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Random Sports Catch-up: Cricket, Plymouth Argyle on the Rocks, and UW

[ 4 ] December 29, 2010 |

I’m recently “returned” to Oregon from a week + in Kitsapland, hanging out for five days with my partner’s family, followed by an impromptu three-night stand with my fleet of cousins.  The latter was a non-stop holiday gala with excellent food, political debate, and, oh yeah, soaked with alcohol of all sorts (and at all times).  Beyond my phone I was well off the grid, literally, figuratively, metaphorically.

As predicted in Revelations, England retained the Ashes for the first time in 24 years in imperious fashion.  This now seems so long ago.  Whether or not this is a sign of the promised apocalypse I can’t say, but as the sun is currently shining in Portland, Oregon, I’m not making any long term plans.

In my other home, the third tier “professional” soccer team, Plymouth Argyle, are insolvent.  In American sports, this wouldn’t matter; when was the last time a major league baseball, football, or basketball team was allowed to go bust?  In Britain, it can, and does, happen; the most recent example being Scottish club Gretna FC who folded in 2008.  Argyle need at minimum something around £750,000 by February to pay their tax bill to the Inland Revenue, otherwise they appear to be done.  Indeed, Argyle face three concurrent “winding up orders” and require between £3 and £4 million by February to clear their immediate debts.  The board is in chaos, the staff (including the players) haven’t been paid on time for the second straight month, gates are significantly down from last year due to their relegation to the third division and their (charitably) mediocre play in said division, are under a transfer embargo by the league thus preventing them from so much as retaining a decent player on-loan from Chelsea, and they will certainly be forced to sell their two best players this January in order to possibly stay afloat.  In addition to selling off their best players, thus enhancing the probability of a second successive relegation, there’s talk of selling the stadium to property developers.

UPDATE: less than 24 hours after writing this, a bid has been accepted for winger Craig Noone.  As he’s in his final contract year, and the bidding team is fellow League – 1 side Brighton, the transfer fee won’t clear the tax debt.

Matt Slater at the BBC has the most comprehensive overview on the causes of what could be the end of a 124 year-old club.  Fans have taken matters into their own hands by setting up a supporters’ trust, in part organized by my student and friend John Petrie.  Ironically, Argyle’s Devon rivals Exeter City were saved from liquidation in 2003 by a similar trust, so there might be hope yet.  (Of course, it should be noted that when Exeter City drew 0-0 with Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup at Old Trafford, the £675,000 cash infusion from the 67,000+ gate did not hurt City’s chances of financial survival).

Back in April, I posted here about how Argyle were officially relegated following their 0-2 loss to Newcastle United at Plymouth.  I had experienced a couple promotion seasons in Plymouth, that was my first relegation season.  Now, being relegated following a match against Newcastle United, or even Huddersfield Town, looks a lot more enticing than experiencing a rare, entirely possible, liquidation season.

And finally, there’s the small matter of my alma mater, the Oregon of the North, playing in the much vaunted Holiday Bowl in San Diego against 17th ranked Nebraska, tomorrow.  I’m certain that Nebraska are all aflutter with the privilege and honor of playing Washington.  I’m equally certain that Nebraska’s 56-21 victory in the third game of the season has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the bowl game.

Umm, go Huskies.

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Woof

[ 17 ] December 29, 2010 |

carlson

For some reason this reminds me of John McKay’s comment immediately after he had coached Tampa Bay to one in a string of 26 straight losses, and he was asked what he thought of his team’s execution. He replied he thought it was a good idea.

Yet Another Random Links Post…

[ 1 ] December 29, 2010 |

A few links of note:

Mandatory HOF Ballot Post

[ 92 ] December 29, 2010 |

My yays:

Bert Blyleven
Bert Blyleven
Bert Blyleven*
Robbie Alomar
Jeff Bagwell
Barry Larkin
Edgar Martinez
Mark McGwire
Tim Raines
Larry Walker

*Anyone who argues in comments against Bert Blyleven, or attempts to apologize for someone arguing against Bert Blyleven, will be summarily banned for life.

What Would a Post-Masculinist Military Look Like?

[ 36 ] December 29, 2010 |

On the road home from South Carolina I posted notice of Laura Sjoberg’s critique of militarized masculinity in her analysis of DADT-repeal discourse. Now that I’m settled in, I’ve realized it’s the comments thread on that post where the real action is and I feel compelled to throw in my two cents.

Laura’s key argument:

That the military now includes gay people and (kind of) women openly does not mean that it is some how gender-equal or gender neutral. Instead, masculinity remains the standard of good soldiering in the United States military. Celebrating the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell the way it has been celebrated, I think, may obscure that point. It also obscures a long tradition in Western political systems of defining full citizenship by military participation/bravery.

Some important questions asked by commenters:

ProfPTJ:

So I wonder what a non-masculinist military would actually look like. Starfleet? Probably not. Do we have any models?… while I can easily think my way from a feminist analysis of the masculinized military to a call to replace the military and end the war system, I can’t quite think my way from that critique to an alternative military.

Dan Nexon:

I’m interested in your critical imagining of what a de-masculinized way of killing people would entail, and why that would be preferable to the kind of de-gendering of biological sex implied by allowing non-heterosexual men into the role of “masculine solider.”

Tallyrand:

I am quite interested in an answer to Dan’s question. I think the really fundamental point in this comment thread is whether killing can be ‘de-masculinized’. Given the problems I, PTJ, Dan and others are having imagining what on earth this would look like, it would be really helpful to have some suggestions, even if this means that you have to zoom out a little. What would a de-gendered war system look like?

Grigory Lukin:

Can you post a specific description of what a non-masculine and/or gender-free military would actually look like, how it would be different from what we have now, and how/why it would be more effective – in less than 100 words? Don’t refer to feminist IR or deconstruct history through feminist/progressive/whichever perspective – just answer the question.

Sjoberg:

I don’t entirely (yet) know the answer to your question, except to start with that it is the wrong question. Critique/deconstruction/ rethinking/reconstruction can’t start with a small portion of the war system, but the whole thing… it is not just militaries, but militarism (and by extension militaristic culture) that would need to radically change operations in order to see any real “change” in the gendering of strategic cultures….There is no simple answer.”

Hmm. Let me humbly offer one: it’s really about civil-military relations, not military culture or raison d’etre per se. A post-masculinized military, as I imagine it, would differ from the system she’s critiquing not in its ability to use violence (in other words, I don’t share Laura’s view, finally, that it would look like a ‘cross between the peace corps and a chain gang.’) And it would not merely be constituted by who is in the military or what kind of masculinity the military privileges in its soldiers (though these things matter). More significantly, one would know a post-masculinized military system by the character of the military’s relationship to the civilian world it serves. And I would argue with Sjoberg that there is further (beneficial) work to do, but also that we are heading in the right direction faster that she might acknowledge. Read more…

More Freedom

[ 14 ] December 29, 2010 |

Since SEK brought it up…

Since what I have to say is predominantly negative, I should say that Freedom is not without its pleasures and accomplishments. Ruth Franklin’s bottom line, I think, is essentially correct:

The commotion surrounding the publication of this pseudo-masterpiece reminds me of Orwell’s mordant observation that “to apply a decent standard to the ordinary run of novels is like weighing a flea on a spring-balance intended for elephants. On such a balance as that a flea would simply fail to register; you would have to start by constructing another balance which revealed the fact that there are big fleas and little fleas.” Freedom is a big flea, perhaps even a giant one. But if Franzen is the best we’ve got, he still isn’t good enough. His literary edifices have the look of greatness, but greatness eludes them.

One could turn this around and put it a bit more charitably — once you’ve abandoned the idea that Freedom is a Masterpiece of American Literachoor, it can be enjoyed as an engaging if very uneven minor novel. And I won’t deny that I downed the long novel in a week with plenty of other stuff to do. So why I am I (like Franklin and Scott) not inclined to charity?

Well, it’s hard to deny that the embarrassing critical overhype affects the reader, but it’s not Franzen’s fault that his book was in fact lauded as a Masterpiece of American Literachoor in a glowing NYT review cover review by the editor. The bigger problem is that throughout the book Franzen the would-be Great American Novelist is at war with Franzen the creator of entertaining romantic conflicts among characters that at his best can be interesting, and the tension can be intensely irritating. There’s a broad thematic problem: if you all but make “My Attempt To Prove That the Great American Novel Isn’t A Punchline” the subtitle, you’d better have better overarching themes than banalities and half-truths such as “the benefits of freedom are frequently illusory” and “liberal elitists love people in the abstract and hate them in practice.” (And as Scott says, the cartoonish nature of the Straussian war pig and the reactionary neighbor make the latter theme even worse; like bad Aaron Sorkin, it’s liberal elitism at its most self-refuting.)

Scott has already cherrypicked the convenient instant death of a female character out of a Houellebecq novel — love the “women in refrigerators” term, which is new to me — so let me give some more examples of how Franzen’s maladroit attempts to play the social critic undermine the novel’s strengths. He can’t stop with having Walter serve an arugula salad — in case you missed how hackneyed the cliche is, Richard has to inform the reader that he’s “among the gentry.” Then there’s Patty comparing her winger neighbor to Ken Starr. I can forgive the apolitical Patty suddenly expressing standard liberal thoughts of the kind Walter would — impeachment is a unique event. But I can’t forgive the fact that the comparison is ridiculous — the redneck who happily allows his daughter to shack up with their teenage neighbor under his roof has, apart from his conservatism, nothing in common with the prissy, moralistic, ultra-establishment Starr, and Patty surely would see that. And perhaps my favorite example is when Franzen, because he has some highly uninteresting thoughts to share with the reader about rock (and literary) celebrities has the hipper-than-hip aspiring musician suddenly express a strong, earnest interest in the Grammies and Sheryl Crow when interviewing Katz.

Freedom isn’t a bad novel. But, on balance, you have to score one for Weiner/Picoult — it’s impossible to imagine this novel getting anything like the kind of hosannas it has with a woman’s name on the cover.

Journalists United Against Journalism

[ 15 ] December 28, 2010 |

Glenn Greenwald’s observations about how, in the context of the Wikileaks story, the usual symbiotic relationship between our government and Big Media is moving toward something like organic union reminded me that Hubert Wolfe’s clerihew translates well across the Atlantic:

You cannot hope to bribe or twist
(Thank God!) the British Journalist
But when one sees what the man will do
Unbribed, there is no occasion to.

Also, Pope:

I am his Highness’ dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

“On the Collar of a Dog”

On a vaguely related note, I recently had occasion to read some accounts of the sinking of the Titanic, and was struck by how men such as John Jacob Astor IV and Benjamin Guggenheim went down with the ship.* Astor was one of the richest men in America, while Guggenheim was a scion of an immensely wealthy and politically connected family. Somehow I find it difficult to believe that, in a similar situation today, Bill Gates and Jeb Bush would be allowed to freeze to death in the waters of the North Atlantic, while hundreds of members of the Lower Orders were taking up precious life boat space.

*While it’s true that first class passengers survived at more than twice the rate of those holding third class tickets, gender and age still much better predictors of who got into the lifeboats, when considering all passengers together. However, higher class status was an extremely powerful predictor of survival within subgroups. For example 90% the first and second class women passengers survived, while only half the women in third class lived. And while a third of first class men survived, nine out of ten of those in second and third class perished. Most strikingly, almost all children in first and second class survived, as compared to just 31% of those in third class. Statistics here.

Blah blah. “Blah blah blah,” blah blah. Blah blah blah? Blah!

[ 26 ] December 28, 2010 |

I read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom because everybody else did and now distinctly wish I hadn’t.  It’s a long book that’s as artfully structured as it is poorly executed, which is the polite way of saying that everyone and everything in it sounded exactly the same—except for the passages inelegant passages that explicitly didn’t.*  Perhaps because I arrived at graduate school intending to study literature’s most skillful mimic, this problem bothers me more than it would the average reader.  Then again, I don’t think it snobbish of me to insist that when portions of a novel consist of autobiographical fragments written by a broken woman at the behest of her therapist, those bits should sound different than the bits narrated by an omniscient third party.

My logic feels particularly compelling when the chapters in question bear a title like “Mistakes Were Made: Autobiography of Patty Berglund by Patty Berglund (Composed at Her Therapist’s Suggestion).”  Truth be told, the decision to title the chapters thus strikes me as an admission of failure: because Franzen neglected to capture his character’s voice, the distinction between these chapters and the others had to be made explicit or the vocal homogeneity might have confused the reader.

I don’t think it would have, though: if the autobiographical frame had been removed, it would have read like the rest of the imbricated chapters.  The decision to emphasize Patty’s story by inserting her first-hand account of events makes a certain amount of sense, as does the decision to do so by having her write about herself in the third person.  (Broken people needing distancing mechanisms when confronting their own lives and what-not.)  But by writing her autobiographical fragment in the same style as the rest of the novel, what should have functioned as an attention-drawing peak in the mountain range of the narrative instead appeared to be just another hill among many.

Moreover, in a book of this length, the droning of a single voice frustrates, especially when 1) everyone in the novel sounds like the narrator and 2) the events unfolding in the narrative are already known to the reader.  It’s the equivalent of hearing the same story told by the same person on consecutive days for the better part of a week.  No matter how ingenious the story itself or its telling is, the differencelessness quickly becomes insufferable.  (All the more so when, as in Freedom, difference is an unkept promise.)

I’m giving the story itself short shrift, but only because I believe I would have found it more to my favor if I’d read it in short bursts instead of one long haul.  That said—and this is a minor spoiler, so stop reading if you want to read the book despite my glowing review—someone needs to tell Franzen to stop putting women in refrigerators.

*E.g. the elder sister-cum-yogi who says “verrrry” and the conservative caricature whose speech is limited to paraphrasing talking points from FOXNews and the Bible.

On Vick (and Sorkin)

[ 101 ] December 28, 2010 |

I’m glad Obama did this. I think that the following points should be obvious, although there seems to be substantial disagreement about them:

  • Convicted persons who have paid their debt to society have the right to earn a living.  You don’t have to root for Vick, of course, but I find the idea that the NFL should have suspended him for life or something is bizarre.
  • In the abstract, there is a very good argument that Vick deserved the severe punishment he received, perhaps more severe.   Perhaps as severely as the countless DUI cases playing the NFL who were slapped on the wrist and allowed to play with a minimum of controversy actually deserved.      But given the norms of actually existing American society, in which animals are systematically tortured and the fruits of this torture are widely and legally distributed and consumed, I find it pretty hard to justify giving Vick 2 years in federal prison.

While I’m on the subject, Anna North is 100% right about this silly Aaron Sorkin piece.   Let’s play “spot the glaring logical flaw” with respect to Sorkin’s argument that his anti-animal actions are so much more moral and ethical than Palin’s anti-animal actions:

I eat meat, chicken and fish, have shoes and furniture made of leather, and PETA is not ever going to put me on the cover of their brochure and for these reasons Palin thinks it’s hypocritical of me to find what she did heart-stoppingly disgusting.

[…]

I’m able to make a distinction between you and me without feeling the least bit hypocritical. I don’t watch snuff films and you make them. You weren’t killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion, you were killing it for fun. You enjoy killing animals. I can make the distinction between the two of us but I’ve tried and tried and for the life of me, I can’t make a distinction between what you get paid to do and what Michael Vick went to prison for doing.

Granted, there’s a point there about Vick, although I derive a different lesson from it. But Sorkin’s whole argument collapses on the “killing for food/shelter/fashion” and “killing for fun” distinction. At least for someone of Sorkin’s location and income bracket, eating, wearing and/or sitting on animals is something you do…for pleasure. He doesn’t need to consume animal products, and the products he consumes are almost certainly derived from inhumane treatment. The fact that he prefers someone else to do the dirty work if anything makes him ethically worse than Palin, not superior — the bad faith on Sorkin’s part is worse. To be clear, as I say in the link above, my practices are no better than Sorkin’s — which is precisely why you’ll never in a million years see me getting up on my high horse about someone hunting, even if they’re filming it for a crappy reality show.

DADT and Hegemonic Masculinity

[ 0 ] December 27, 2010 |

Been off grid for holidays (arguing with brothers among other things about whether eight-year-old boys should be allowed to have hurt feelings when their sisters talk smack to them or whether they should just be taught to suck it up). And so (in that vein) just caught Laura Sjoberg’s reaction to the DADT repeal. Well worth reading: nutshell below.

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is official now, signed by the President and a celebration of what is, by most accounts, an incredibly productive lame-duck Congressional session. It is certainly, in my mind, high time that this both on-face ridiculous and insidiously discriminatory policy make its way out of United States law and military practice… So why am I, as a feminist and a queer theorist, not throwing a party for the repeal of this terrible policy? Is it because I just like to be contrary?

That too, but there’s more to it. In celebrating the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the (important and well-deserved) removal of obstacles to gay people serving in the military, there’s a lot of entrenchment of (masculinist) militarism as a standard for citizenship. In Derrick Bell’s words, militarization has made exactly the concession to deconstructing sex/gender hierarchies that it needs to to maintain its dominance in United States political culture, no less, and no more.

Happy Belated Festivus.

Lieberman As Sleazy, End-of-His-Rope Real Estate Salesman

[ 12 ] December 27, 2010 |

Indeed. Although if desperation can provide an incentive for Levine Lieberman to shepherd major civil rights legislation through the Senate and otherwise actually start acting like a blue-state Democrat, desperation has an upside!

The Non-Mystery of Libertarianism’s Marginalization

[ 97 ] December 27, 2010 |

Um, not really so much:

Libertarianism gets marginalized in American politics because it doesn’t fit into the two-party paradigm.

Well, that’s one version of the underlying cause and effect. A rather more accurate one is hinted at earlier in the piece, albeit embedded in some spin:

Maybe it was inevitable that the National Opt-Out Day, when travelers were going to refuse body scans en masse, failed to become the next Woolworth’s sit-in (how do you organize a movement that abhors organization?). It turned out most Americans actually supported the body scanners. But the moment was a reminder of just how strong, not to mention loud, the libertarian streak is in American politics.

The body scanners were, in fact, an excellent example of the fact that libertarianism is marginalized in American politics because it’s a marginal, unpopular view — something that becomes particularly obvious when you consider what percentage of the minority of the people who were opposed to the body scanners supported all manner of arbitrary executive powers in service of the War On Terror (TM) so long as there was no chance that they would be personally effected. Libertarian beliefs on major issues generally range from unpopular to extremely unpopular, and this includes issues where I share libertarian beliefs. There’s really no puzzle here. Principled libertarianism would have very few adherents even it was propounded by hipper band than Rush. Another hint: the primary focus of Republican opposition to the ACA involved arguments that the government should keep its grubby paws of Medicare.