6/27/2002 07:46:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|sexualchocolate.org is all the Web-based opinion writing you need! Slate's Timothy Noah, no doubt an obsessive sc.org reader, is the author of a piece examining the musical question Do Kids Understand the Pledge of Allegiance?
Clearly I am a seer. My stock tips are available now at a low low price.|W|P|78291448|W|P||W|P|6/26/2002 09:58:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Oooh America, You're So Fine, You're So Fine, You Blow My Mind. America *clap clap* *clap*. Dept:Slate's "Breakfast Table" on the latest Pledge of Allegiance controversy.
I was a young athiest schoolboy, and I distinctly remember reciting the pledge many a time during the first few grades of elementary school. I don't recall feeling particularly victimized by the "under God" bit--even as a child I had this instinctive sense that it was the sort of thing that other people cared about keeping way more than I cared about getting rid of.
Not much has changed since then--personally, I think the greater problem with the Pledge is the ritualistic way it's recited in school, often by students who are too young to know what the hell it is they're saying. (How many seven-year-olds can define the word "allegiance," or, for that matter, "republic?") I don't remember any of my classmates being moved to patriotic (or religious) fervor because of the Pledge--mostly we regarded it as this thing we do for some unknown reason.
But it's clear that a large percentage of the country believe that meaningless incantations make better citizens, and I'm inclined to not unnecessarily provoke them. Yes, the phrase "under God" is an endorsement, not only of religion, but of a particular flavor of religion, and as such is clearly a violation of the Establishment clause, but we've tolerated and survived worse bird-flippings at minority groups in our nation's history--why compound the difficulty by handing ammunition to those who would really wipe their asses with the law of the land by amending the Constitution to compel displays of pseudo-patriotism?|W|P|78251641|W|P||W|P|6/24/2002 12:03:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Some interesting musings about the book Field of Schemes from Adam Cadre.|W|P|78138370|W|P||W|P|6/21/2002 01:51:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Nick Hornby once wrote how nice it was that even distant acquaintances knew instinctively to offer their condolences on the occasion of his favorite team's defeat. I suddenly know the feeling.|W|P|78036087|W|P||W|P|6/20/2002 03:10:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Doogie Dept: The Sacramento Bee reports that a new bill would allow students of any age to attend community college if they demonstrate that high school (or junior high, or, hell, elementary school) isn't their bag.
I'm all for this. I go to a college that has admitted a number of students before their sixteenth birthday, largely without any ill effects. One gets the sense that, despite the concerns of the community college administrators, there's not going to be a sudden flood of students who would rather attend community college than experience all that high school has to offer, and if there is, maybe it's time we re-thought what kind of services high schools are offering to the brightest students.|W|P|77993466|W|P||W|P|6/20/2002 02:09:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|You've Been A Naughty, Naughty Boy Dept: The Weekly Standard arrives just in time to warn us of the threat of the dreaded Soccer Scolds! A good thing, too.
It's amusingly apropos that this silly rant appears in a conservative political journal's website--I see a definite connection between the American non-fan's paranoia about being surrounded by soccer fanatics and the paranoia of certain American conservatives who make their home on college campuses or the East Side of Manhattan who genuinely believe that this country is rampant with "liberal orthodoxy".
For shits and grins, let's examine the thrust of this electronic fishwrapper's argument:
1. Ronaldo vs. Michael Jordan: Last asserts that the notion that Ronaldo was more popular than Michael Jordan in 1998 is so obviously false as to not require evidence. Let us first stipulate that Michael Jordan is deservedly a fantasically popular athlete and a global celebrity. That having been said, Ronaldo was (in 1998) the consensus best player (two time World Player of the Year) at the glamour position (forward) on the hands-down favorite (Brazil) to win the biggest trophy (the World Cup) in the biggest team sport in the world (soccer), and fully backed by the publicity machine of the world's biggest sporting goods company (Nike). The notion that such a fellow may be at least in the running for the World's Most Popular Celebrity Athlete competition seems like it's worthy of at least a bit of consideration, dontcha think? One gets the impression that if Last believes that kids weren't running around in China with Ronaldo jersies, he wasn't looking all that hard.
The piece de resistance, so far as Last is concerned, is the Russian foriegn minister's excitement over receiving a Michael Jordan jersey on "Meet The Press." Of course, a professional diplomat would never, ever even consider feigning excitement at recieving a gift on a foriegn television program. Does Last honestly believe that Colin Powell wouldn't smile and say a few appropriate words if a BBC personality gifted him a David Beckham jersey? Of course it's more than somewhat probable that the foriegn minister has at least heard of (and maybe watched) Michael Jordan, but the leap from that to believing that he wouldn't have a similar reaction to getting a Ronaldo jersey under similar circumstances is laughable.
2. Breathless prose: Slices of admittedly turgid praise for the game are offered up as examples of the way fans talk about soccer "all the time." Well, not really, actually--I'd say that a good solid 99.9% of the ink spilled about soccer world-wide is a lot more prosaic than what Eduardo Galeano (who is a novelist and a poet, not a sportswriter, by the way) has to say. Are we not guilty of overwrought and/or hyperintellectualized writing about our own favorite sports? I dunno, have you ever read The Iowa Baseball Confederacy? How about David Foster Wallace's essays on tennis? Have you thrown a rock at the "golf" section of your local booksuperstore and hit a little book of arteriosclerotic musings on good walks spoiled? Guess what--these sorts of things end up looking a little silly to non-fans. And if you saw the way Brazil played in 1994 and you knew your soccer, you might agree that they were "stingy on poetry". You'd just probably say that they won, but were boring, which believe it or not is all Galeano is trying to say.
3. The question of Importance: Soccer fans stand charged with trying to imbue the game with undue Importance. Exhibit A is Simon Kuper's claim that "soccer is distinguished by its political malleability. It is used by dictators and revolutionaries, a symbol of oligarchy and anarchy. It gets presidents elected or thrown out, and it defines the way people think, for good or ill, about their countries."
Well, yeah. Unless you prefer to remain blind to the significance of the prime minister of Italy (who just as a by-the-way is the owner of the second-biggest team in the country) being elected twice as the head of the Go Italy party, this statement is obviously true. The riots in Iran after their national team failed to make the World Cup final makes a lot more sense when you realize that soccer is, for a lot of young Iranians, a symbol of longed-for Western freedoms. Catalan and Basque nationalism is so intimately tied up with the success of the Barcelona and Bilbao soccer clubs as to be virtually indistinguishable. Both the ruling government of France and Jean-Marie Le Pen traded on the significance of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic French national team to score political points. The list goes on and on.
You can dispute the sense of conflating national pride with pride in a soccer team--personally, I think it's a little silly--but you can't deny that this is part of the reality of the world we live in. The "soccer scolds" ascribe Importance to the game because for many people, right or wrong, it is Important.
It's this point which is worth thinking about when you consider Last's quote of Andrew Sullivan: "the gulf between America and the world--symbolized by football--is a real and worrisome one." A reasonably careful reading of this sentence reveals the statement being made: the gulf is the real and worrisome thing. Soccer is merely a symbol of a larger disconnect from the rest of the world, almost a willful desire to misinterpret or not care about the sentiments and actions of other countries or their people. This is a political sin of the left as well as the right, as Sullivan would no doubt be the first to point out, but regardless of the perpetrators, it's a very real problem, especially in a political era when convincing the other nations of the world that America has their interests at heart is not only a useful tool for advancing our own interests but a necessary survival technique.
The attempt to pin the charge of anti-Americanism, or at least the effete love of all things foriegn, on the poor abused soccer fan is as silly as the rest of the piece, especially when you consider that the present boomlet of attention devoted to the sport in this country is the direct result of the improbable success of the American soccer team. We're so anti-American we're strutting around in red, white and blue and staying up until the wee hours to chant "U-S-A" at the top of our lungs while we wave flags. Riiight.|W|P|77991151|W|P||W|P|6/20/2002 12:07:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Review: Ghost World: Shheeyah, I wish the nerds and social outcasts at my high school looked like Thora Birch and/or Scarlett Whatsername cuz...damn. Everyone was harping on the freshness and originality of the plot when it came out, which I guess is true if you compare this movie to other coming-of-age dramedys cranked out by Hollywood, but the plot is, in the grand scheme of things, actually rather conventional: the Birch-Buscemi thing is Pygmalion all over again, with a little gender-role reversal thrown in, and the Birch-Whatsername thing is the classic "The Person I Love or my best friend" dilemma. The Birch character's search for her own future at a turning point in her life--yeah, that's kind of been done before, too. I guess "unconventional plot" is reviewer code for "watch out, this movie doesn't have a happy ending."
WhatEVER. Original plots do not a good film make. This movie has interesting characters, some wonderful bits, scenes from what appear to be Hindu spy musicals, and quality hotties filling two of the three main roles. (Sorry, Steve.) The director tells his story through setting and small details. It's refreshing and well worth a rent.|W|P|77985982|W|P||W|P|6/12/2002 07:18:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Dept of Homerland Security: Observations on arriving at Chicago's Convenient Midway Airport after a two hour ride on the El:
1. The moving walkway which connects the El station to the parking garage is out of order and either a) has been since my last visit to CCMA in, like, April, or b) was out on my last visit, was repaired in the interim, and subsequently broke again before yesterday. Either way, I think they aughta get their money back.
2. In fact, most every device with more than three moving parts in the breezeway connecting the El station to the garage had an OUT OF ORDER sign on it, which leads one to suspect that it might be more cost-effective to just hang IN ORDER signs on the devices that are actually unexpectedly functional. Of course this presumes that some alderman's nephew doesn't have the exclusive franchise to print OUT OF ORDER signs for every public place in the city.
3. There is a painted orange line which travels from the El station, through the breezeway, and into the garage, at which point it abruptly stops in the middle of a parking lot with no immediate indication of where one goes to get to the actual terminal...which as it turns out is a non-trivial exercise, because one has to know to take the exit fifty feet north (through oncoming parking-garage traffic, mind you) of where the orange line ends instead of the exit directly in front of where the orange line ends. Meditate on this for a moment: the breezeway is raised fifty feet off the ground. Thus we have an orange line which indicates to the discerning traveler that the way to the airport is to keep walking down the corridor, as opposed to turning back the way from which one game or smashing the plexiglas window and plunging to one's death on the pavement below, which is tremendously helpful, of course, but it fails to do the other equally useful thing, which would be to let us know where to go once we actually have a choice in the matter.
4. Because of the heightened security, once one enters the terminal of CCMA, one is quickly confronted with a security checkpoint beyond which only ticketed passengers may travel. All well and good, but note that this cuts one off from the food court. What possible purpose could be served by securing the food court from attack? Is someone going to suicide-bomb a gyros stand? Let us consider the security implications here. The food court is still a ways off from the actual terminals. Perhaps it's because the food court is a place where large numbers of people congregate--certainly true once they added Gold Coast Dogs. But here's the thing: by moving the security checkpoint forward, you've just moved the large congregation of people back a ways. How does this secure us? Now say you've been on a two-hour train ride and have an hour before the person you're coming to meet and you really need a beer. All of a sudden, a whole new reason to hate Osama bin Laden!|W|P|77650223|W|P||W|P|6/11/2002 02:58:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Hideous self-promotion dept: I have written this pledge as an open-letter sort of thingy to the many, many American soccer fans who blow a gasket every time some doofus sports columnist makes some witless cracks about the sport.
I love soccer, and I want it to succeed in this country. But a far greater impediment to its success is not the occasional barb from a sports-radio shouter or the Wacky Sports Guy in the local fishwrapper; it's our own thin skins. Fans keep brow-beating media creatures about how they need to be soccer literate or risk being left out of the Sport Of The Decade. What piffle. It's a game. A popular game. A good game. But, still, a game.
The brow-beating is grounded in a particular brand of wishful thinking--that there is some snappy comeback you can muster up that is not only going to shame these people into shutting up but actually imbue them with a respect for the game. Ain't happening, folks. Nobody likes being bluntly told they're wrong, and it's extremely rare that someone changes their behavior simply because they're told they're wrong.
Case in point: the metric system. Sometime in my early infancy, the government attempted to change the whole country over to the metric system by fiat, thus letting loose rednecks with shotguns blasting holes in the newly "metricfied" signs to the applause of a greatful public. Since then, there has been no great rush to attempt the great experiment once again. But on a smaller level, people are making interesting discoveries: that it makes economic sense for handymen to own a metric wrench set, that 2-liter bottles aren't the tool of the devil, and just generally that the metric system is hella easy to use, when you need to.
Maybe we'll always describe our heights in feet and inches, and maybe we'll keep using our irrational but comfortable Farenheit temperatures, but everyone's learning to use metrics in situations where it's preferable to do so.
Likewise, I genuinely believe that there will come a time when soccer takes its place in the pantheon of American sports, even if it will never be the religion it is overseas. Certainly, the strength of our present national team doesn't hurt. But making people think that it's being imposed on them against their will will only prolong the time until our day of destiny.|W|P|77601749|W|P||W|P|