June 25, 2006

The World Cup

I have a few moments to update, so I'll talk about something that I absolutely love, the World Cup. The World Cup is greater in my mind, than any other sports event because, even more than the Olympics, the world is drawn together with an intensity of passion unequalled by anything else. It makes possible the feeling of being connected in jubilation or dejection with literally tens of millions instantaneously, a feat of such enormous humanism and humaneness that I truly cannot understand how anyone could possibly dislike or even ignore such an incredible experience.

But every Cup year, it seems, a favorite activity resurfaces--explaining America's lack of interest in soccer. There are a few common answers, and I'll try to give some of them here:

1) America is ADD. They can't take the sort of concentration needed for watching soccer.

Interestingly enough, though, this objection conflicts with the next:

2) Soccer doesn't have enough real action to keep the attention of an average American. [This also goes under the name of "not enough scoring"]

If soccer truly doesn't have enough action to keep our attention, then it should fit in perfectly with the ADD tendencies we have of letting our concentration shift from the game to something else, then to another thing, and then after awhile, back to the game, where we'll find that likely nothing has changed.

3) Americans don't like watching sports that their country isn't good at. Or, to put a finer point on it, Americans don't like watching a sport that other, smaller, Third World countries are better at than America is.

Are you saying that America is xenophobic and nationalistic to the point of hollow jingoism? O, well then, I agree. And for a good example of this genuinely silly attitude toward sport, check out Joe Malchow: "I think there are some very basic explanations, like the fact that soccer is necessarily an international sport, which makes very much sense for Europe. But the United States, vasty in its land and in its people, and separated by a sea, can sustain its three chief sports by competing within itself. This quantity and quality of competition—-in which the rest of the world doesn’t seem to want to take part anyway, and that’s just fine—-satisfies." Nevermind the fact that Great Britain has its own very successful Premiership league, or Japan its own baseball league, or even that both baseball and basketball in America can no longer really be called "satisfied" by "competing within itself," given that they are now and increasingly will be dominated by non-American players. No! American sports are not globalized, and sports in other countries are never localized! That would violate our national character!

Joe also points to a different post, which is actually worse than his own commentary, and which states,
Goals are indeed a rare commodity in soccer, so much so that soccer is, essentially, a zero sum game. The “pie” of goals not only is meager, it never grows. So it is fought over with an intensity that is almost never found in American sports. This isn’t boring, but it is deeply unsatisfying to Americans.

My theory is that Americans have neither the belief system nor the temperment for such a sisyphean sport as soccer. We are a society of doers, achievers, and builders. Our country is dynamic, constantly growing, and becoming ever bigger, richer, and stronger. We do not subscribe to a “zero sum” mentality. We do not labor for the sake of laboring. And we like our sports teams to score. Scoring is a tangible accomplishment that can be identified, quantified, tabulated, compared, analyzed, and, above all else, increased.
This is stupid, because it mischaracterizes soccer as a zero-sum game when it is nothing of the sort. It is a game of incrementalist strategy, and it is America's inability to think in the terms of incrementalist strategy—a character trait which I find to be often a deficiency and only sometimes a benefit—that helps kill soccer's popularity in America. Soccer is Risk, and America wants to play Sorry! Soccer isn't sisyphean, it's martial, but unfortunately, even that metaphor doesn't work, since most Americans think of war less tactically than heroically, less about field maps and broad strategies than about monument-ready moments of glory and triumph.

Americans don't like soccer because the victories on the field--at the end of the game or in it--are subtle and not really about individuals. They're small, and they don't coalesce very quickly or regularly. ESPN's slogan for the World Cup is "One game changes everything." I'm not even sure I'd go that far in my claims about the dynamics of soccer, but I would bet that Americans think even that claim is too dull--"One game changes everything? What about one swing, one pass, one shot? That's what sports are about!"

What vulgar puerility.

Secondarily, I think most Americans cannot understand the division which takes place in most fans between the watching of the game and the playing of it. As this blogger that Joe quotes from says, "We do not labor for the sake of laboring." Soccer players don't labor for the sake of laboring; that's a totally ludicrous claim and shows an absolute lack of experience playing. Rather, what this illustrates is the automatic identification with the players of a game that Americans do reflexively and that American sports depends upon for their popularity. You are "in the game" as a fan of American sport, but I don't think you are as a soccer fan. You can totally watch a game literally as a work of art, truly disinterested in whether the ball goes in the net or not.

The best game of the tournament so far was the Argentina/Mexico game--not because of the high drama of going into extra time or anything of that sort, but because it was played in a beautiful way--openly, with a controlled yet frenetic quality, featuring outrageous feats of ball handling and constant, perpetual dashes and runs--the Latin American way, in other words. If the game had been 8-7, it couldn't have been any better--the goals didn't matter, except for the fact that each one was utterly, unbelievably gorgeous in its execution.

But that's the way the spectator feels--it doesn't matter what the score is, as long as the ball moves around beautifully. For the players, beauty is only a means to an end. The score is what matters for them. The fans simply chose to do, to react, to observe, with different criteria in mind, and that, in my mind, is why Americans can't appreciate soccer--because they can't chose to have criteria of beauty in mind other than the beauty of the bottom line. Again, vulgar puerility.

June 21, 2006

Blogging will be virtually non-existent

Tomorrow I leave for Amherst, MA, where I will be working at a Great Books Summer Program. That may surprise some of you, given my distaste for core curricula and other such things, but I'm personally a big fan of the Great Books. I feel like I've blogged enough before on the topic, so I won't wear you out with another post about compulsory canons, etc. Instead, I leave you with another recommendation:

Watch Veronica Mars.

No, seriously. Watch Veronica Mars.

And if you're bored, check out Pitchfork's 100 Greatest Music Videos. I read Pitchfork rather lackadaisically, but this feature is actually really outstanding. However, to balance things out, also check out a Dartmouth alum's list of the Top Twenty-Five Music Videos.

June 20, 2006

Polar Bears: Humanity's Last Line of Defense

Norway is building an underground bunker somewhere above the Arctic Circle (in Svalbard, a name which should make any Philip Pullman fan smile) which will house an enormous variety of seeds for all kinds of plants, just in case we all nuke each other and all the plants die or global warming kills off the plants first.

The really awesome part about this whole thing is this, though:
While the facility will be fenced in and guarded, Svalbard's free-roaming polar bears, known for their ferocity, could also act as natural guardians, according to the Global Diversity Trust.
These polar bears will also be fitted with shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles and will be trained in judo. That is all.

O, one other thing: check out this blog, a frequently updated site detailing and keeping track of all World Cup related deaths across the globe. At this moment, there have been 18. However, there has been one resurrection that we can chalk up to La Copa Mundial as well:
A 94-year-old declared dead suddenly sprang up and asked when Germany were next playing in the World Cup.

When told she had been declared dead by doctors, Maria Mueller replied: "Not likely, not until I see if Germany wins the World Cup.

"There's still life in these old bones yet, and I certainly couldn't miss the football."

Mrs Mueller had been found slumped over in her chair by son Bernhard Mueller, 66, at their home in Luegde. Neither Bernhard nor a local doctor could find a pulse.

June 19, 2006

Summer Reading Recommendation

Nikolai Gogol for the 21st Century. And if that doesn't sound exciting, you're probably not cool enough for this book.

June 16, 2006

Happy Bloomsday, Everyone!

The action

The text

I cannot believe in a God who wants to be witnessed for all the time.

I have no idea why there has of late been a resurgence of interest in Noah Riner (did he go talk to a home schooler conference or something?) but Little Green Blog and the Dartmouth Free Press website have been getting numerous comments the past few days to posts/articles that I wrote last fall. Since those comments are functionally hidden from you, my readers, due to their place deep within the LGB archives, I'll just throw up a link to the original post (this one too) and excerpt some of the comments now:

From the DFP website: "I don't understand your fear of all things Christian. What is so frightening about encouraging students to look at themselves critically and thoughtfully? Why does the name of "Jesus" strike fear in your heart?" [Ok, how about this. You recognize that faith, religion, and all your little biblical stories are legitimate subjects for unfettered secular academic inquiry, and we'll stop getting pissed off if kids tell us he's the only route to personal improvement. How about that?]

From Julie: If Jesus Christ truly did exist and if he lived a perfect life, would he not be worth mentioning in a convocation speech? Furthermore, if Christ actually died on a cross for the sins of mankind and resurrected after three days in order that we might be saved, then don't you think it was a good thing that Noah spoke of him? And so I challenge you to research the facts, the evidence; if you find that there is no real evidence for everything I listed above, then you're right in admonishing Noah for saying what he said. [Facts? Evidence? Madam, would you possibly be referring to The Bible? I believe we like to call that "begging the question."]

From Shaundra: There is a christian comic who just wrote a book called "out of the Closet Christianity" I am not sure if this is a quote from the book, but it talks about how homosexuals are coming out of the closet and christians are going in. That is a very scary thought. [A scarier thought is that there are actually Christian comics. Aren't bad attempts at popular music enough?]

From Mei-Shen Gregory: Noone understands God, we have all turned away from God, and we are stubbornly resistent to repent before God. Why are many people reluctant to ascribe God as both Father and Judge? [Uhhhhh... Maybe because some people feel that He doesn't exist.] Most importantly, the sacrificial act of Jesus is a symbol of the depravity of our condition? [That's what I was wondering.] ...in this postmodern culture, our reasoning has become clowded [sic] by too much generous orthodoxy and not enough absolute truth [like orthography]... Riner's message at a prestigious and secular IV [My land, we've gone intravenous--O, that insidious President Wright] league school such as Dartmouth was quite impressive [actually, I hear it was quite underwhelming to anyone who actually heard the speech]

From Anonymous: You see now, a person can blame his crimes on "bad genes" or a poor upbringing, instead of on the fallen sin nature. [Because "Satan made me do it" is such an improvement on the insanity plea.] ...true love is putting the well-being of another before one's own well being. I thank God for witnesses like Mr. Riner.I will keep you in my prayers. May God bless you all... [See, this is exactly it--Riner, and his supporters, feel that the best way they can show us "true love" is by ministering to us. We're saying no thanks, no sale, goodbye and brush the dust from your sandals on the way out.]

June 10, 2006

"God bless him, he has the hands of a prison doctor..."

That is not a quote that will be found in this [pdf], a speech for the London School of Economics, delivered by David Graeber, an avowed anarchist. Graeber has just been shown the door by Yale, where he taught anthropology. Although he is broadly considered to be one of the great young anthropologists in the world, his outspokenness and activism apparently trumped his academic work in accounting for the no-rehire. Anyway, it's a fantastic speech.

The above quote does come from Seth MacFarlane (The Family Guy creator), who gave Harvard's Class Day speech. (youtube)

Part 1

Part 2 (in Peter Griffin's voice)

Part 3 (in Stewie Griffin's voice)

Part 4 (in Quagmire's voice—not really that funny)

The kid right behind MacFarlane is incredibly annoying. Watch out. (both items via Metafilter)

And while you have some free time, check out Ben Taylor's blog. Ben is an executive editor of The Dartmouth and an all-around great guy, although he is a Cubs fan.

June 9, 2006

Anyone know what's going on? - UPDATE

HPo raids AD, carts off "10 boxes and two large bags of evidence... along with... a videotape, two sledgehammers and a computer".

The Dartmouth and the AP wire mention that an investigation has been going on since October of 2004. I will not speculate as to what this could mean or what could have been the object of this search, but I'll certainly be very interested to find out.

Update: So the main rumor appears to be true, although the D isn't known for its journalistic integrity or anything. According to an update on The Dartmouth's website, the raid is linked to a sex tape made by an '03 AD. The popular version of the rumor also says the tape may be a bequest passed down in the house, and links at its highest levels to G. Gordon Liddy himself, possibly even Vice President Cheney. Horrifying mental imagery aside, if this proves to be true, it will be hard to see how the college responds to this any more favorably than it did to Zete's transgressions.

Update 2: Dean Larimore has sent a blitz out to the campus essentially restating the facts in the original AP reports but divulging nothing more.

Better Latte than Never

[I'll warn you: this is long and probably not summer vacation material]

Cleaning out my room for the trip home (I've stayed through interim), I picked up a copy of the Green Key issue of the Review that I had been saving in order to read this lovely little poison pen letter to French intellectuals by Emily Ghods-Esfahani. Reviewing a recent publication by a Dartmouth prof (Lawrence Kritzman), The Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought, Miss Ghods-Esfahani mocks the famous Death of the Author. Miss Ghods-Esfahani in fact proves Monsieur Barthes's point—in place of a real author, we find someone who is merely adept at reading Wikipedia. For it is quite clear that she has little understanding of anything but the most rudimentarily second-hand bowdlerizations of 20th century French and continental thought.

She starts out ridiculously—"Modernism itself was a philosophical tradition that placed reason above all, a system rooted in French philosophy, from Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, to the Enlightenment philosophes’ Rights of Man." Didn't even bother to check Wikipedia, I guess. Modernism is an aesthetic movement; I know of no "Modernist" philosophical tradition—certainly some "modern" philosophers, but no Modernists. Secondly, the aesthetic movement almost completely uncoupled itself from Cartesian views of humanity and rationality in its glorification of, well, The Modern—machines, progress, the abstract. The machine is not rational—watch Metropolis or Modern Times—it is beyond rationality as much as it is beyond humanity.

Miss Ghods-Esfahani is at least well-informed enough to parrot the same attack that has been used on Derrida and his fellow travellers—she finds in deconstruction a prime example of the Liar's Paradox—the assertion that it is true that there is no truth. What Miss Ghods-Esfahani—and so many like her—does not understand is that deconstruction is not meant to be a quest for something in the way that Kant's project was, or even Heidegger's. Deconstruction is not a project or a pursuit; it is a position, a possibility, a space inside the metaphysical fortress we have been building since Socrates's death.

Deconstruction is entirely beyond the Liar's Paradox because it is not asserting the absence or unreality of truth—though it may do so tactically—rather, it makes no assertions at all. As with skepticism more generally, it only asks questions. {That distinction, for what it's worth, I take from Paul Tillich, hardly the kind of wide-eyed radical Miss Ghods-Esfahani clearly detests.} There are certainly limits to the skeptic's position, but those limits are not identical to the limits or constraints placed upon a truth-generative project like induction or deduction. Skepticism is not truth-producing. It is truth-reducing. The Liar's Paradox is inapplicable, and so is Miss Ghods-Esfahani's critique.

The point of this all is that (as you should know by now if you read LGB with any frequency), I find dismissals of poststructuralist/postmodernist philosophy enormously irritating. The common arguments—that it is faddish and sterile, purposefully obscure and therefore valueless—have been hurled at numerous philosophers whom we now recognize as the pillars of Western philosophical tradition—Socrates foremost, but also Hume, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, William James, and, yes, Nietzsche.

I find Miss Ghods-Esfahani's review irritating because she assumes that someone with very little (or no) training or study can dismantle (I won't use the word 'deconstruct') an entire century of thought using little more than a sneer and the accusation of political radicalness and the intimation that the latte set can't be trusted with either the creation or the holding of ideas.

Seriously though, if I tried to smirk my way through a holistic critique of quantum mechanics or phonology or labor economics, I would be laughed at, or should be. Why can so many people take such uninformed potshots at an entire block of philosophy and be cheered on as if they were doing us all a service? Now, I believe we should certainly not cheer on the professors and academics who praise and utilize poststructuralist or postmodern language and axioms without knowing very much at all about them either, but ignorance on their side does not mean we should cultivate ignorance going the other way and praise it to boot. I find that anti-intellectual at best, willfully and maliciously misguiding at worst.

June 8, 2006

Jon Stewart smacks Bill Bennett around The Daily Show


It's about gay marriage and it's the first time I've seen Stewart take the gloves off on his own show. He nails Bennett to his seat.

Also: For those of you keeping up on the Constitution mess, I have finally responded to the very long and detailed comment someone wrote a few days ago.

June 6, 2006

Running with the Devil

I will address the comments on my last post about the Alumni Constitution at greater length in the comments section, but I would like to address the body of comments coming from the concerned liberal alums more generally.

The reason I am standing against the Constitution is that I feel that the parts under question are motivated more by paranoia and ideological contempt than they are by a solid assessment of what the College—especially the undergraduates—need. Believe me, I know what ideological contempt looks like—I practice it frequently—and this is it in spades.

I feel that these measures, which are unequivocally a blatant and unequivocal abuse of power, are unnecessary and address a threat that I find is being blown out of proportion. I do not feel, and most of the students I have talked to do not feel, that we are on the verge of a conservative invasion. I have previously written about the conservatism already here at Dartmouth and feel that I am objectively one of its most persistent critics. But I do not feel that we are in danger of much reversion. I am not sensing at this moment an impending doom for things like the Center for Women and Gender Studies or the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program or the Gay Straight Alliance or anything else that smacks of equality and diversity. What I sense is a moment where many alumni now feel comfortable complaining about these things and criticizing them openly. I think that there is really no substance behind these complaints and criticisms and that they will blow themselves out in a few years without lasting damage. Unless, that is, we fan the flames by restricting them, demonizing them, and therefore inciting them.

If, however, I am wrong and there actually is a genuine and legitimate threat, I am more than willing to reconsider my position—in fact, I will do everything I can to expose and eradicate that threat. If anyone reading this blog has any real evidence of a concerted operation—and not merely rhetoric and hopes and dreams—with likely success to turn back Dartmouth's clock please email me here. If you wish to remain anonymous, well, free email isn't hard to come by, but you can also send regular mail to this address:

Andrew Seal
Hinman Box 3601
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH

I am entirely serious about this. If any of you have evidence that the threat of regression is both real and likely to succeed, please pass that on to me. Or if you have suggestions for where I could look to find something legitimately sinister, please tell me. I will follow up over the summer.

June 2, 2006

Humorous Picture

According to Dartmouth's liberal blogfather Chris Bateman, this blog hasn't had enough humorous pictures recently.

From my home state of Indiana:

Immediately below is my response to the rest of Chris's post.

Dear Mr. Anonymous Insightful Commenter person:

I think your accusations about my intelligence and integrity have been adequately addressed in the comments section here. If Connor had my back here (I'm not even sure he agrees with me, but hell), this is the point where he would call you a dome unit and I would laugh.

But to the meat of your comment, which Chris kindly posted for you:

When you say that the Constitution will provide "a structured voice for alumni to air their issues and opinions to the Trustees," I hear "will encourage a bureaucratic power-grabbing tug-o-war between the Lone Piners and the current alumni 'leaders.'" I don't really see how this is a desirable outcome, but please let me know what the benefits of infuriating retired conservatives are. See, they have both time and resentment on their hands, and that's not something I would want to try to incite. Now, if you think you can win, well good for you. But even if you could, I'd still be against you because I don't think you can deliver a twentieth of what the College needs.

The point is, I don't feel like more structure is going to help the College address the areas that I believe are its problems. Do you think a representative body is really going to form a cohesive opinion about how to deal with sexual assault on campus? Or will it be able to come together to agree upon and then expound the merits of creating an Asian/Asian-American Studies Department or an independent Middle-Eastern Studies Department? Will it be able to formulate a program that improves student writing? All of that is far, far from likely. O sure, you could probably get enough of your representatives on board for things like recommending more funding be given to club sports. But seriously, what needs of the students do you find that your representative body will be able to meet?

Again, I assert that passionate alumni interested in a specific cause and working through student (or even faculty) groups is and will always be much more effective than trying to get some insular body of alums to first identify the actual problems on campus and then offer valuable suggestions to the Trustees, who will then try to order or cajole the administration into some (probably modified) course of action. When I went to the Asian-American Studies Conference this term, I overheard the keynote speaker Gary Okihiro (who has been enormously successful at setting up a number of incredible programs at both Cornell and Columbia) speaking to a Dartmouth alum about how to organize support for the current effort to form an Asian-American Studies department. Guess what, he didn't mention forming a "structured voice" representing all Dartmouth alums. That's a strategy guaranteed to induce stagnation, torpor, and ineffectuality.

As for the other point—the argument that Joe and The Review have been making about the changes to the petitioning process has nothing really to do with how many nominated candidates there are. The issue is that petition candidates must announce their candidacy before the Nominating Committe chooses their candidates, meaning the whole point of petitioning—reacting to a poor choice of candidates—is lost. That is a serious flaw, and although it seems right now that it is specifically designed with the Lone Pine Revolution in mind, it will equally affect anyone on the left who is championing a cause or causes that the Nominating Committee either ignores or opposes. Justice isn't always fairness (sorry, Rawlsians), but fairness is occasionally pragmatically better.

Insightful comment re: alumni constitution

I haven't posted on this blog in a while, but this proposed alumni constitution is kind of a big deal, and I have been a bit surprised by the fervor of this blog in opposing it. I apologize if I'm stepping on anyone's toes here, but I believe the below comment, made anonymously (it wasn't me) on one of Andrew's posts, is worth posting on this main page and considering. It makes some excellent points regarding the proposed alumni constitution.

Here's why the new constitution matters to so many alumni:

1. It provides for a structured voice for alumni to air their issues and opinions to the Trustees. To be sure, it works only if the Board agrees to treat the ALB with respect by meeting with it on a regular basis, which the Board has been silent about up to now, but it is better than the present system in which the CRG has been given little credence by the Board. To maintain the current system and argue that all alumni issues should be voted on by referendum is to agree that California's method of democracy is the best way of gathering alumni opinion. The problem with this is that most alumni are too busy with their lives to really delve into substantive issues in order to make informed decisions. So, after months of protracted public arguing in the papers and on blogs, which you say you decry as painting President Wright in a bad light, they ask fellow alumni whom they trust how they should vote. Isn't it possible that a representative form of governance might do a better job of getting informed on issues (even if they are then to be labeled "insiders") and make judgments on behalf of the whole?

Does this mean that faculty and students are shut out of the process? I don't believe that they are. The faculty are probably the most influential group of stakeholders in the institution. If you don't agree, re-read the history of President McLaughlin's era. Their voice is heard by, in particular, President Wright. Good grief; he came from this faculty. As for the student voice, I don't think it is over-ridden by the alumni either. Students are omnipresent on campus; they are who the school thinks about everyday, all day. If you have an issue with your voice being heard, it is with the Trustees, not the alumni. Want a place on the Board; ask them to grant you a charter seat. When you become alumni, you too can run for an alumni seat.

2. The new constitution attempts to deal with a structural problem that now forces the Alumni Council to nominate two candidates for every Board opening while petitioners can nominate only one. This, in effect, splits the vote in favor of the petitioner. Don't believe me? Just look at the results of the last two elections, and you will have to admit that it is a possibility. The new constitution does not restrict the ability of petition candidates to run for the Board, but it is trying to present alumni with an opportunity to make a clear choice when they vote. Let the best candidate (or at least the most favored one) win. If it is the will of the alumni to elect a petitioner in a head-to-head contest, so be it. That would send an even stronger message to the Board about alumni wishes.

I don't characterize people who want to keep the status quo as "wackos." In fact, I think the conservative voice (if that's who they are, although you claim not to be one) is as important to hear as the liberal voice or any other voice. If we were to exclude conservative opinion from the debates on campus, we would miss an important rhetorical element as well as the inclinations of roughly half the people in the US. In fact on a campus that can justifiably be characterized as fairly liberal, it is more important than ever that students know what the other side of the debate is all about. However, I do think that when the votes are taken about who will sit on Dartmouth's Board, it ought to be perfectly clear what the will of the majority was.

And here is a funny picture for your consideration, as this blog has also been a little short on funny pictures of late: