New recommendation for your reading list: Guerillassance

My friend Evans Mehew (the man who, several years ago, introduced me to this brand newfangled thing called “blogging”) has launched a site called Guerillassance (as in guerilla + renaissance). Evans is a very smart guy and lately he’s been thinking a lot about our addiction to things, to stuff, and more generally, what the hell has happened to the American Dream? Have a look at his latest, “Retail Therapy (Or, The Most Effective Trap Is the One We Volunteer to Walk Into).” Thoughtful and immediate – I’m guessing most of us are going to see our own reflections in the … Continue reading New recommendation for your reading list: Guerillassance

Tressel out at Ohio State: whatever happened to fair play in the USA?

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. – Vince Lombardi I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating. – Sophocles
If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying. – Variously Attributed Ask yourself is it right or wrong and act accordingly. – Otto Graham

There sure has been a lot of news about cheating in sports lately, hasn’t there? Continue reading “Tressel out at Ohio State: whatever happened to fair play in the USA?”

American mobility: all the places I’ve lived – 2011 update

If you’ve been around awhile, then yes, you have seen this item before, a couple of times. It originally posted on Jan. 25, 2008 and was updated on April 19, 2010. Unfortunately, I tend to move a lot, and it’s about to happen again. So every time I pull up the tent and head off somewhere else, I’ll be refreshing the post and giving people a chance to offer their thoughts on their own mobility and that of their families, friends and neighbors.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s back to packing.

We’ve become a very mobile culture. Education, jobs, adventure, marriage – there are a lot of things that call us away from home in ways that were unprecedented even a generation ago.

I’m like a lot of people in that I’ve moved around a lot, especially in the past few years. For instance, this coming Saturday will mark my 15th move since fall of 1993. Continue reading “American mobility: all the places I’ve lived – 2011 update”

Hard times for the pure of heart: is it possible to live ethically in modern society?

I think we’d all love to live every phase of our lives in happy accord with high moral and ethical principles. We’d love it if we were never confronted by logical contradictions and cognitive dissonance, by cases where our walk was at odds with our talk. But the truth is that we live in a society that’s complex, at best, and a cesspool of corruption at worst. It’s just about impossible to get through a day without compromise, and every time we compromise it’s difficult not to feel as though we’ve failed a little.

Some people are better at dealing with the conflict than others, whether through denial or a well-developed, pragmatic knack for keeping things in perspective. Unfortunately, I don’t do denial at all and while I like to think of myself as having a strong pragmatic streak, in practice my principled side tends to dominate my decision-making in ways that occasionally deprive me of convenience and pleasure. Continue reading “Hard times for the pure of heart: is it possible to live ethically in modern society?”

Time for America’s Freddie Mercury moment: there are more than 100 gay pro athletes in the US, and the sooner they get out of the equipment closet the better

In a recent discussion on one of my political lists Sara Robinson (easily one of the brightest folks in the blogosphere) made an important point about what often causes people to migrate from socially conservative perspectives to more progressive points of view. In describing her experiences with a particular activist group that helped people leaving fundamentalist religions (something that can be emotionally traumatic at the very least, and that frequently comes at a significant price in their lives – lost families, ostracization, etc.), she noted:

[T]he first sliver of doubt came about when the person’s authorities asked them to believe something that they simply could not reconcile with their own experience. In a plurality of cases, this dissonance was caused by knowing and caring for someone who was gay, and realizing that the conservative storyline on the inherent evil of homosexuality just didn’t line up with what they knew of this wonderful person. (If the religious right knew just how often this one issue triggered those first unignorable doubts, they’d walk away from gay-hating and never go back to it.) Continue reading “Time for America’s Freddie Mercury moment: there are more than 100 gay pro athletes in the US, and the sooner they get out of the equipment closet the better”

Please help: Brazil soccer team threatened by a tragic shortage of cool names

When it comes to football – some of you may know it by its American name, “soccer” – Brazil is a land of legend. Five World Cups. Two runners-up. Two thirds and a fourth. That’s more championships than any other nation and only Germany has more top four finishes. At the club level, Brazilian players dominate every league in the world.

Not only have the Brazilians been incredibly successful, they have truly put the beautiful in The Beautiful Game, playing with a verve, a joy, an elegance that sometimes makes even the best players from other nations seem oafish by comparison. Brazilians dance where others plod. Continue reading “Please help: Brazil soccer team threatened by a tragic shortage of cool names”

Amusing ourselves to death, circa 2010

This is the future – people, translated as data. – Bryce, Network 23

The future has always interested me, even when it scares me to death. I wrote a doctoral dissertation that spent a good deal of time examining our culture’s ideologies of technology and development, for instance (and built some discussion of William Gibson and cyberpunk into the mix). I once taught a two-semester sequence at the University of Colorado in Humanities and the Electronic Media, where I introduced the concept of the “Posthumanities” to my students. A few years back I talked about the future of retail and described the smartest shopping cart that ever lived. Continue reading “Amusing ourselves to death, circa 2010”

The eye of the Tiger: does Woods have to choose between being a great golfer and a good human being?

Tiger Woods wrapped up the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews tied for 23rd and 13 strokes off the pace, “his worst finish at a major in which he completed 72 holes since a tie for 24th at the 2004 PGA.” You might remember that Woods had a little domestic dustup last November, and since then he hasn’t exactly been his old competitive self. For instance, have a look at his post-Tigergate results:

  • Masters: Tied for 4th
  • Quail Hollow: missed cut
  • Players: withdrew (injury)
  • Memorial: Tied for 19th
  • US Open: Tied for 4th
  • AT&T National: Tied for 46th
  • JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am: Tied for 24th
  • British Open: Tied for 23rd

Excuses are easy to come by: long layoff, off-course distractions, injury, etc. A lot of people would be 0-fer under these circumstances, but a lot of people aren’t Tiger. With Woods, there are two outcomes: first is first and second is last. Continue reading “The eye of the Tiger: does Woods have to choose between being a great golfer and a good human being?”

The complex legacy of Darth Steinbrenner

George Steinbrenner is dead.

Let me begin by saying that I’m a Red Sox fan and a lifelong Yankee-hater who loathed Steinbrenner from shortly after I first heard his name. Let me further note that for the better part of the last three decades I have argued, passionately and to anyone who’d listen, that there were precisely three things wrong with Major League Baseball: domes, turf and George Steinbrenner. He was, in a nutshell, the Donald Trump of the National Pastime, and anyone who knows me even a little bit realizes that I don’t mean that in a good way.

Much has been said about Darth George and the Evil Pinstriped Empire, and much more will be said before the week is out, as the first shots are fired in the war for the man’s eternal legacy. Some of it will be positive, perhaps even worshipful. Some of it … not so much. Continue reading “The complex legacy of Darth Steinbrenner”

ArtSunday: Let the musicians die

Every once in awhile I come across unrelated stories that somehow associate themselves in my mind. Take these, for instance:

First, I hope you saw Lex’s tribute to Starchild (given name, Gary Shider), he of P-Funk fame. As Lex notes, Shider experienced problems where the cost of fighting the cancer that killed him was concerned.

Second, another American music icon, Alex Chilton, passed away earlier this year. Continue reading “ArtSunday: Let the musicians die”

Survivor: the greatest game ever played

Part one of a series.

The 20th season of Survivor, Heroes vs. Villains (or, if you prefer, Revenge vs. Redemption) is now in the books, and Sandra Diaz-Twine is the game’s first two-time champion. Many fans regarded HvV as one of the best seasons ever, if not the very best.

I don’t believe I’ve ever written about Survivor before, but in the entire decade-long run I think I’ve missed a total of two episodes. Maybe that makes me a fan, but in truth I’m as much a student of the game as I am a fan of it. Continue reading “Survivor: the greatest game ever played”

Predicting the 21st Century: Nostraslammy’s ten-year review

Ten years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Nostraslammy took a stab at predicting the 21st Century, with a promise to check back every ten years to see how the prognostications were turning out. Odds are good I won’t be able to do a review every ten years until 2100, but I figure I’m probably good through 2030, at least, barring some unforeseen calamity. And if you’re Nostraslammy, what’s this “unforeseen” thing, anyway?

Let’s see how our 22 articles of foresight are holding up, one at a time.

1: Researchers will develop either a vaccine or a cure for AIDS by 2020. However, it will be expensive enough that the disease will plague the poor long after it has become a non-issue for the rich and middle classes (although this is one case where political leaders might fund free treatment programs). The end of AIDS will trigger a sexual revolution that will compare to or exceed that of the 1960s and 1970s (unless another deadly sexually-transmitted disease evolves, which is certainly a possibility). Continue reading “Predicting the 21st Century: Nostraslammy’s ten-year review”

Democracy & Elitism 4: equality, opportunity and leveling up the playing field

Pulitzer- and Emmy-winner William Henry‘s famous polemic, In Defense of Elitism (1994), argues that societies can be ranked along a spectrum with “egalitarianism” on one end and “elitism” on the other. He concludes that America, to its detriment, has slid too far in the direction of egalitarianism, and in the process that it has abandoned the elitist impulse that made it great (and that is necessary for any great culture). While Henry’s analysis is flawed in spots (and, thanks to the excesses of the Bush years, there are some other places that could use updating), he brilliantly succeeds in his ultimate goal: crank-starting a much-needed debate about the proper place of elitism in a “democratic” society.

Along the way he spends a good deal of time defining what he means by “egalitarianism” and “elitism.” Continue reading “Democracy & Elitism 4: equality, opportunity and leveling up the playing field”

Democracy & Elitism 3: burning down the straw man, and who are these out-of-touch “liberal elites,” anyway?

Let’s begin with a quick trivia question. What legislator’s Top 20 donor list includes the following?

We’ll have the answer for you at the bottom. Continue reading “Democracy & Elitism 3: burning down the straw man, and who are these out-of-touch “liberal elites,” anyway?”

Democracy & Elitism 2: performance elitism vs privilege elitism, and why the difference matters

Democracy+ElitismPart two in a series.

“Elite” hasn’t always been an epithet. In fact, if we consider what the dictionary has to say about it, it still signifies something potentially worthy. Potentially. For instance:

e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism (-ltzm, -l-) n.
1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.le

That definition, while technically accurate enough, could use a bit of untangling, because it embodies the very nature of our problem with elitism in America. In popular use, the term “elite” and its derivatives has been twisted into a pure, distilled lackwit essence of “liberal” – another once-proud word that fell victim to our moneyed false consciousness machine. Continue reading “Democracy & Elitism 2: performance elitism vs privilege elitism, and why the difference matters”

Democracy & Elitism: an introduction to the American false consciousness

Democracy+ElitismPart one in a series.

Is there a more radioactive word in American politics today than elitist?

Admit it – you saw the word and had an instinctive negative reaction, didn’t you? If not, then count yourself among the rarest minority in our culture, the fraction of a percent that has not yet had its consciousness colonized by the “evil elitist” meme. If not, you’re one of a handful of people not yet victimized by a cynical public relations frame that poses perhaps the greatest danger to the health of our republic in American history.

Pretty dire language there, huh? Perhaps we’ve ventured a little too deeply into the land of hyperbole? It might seem so at a glance, but in truth the success of any society is largely a function of the things it believes and how those beliefs shape its actions and policies. Continue reading “Democracy & Elitism: an introduction to the American false consciousness”

Reality is making us sick, and fantasy can’t cure us

You’re honey child to a swarm of bees
Gonna blow right through you like a breeze
Give me one last dance
Well slide down the surface of things

You’re the real thing
Yeah the real thing
You’re the real thing
Even better than the real thing

– U2

Fantasy stories, myths, legends, tall tales, fairy tales, horror, all these have been with us for a very long time. Science fiction, as well, has been with us since Mary Shelley found herself in a bet with Lord Byron about the possibility of writing a new kind of horror, one not grounded in the gothic.* So the presence in our popular culture of stories based in unreality of one form or another is certainly nothing new.

It seems to me that there’s been a lot more of it lately, though. Continue reading “Reality is making us sick, and fantasy can’t cure us”