Friday, August 15, 2014

Cool Data Viz of the Day: U.S. Immigration, Foreign and Internal, State by State, Snice 1900

This is the kind of thing that tempts me to break down and get a New York Times subscription.  The Disunion blog is another one.

A Football Fan's Dilemma: Things We Read Today, 8/15/2014

Once again I say, I love Brian Phillips.  Grantland publishes a good deal of crap, but Brian Phillips, Charlie Pierce, and Bryan Curtis make up for a lot. 

With the World Cup having occupied a lot of my attention this summer, I have been trying for weeks to finish a post about soccer.  One thing I wanted to say is that soccer players have become my heroes, my avatars of manhood, the badasses whose bravery and grace under duress I thrill to.  Clint Dempsey playing with a broken nose, guys having a bloody gash glued up by the physio and then re-entering the game -- they are to me what Emmitt Smith is to Brian Phillips and his father in the piece. 

I guess having a zone where I can admire "men being men" is important to me.  Football used to serve that function: (See: Kellen Winslow, 1981 playoffs.)  But the brutality of football has gotten to be more than I can take.  The "spectacle of acrobatic violence, an endless war between shiny cartoon armies" -- I don't believe in it anymore.

Phillips starts in on the Ray Rice spousal-abuse debacle, and the peculiar kind of PR morass that the NFL keeps finding itself in:

...It has to do, I think, with the NFL’s curious, quasi-self-appointed role as the safe zone of troubled American masculinity — or, more broadly, as a kind of wildlife refuge for endangered privilege. You could glimpse the character of this role throughout the Michael Sam story, in which a background of frank homophobia was barely kept hidden by the curtain of celebration. You could see still more of it in the controversy over the Redskins name, in which the real question, for the term’s indignant defenders, has never been “Is this word acceptable?” The real question has been “Why wouldn’t this word be acceptable in football, where we’re supposed to be able to do things like this?”


Internet comments defending Rice and the NFL are — well, many of them are genuinely and chillingly misogynistic, but I think more of them are primarily concerned with protecting football from mainstream cultural norms: Don’t take this away too.

I love the common thread he finds among Ray Rice, Michael Sam, and the Washington football team nickname.

The title of Phillips's article, "Tough Talk," reminds me of my overarching theory about Republican foreign policy: tough talk is all Republicans are good at, and at some some strange juncture the tough talk takes on a life of its own, regardless of its objectives or any reasonable cost/benefit calculus.  This problem can bleed over into domestic public policy too.  (See: the police in Ferguson, Missouri.)

The piece concludes:

What I really want is to save football, a game that I love, from the men who think it should work like this. I want to dispel the illusion; I want that hypertrophied caricature of male prerogative to have no place in American life.

Me too; but I believe it's an illusion to think that football can be saved on these terms.  Phillips doesn't even mention the issue of concussions, which is easily the toughest challenge Roger Goodell faces.  To me, the answer is to eliminate the use of the helmet as a weapon.  But football won't be football anymore if that happens.  The players know that's true; in fact, one of the thorniest aspects of the concussion debate is that the players love the danger of the sport, are not ready to trade away the immediate thrill for their own long-term health.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Things We Read Today, August 7, 2014

I'd never heard of Jacob Bacharach until today, when I came across his Bloggingheads video made with Will Wilkinson.  It spurred me to spend my Amazon gift card on his novel (along with the new Rick Perlstein) and to check out his website.  The guy is a hell of a good writer.

In my recent absence from the blog there have been two big news events in world politics.  One was the shoot-down of a commercial airliner over Ukraine, and I worked up a high dudgeon over that one.  (What would you have if you took this country's scummiest Tea Party elements, egged them on officially, and gave them state-of-the-art military hardware?  You'd have the pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.) 

The other has been the escalation of fighting in the Gaza Strip, and I have lacked the courage of my convictions on that one.  It's a sign of their bankrupt position that so many supporters of Israel view their mission as a PR battle; that being said, they're doing well in the PR battle.  Even an Israeli liberal like Amos Oz is speaking in favor of the campaign to eliminate Hamas.  And it's discouraging to see just how many U.S. fora where criticism of Israel is still beyond the pale.

In this blog post, Jacob Bacharach writes in part from his perspective as an American Jew who has felt his childhood faith become tangled up with the political program of Zionism.  He knows whereof he speaks, and he has harsh words of criticism:

The terrible truth is that Israel was infected from the moment of its birth with the European evils whose virulent, 20th-centurty apotheoses necessitated, in the minds of so many, the creation of Israel in the first place, and we Jews, through Israel, have become a sick reflection of our own historic persecutors. I am not even speaking of the still unique evil of Nazism, although in the more extreme eructations of Israeli hard-liners, you do hear the debased language of racial purity and superiority. I am thinking of the old, durable, seemingly ineradicable traditions of pogrom, persecution, expropriation, and colonization. The Israelis possess the imperial arsenal of a modern Western nation-state, which camouflages the essentially primitive, pre-modern nature of their policy toward the Palestinians. The state of Israel is behaving like a village mob. Palestinian tunnels are the poisoned well. The Israelis are killing and lighting fires. “We will drive them out!” Where will they go? How will they escape? “They will have to figure it out, the devils!” But you forced them into the ghetto in the first place. “Yes, and they should be happy for what they have!” The US stands by like a distant monarch, its silence and occasional provision of more kindling a kind of majestic assent.

It would be comforting to say simply: I wash my hands of all of you. But we have accepted a state made of our religion, and that state is behaving abominably, unforgivably. It is a shame that we will not erase in a hundred years.