censorship" if the vendor is the only vendor to have access to the product, i.e., if their decision dictates the success or failure of that product. But obviously, this vendor does not think that is the case, as her other concern is "sending [their] customers who want to buy it to [their] competitors." If someone wants a product today, the free market is… well… free enough that they can get it anywhere, anytime. Thank you, internet and PayPal.

This is the 'bad' side of the late capitalist market economy. We have so much freedom within the system as a whole, everything is so level, that we make the mistake of thinking ourselves copresent with its totality (was it forty percent of Americans who think they're in the wealthiest 1%?). What we have is freedom, but only if we realize that we don't have the freedom to influence anyone else to an undue degree. Because otherwise, if you feel you have a huge amount of power (I can buy anything I want!), you feel obligated to act in a certain way (if I don't buy this, the economy will suffer!), and so are completely trapped by a false model of the economy and your place within it. Whereas you would really have individual power if you realized the extremely limited horizons of that power: whether or not you support company X, your forty dollars aren't going to sink it or float it, so why not decide which is the moral decision and make yourself a freestanding moral entity?

In this case: OJ's book, definitely an abomination. Honestly, who would want to give any money not simply to him (though apparently he's not getting any of it, it's unclear where it's going), but to the publisher who would profit in such a craven way on the sufferings of other human beings. Because two people did die. And OJ did do it. And playing in hypotheticals effaces them—doesn't kill them, but totally erases their fact from history and places them in a permanent state of limbo.

And finally, aside from the issues of false consciousness, that store is going to make money by trafficking OJ's book—it'll increase traffic to the store, especially if they put it in an out of the way spot, because then people will have to browse for it. And then they'll buy another book. Hypocrisy or stupidity? One is just a moral stupidity.

DON'T BUY OJ'S BOOK. (steal it)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Curry, Wells, and Armageddon

Thought this might stir up some discussion. Forgive its ultimate tendency to be a bit pedantic.

Curry, Wells, and Armageddon

Even the name sounds fictional. Dr. Oliver Curry would be the perfect nominative for a wise but too-oft disregarded scientist who convinces the world too late that it is bound for disaster in a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster in the style of “Jurassic Park” or “The Day after Tomorrow.” Or wasn’t he a character in “The Time Machine,” ye olde grim statement of the distant future, by H.G. Wells?

Hardly. Curry is real, and better than that, he’s British and bearing a PhD, some attributes that likely had some bearing on how closely the world listened when he proclaimed the latest results of his research: in as little as 100,000 years, humanity will have divided into two separate species, one tall, brilliant and attractive while the other is equally short, dim, and ogrelike.

All right – perhaps Dr. Curry does belong in a Wells novel.

The truth of the matter is, there are a thousand reasons that I should disregard this supposedly researched theory. For starters, I first heard about it in that most reliable of news sources, the Onion (all right, so I haven’t been keeping up with my pseudoscience lately). And then there was the forum in which Curry made his grand announcement: Bravo television, a British men’s network that boasts of, among other things softcore porn. There was also a great deal of news that should have, in fact, pleased the more stereotypical of men: the next thousand years should hold both great promise for the, erm, endowment of the male sex as well as the smoothing of females into pornographic proportions, if we are to believe Dr. Curry. To cap it off, there is a grim prediction coming straight out of turn of the century sci-fi; and frankly, it was better in The Time Machine (well, unless you count the shoddy movie version).

The thing is though, Curry is a political scientist, not a physical scientist. We could have figured –that- out by his prediction that in the next 1000 years, inter-racial mixing will lead to a world of copper-skinned neutral types (pigmentation doesn’t work that way). Most of the literate world is laughing at Curry, and it is easy. I mean, he says people are going to become more sexually selective, antisocial, longer-living, computer-dependent… well, tell me something I didn’t know. However, we didn’t laugh at Wells. We knew Wells was no scientist; he was an author, and the point of the Time Machine was to entertain – and to make a statement about the current trends he saw in the world. Maybe the humorous “Dr.” before Curry’s name distracts us from the fact that we ought to treat him similarly—less as a prophet, and more as a man who is making a point about current events. What alarms and then, with consideration, amuses us about Curry’s theory is more its air of pseudoscience, I propose, and less its novelty. The ideas of classism, economic/achievement gaps, sexual selectivity, increased longevity: these are less original than tedious. The demise of humanity as we know it may be impending, but it is old news.

In fact, what might be more alarming than the idea of a human subspecies is the amazing display of apathy that most educated people have for the trends we as humans are showing. This does not seem merely to apply to the trends of which Curry took note. The other day, a friend remarked that we never hear about the depleting ozone layer or killing rainforests anymore. My response: sure we do; it just doesn’t catch our attention these days. Chalking this entire trend up to aging and its proportional decline in idealism and naïveté doesn’t cut it; I for one am still petrified by extinct animals, AIDS, and global warming. The problem is, my idealistic attention tends to turn to things that are most immediate, either in chronology or proximity: the genocide in Darfur, a proposed tax cap, presidential candidates, or uneducated children joining gangs. The longer something is with us, and the farther away it seems, the less likely it is that it will hold our attention.

I’m not accusing the media for being at fault with this tendency, but I do think the same phenomenon makes the media search anywhere, desperately, for something new, also makes us shift our attention from familiar threats. A love for novelty is probably genetic. I don’t know much about genetics (…apparently neither does Dr. Curry…), but I think that this is as much of a threat to our species as anything else. I think the whole of human inattention to our greatest long-term problems is worse than the sum of its threatening parts. Curry’s 100,000 years is a long way off, after all. I’m no fool. Before the human race will subdivide, we’ll be killed by global warming, the AIDS pandemic, nuclear holocaust, street violence, the loss of the rainforest, acid rain, famine, and avian flu. I don’t list these disasters to prove myself blasé to their threat or to render them mundane. Au contraire, I am reminding us of their cumulative hazards to make the point that the greatest peril of all may be our world’s sheer multitude of problems – and our own human distraction from many of its worst.

But then – disasters are kind of like clichés; both are undervalued. Like this one: don’t believe everything you read. One apocalypse is plenty. Before we start distracting ourselves with our collective fate in the distant future, we might do well to consider the world in the present tense. This does not mean just watching the news; just as in our children, there seem to be increasing occurrences of ADHD. We may have a host of problems, but we also have the manpower; last I checked, we were at the 7 billion mark. It’s much easier to focus on the impending disaster due to the world’s problems than it is to realize that the first step each of us might take toward solving them… is to pick one.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Rambling Prelude to Midterm Elections

To properly address today's midterm elections, we must return (and regrettably so) to John Kerry's gaff of last week. I don't want to anatomize intentions as much as I want to focus on the trajectory of the story itself, especially within the Democratic party.

Let's begin with a simple synopsis.

What Happened:

- John Kerry misspoke, so that a joke intended to darkly and viciously criticize the Bush Administration instead seemed to criticize American troops.
- Kerry initially made a strong statement in which he refused to apologize and quite nicely shifted attention to the original intentions of his joke, hoping to begin a conversation about the war in Iraq instead of a diversionary conversation about troop intelligence and Democratic patriotism, which was what ultimately ensued.
- Prominent Democrats and Republicans alike demanded that Kerry apologized.
- As a result of mounting political pressure and the failure of his own statement to initiate public discourse, Kerry eventually apologized and retreated sheepishly to one of his many homes.

What Did Not Happen, Why It Didnt Happen And Why This Fills Me With Rage:
- Democrats did NOT promulgate a unified message that stood behind the intent of Kerry's original joke and attempted to direct the media towards the more significant errors and missteps of the Bush Administration in Iraq. This indicates the serious and continued lack of a functional Democratic media machine. This also indicates increased divisions within the Democratic party, especially in this election cycle as Democrats have been forced to run moderates in order to pick up key Congressional seats. Moderates in close elections were forced to run to the right in order to avoid aligning themselves too closely with a prominent Democratic leader like Kerry. This does not bode well for a party just months away from a potential Congressional takeover.

- This enrages me because: Democrats or, more broadly, liberals, have failed to author and promote a grand vision for change in this country. Democrats may win individual seats across the nation and there may be significant pickups for the party nationally. But without a unifying theme, message, vision, etc..., these victories will remain isolated, fragmented: they will fail to coalesce into the sort of movement that is truly necessarry to shift public opinion in a significant and lasting way.

I don't want to belittle or deride the gains that will be made possible by a Democratic takeover of Congress. These gains will not be insignificant, but they will be insufficient.

To move the country towards the left, the Democrats need to abandon politics, as it were. The political landscape in this country is, in a way, fully mapped. Without the invention of a new language, a new way of speaking about our values and speaking to people about these values, any movement left or right will be temporary and small.

The sort of grand vision I'm speaking of is a progressive one, a new cultural narrative that recaptures the romanticism of the American dream, a narrative of broadd gestures and rhetorical flourishes that fills the country once again with a sense of urgency towards an abstract but emotive end. I understand why progressives are frightened of broad, romantic gestures because of the violence that has occurred beneath the flourishes of language and because of the socio-political nuance that romance inevitable overwhelms. But history should not be a reason for inaction, it should merely fill us with an increased sense of caution and responsibility.

If progressivism takes hold in this country, it will be because of a political leadership able to make American believe in them, a political leadership able to make seemingly disparate issues and causes coalesce within a single, synthetic, dialectical vision of the future.

We need a political leader who can talk about the future as a time of promise, who can be honest about the challenges we will face as we move towards these promises, and who can bridge the gap between private and public lives so that politics might once again become the charge of America instead of a task left to those in power.

I think the next president will be someone who can perpetuate the story of America's greatness without resorting to isolationism or ethnocentrism. It will be someone who can talk about economic competition and the rise of power in Asia, and someone who can define these new areas of the world as foreign policy priorities. It will be someone who can talk about the nation's infrastructure and get people to support its wholesale improvement so that our nation can become a symbol of innovation and efficiency. It will be someone who can talk about diversity as a foundation of democracy and borders and walls as antithetical to this foundation without resorting to the tired metaphors of multiculturalism.

America needs a new vision. Only once we have a vision, an imagined future, can we begin to talk about how to get there. Without a telos, imaginary (and dynamic) as it will inevitably be, all politics are moot, only tepid adjustments to the status quo.

More on this later, but allow me to close with a bold pronouncement: Russ Feingold will be the darkhorse candidate in 2008.

Thoughts on 2008? On how the next two years will influence 2008? On Obama or Clinton or even Gore? And maybe even on who will get the Republican nomination? (You don't need to be registered to comment, by the way).

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I honestly can't tell you about my best poem because of a nondisclosure agreement.

I see that guy holding his
grocery bag full of food
across on the other platform,
it's plastic.

This is where the fun ends, this

is where you come
to understand just
enough of what's
going on for the
knowledge remaining
to be gained to be
not worth the efforts so expended.

My poem titled:
Aaron Sorkin films all his shows from the P O V of an overeager intern.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Democracy's Eleventh Hour

A question that arises from Ben's similarly titled post of several days ago:

Is democracy the only value that can exist absolutley in a democratic society?

A somewhat poorly-constructed and vague question, yes, but purposely so as to have the answers originate in questions of what absolutism even means and how absolutism relates to or is the same as "ordinary" belief. Another question then: what does it mean to believe (in anything) in a democratic society and when do these beliefs (if ever) become opposed to democracy and when (if ever) does it matter or even become problematic?