Archive for the 'Recurring Tragedy' Category

15
Jul
14

an idiocracy starts with the police

July 15, 2014

I have written about police militarization issues before and I have written about the Mike Judge movie Idiocracy. I shouldn’t be surprised that those topics would eventually converge, and here we are.

Here is a (older) news article about a man barred from joining the police because his IQ score was too high.

Advertisements
16
Jun
14

the body in pain

june 16, 2014

drogba-busquets-peekaboo

Source

You might hate FIFA, but you can still love football. But if there is one thing – more than corruption – that taints the game of soccer-football it is diving, which is, of course, a form of cheating. (One minor distinction: diving is not the same as embellishing. Diving is total fabrication, e.g., a trip where no contact occurred. If there was a foul, i.e., some strong contact that causes a player to lose balance, I am not adverse to seeing the player actually fall to signal that contact to the referee – but only if a foul actually occurred.)

Unfortunately, as this and every World Cup highlights, diving and its cousin, flopping, show up every match. In high-definition, it’s even more appalling. You can see every blade of grass in between feet that never collide. So what really happens when there is a foul or an injury?

For one, your arms don’t fly outward like you fell off a cliff. You also don’t roll like you’re putting out a fire, and you absolutely do NOT have a seizure.

I recall a 5-on-5 tournament I played in college. I didn’t wear shinguards but the games turned out to be very competitive. In one play, I slammed my shin against an opponent’s also shinguard-less leg. The force of the collision sent me head over heels. It was so painful, everything stopped for me. I reacted by being in pain. A lot of it. That meant I crouched holding my shin, not making a sound. The injury didn’t break skin, but it would be two years before the numbness along my shinbone would dissipate. In that moment, I just remember clenching my mouth closed, biting my lip some. I was also aware play continued around me and at one point, my team attacked and the ball rolled toward me. A teammate shouted at me. I looked up, saw the ball approaching – and I was still in pain. Helpless. I didn’t move. The ball bounced off me. Feebly. I looked up like I wanted to run after it, but I just clutched my hand to the spot of the injury until my head was clear enough for me to stumble off the field.

There were no hysterics, no other thought than the pain I was in. In her 1985 classic, “The Body in Pain,” Elaine Scarry talks about how pain “unmakes” the world for a person. The intensity of incapacitating pain turns a person’s consciousness inward to the point where all external objects disappear – the world is “unmade.” The reactions we are seeing in football suggest comparable pain levels, but of course, that is almost never the case. Players bound back up and kick on within seconds.

Here are the things I often remark about real injuries, like this one:

– There are no shouts or screams. Your immediate reaction to a bad physical trauma is to assess and survive. You turn your thoughts inward. You are not looking around for other people’s reactions.

– Same with the limbs – they go inward, so arms shouldn’t flail out, they should pull in. Arms flying outward show clear intent to deceive, in my opinion.

-You don’t roll like a car that goes off-road in a Terminator movie. Sorry, does not happen. If you’re hurt, you know to stop moving. You don’t let yourself roll around causing more pain or damage. You get yourself to safety.

– As an athlete, if your motive is based on sporting principles (like “win at all cost”), you are usually trained not to show weakness, to bear it, especially if an opponent might target the injured area. So again, no histrionics.

What are other giveaways of feigned injury? Hands brought up to cover the eyes? Teammates telling the player to get up?

11
Jun
14

why i might watch the 2014 world cup

june 11, 2014

I am a tireless football-lover, so I’ll talk about it any way I can. I’ll happily trot out the psycho-cultural stereotypes to pontificate why the Dutch will lose again, ready some Kleenex (or mugs) for the Brits and their post-Empire tears, wiggle my hips to imitate wiry South American dribblers. My credentials include two World Cups and my brother who was ball boy for the German team in 1994’s opening match. But the World Cup that is starting tomorrow?

Enh.

If you ask me why I was going to tune to this year’s edition in Brazil, I would say it’s because I am a consistent football fan. Now there’s an adjective to stir passions – “consistent.”

Having watched more and more football in the last couple years, and having learned more about economics, human rights issues, and international politics, I realized the sport itself – the on-field product – has shrunk into the least compelling part of the tournament.

Maybe that’s the stage this romance was always supposed to reach. For me, it started in 1986 when I was living in Hong Kong. I remember unfurling a sleeping bag at the foot of my parents’ bed so I could wake early each morning to flip on the TV. The tournament was half a world away in Mexico so I would watch with my dad while he dressed for work. That tournament was about one player: Diego Maradona. He quickly attained hero status with me. With a thrill, I thought, my tie-clad dad and this Argentine, the only one I knew, both were 5’5”. And both men had black hair – but that is definitely where the similarities ended.

In that tournament, I also remember a game of outrageous skill played between Brazil and France. I remember all the different flags and wondering why Italy wore blue. But always, Diego Diego Diego. Those baby blue and white stripes. The mediocre team around him and Maradona’s singular brilliance – which only stood out more for the contrast. I thought, some day I, too, could be 5’5”.

But that kind of devotion couldn’t last. My parents wanted their floor space back.

Since then I’ve discovered that I remember each tournament according to where I am in life, and maybe there is something to that. Sure, there is drama with goals and heroes and scapegoats – there has to be a winner every four years, after all. But something melds the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups in my mind into one thick gray personality. In terms of the football, the drama, and, most importantly (or vaguely), the feel, there’s a worn selfsameness that makes those three. So what happened?

On my side, it’s probably life-changes and increased awareness. In 2002, I had just graduated from college and was too impoverished financially and socially to transform the games into an event. I watched broadcasts on Spanish-language channels at home alone before waiting tables in the evening. In 2006, I had both of those missing cards: income and a diverse social group. The result was morning revelry at a local bar with many friends and more depressed Brits, my photo in the paper (online version), and a culminating event where we served fresh crepes and Spaghetti-O’s in martini glasses to celebrate the finalists. As an overall package, I had the most fun with the 2006 tourney.

But 2006 was also when my worldview started to broaden. I worked for the next two years interviewing political asylum seekers. I would then spend four years living and working in East Africa on human rights-focused aid projects while launching a radio show about life in Burundi. I would attend the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In the last couple years, I pursued Master’s degrees at Columbia in journalism and international affairs. And it would not be a stretch to say those experiences have ruined the World Cup for me – yes, including my attendance at the 2010 tournament.

For that tournament, I flew down from Burundi to South Africa to watch some games with my brother and my dad. It was great – it was like old times attending sports events in Chicago. And then I realized – that’s exactly what it felt like. Crowds filling up fast food joints before the game (we went to a KFC). Stadia hunkered in urban settings like Chicago. And the corporate sponsors. Most of all, that’s what made it feel like a typical commercial mainstream sporting experience. The sponsors were the same you find anywhere, like this (with a white picket fence!):

2010WorldCup_Budweiser

And they mandated that only certain foods could be sold or certain brands advertised, in effect, implying that only certain fans could attend to bankroll all this glitz. So that whole part about hosting the tournament in a brand new continent? New cultures, new fans, new foods, new everything? Marketing tools, no more.

Football has become, to me, a true commodity. The harder question was who gets to consume it? And more importantly, who or what is consumed?

This is what the past few years have taught me: There are issues larger than the game but they influence the outcomes disproportionately. Economics, human rights, inequalities – these things all matter.

Greed is winning over the game’s soul, says Nick Hornby, as players, agents, gamblers, and networks see gold. Owners smash and grab revenues and bribes (No hands, remember? It’s football.). It’s about rotten institutions run by rotten men. It’s become a shady shady enterprise where articles like this Economist piece deploy business-speak to describe FIFA, the football governing body (interestingly, the article’s print edition was “Beautiful Game, Ugly Business,” but online it’s now “Ugly Politics.”) We talk about sex workers, mostly young women, preparing for the spike in demand for their services, right alongside the young men preparing for the games – as if those are the respective roles. To some, they might be. And, most of all, it’s about inertia that helps perpetuate these problems.

The game feels that way, too. It’s not that there isn’t delicious football on offer. But since the late 90’s, European football has received so much coverage, from domestic leagues and tournaments to the Champions’ League, there are few major discoveries. Sports medicine ensures we watch the same players for at least a decade, so we’ve come to know every star intimately. Some surprises like North Korea’s promising start in 2010 gloss over the fact that most of their players played abroad in Europe and in Japan. The question was no longer whether we would be dazzled by new stars and playing styles but whether those brand names would meet expectations.

In this tournament, the sporting worries are already clear: too many injured players. Fatigue after long domestic seasons – by players and fans. Scorching humid conditions. The on-field product turn out kind of bland.

But all of that ignores the mass Brazilian opposition raging against the tournament for this extravagance that only enriches sponsors. Brazilians launch protests daily, some violent, some creative. They demand education and public investment, not just international prestige.

So when the cameras zoom out to a shot of the stadium and the surrounding bustle, I’ll be looking in the corners of the cityscape, wondering what happening in those margins. Sure, I’ll watch the games and what happens on those pretty manicured fields, but my thoughts may turn elsewhere between passes. I never thought I would say this, but football may have become a bit boring.

 

Oh, and Argentina will win.

 

29
Oct
13

nobody wants to pay me for sound arguments

October 28, 2013

Every once in a while, an article really bothers me. Here’s one, an op-ed in the New York Times, about why journalists should get paid: “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!

I agree that good journalism has value and people should generally get paid for their work but Kreider gets it all wrong, showing once again that you use extremely problematic reasoning and still arrive at the right conclusion. Poor logic (ha). This article is symptomatic of the problem. If you make crap arguments and deploy conventional devices, then you cheapen your value. It starts with the headline, where you make a promise to the reader about your article’s content. This one references Marx (“Unite!”) but he’s not making a Marxist argument, he’s making a capitalist one. And to win his argument, he beats on a straw bogey (“The Man,” “they,” whoever they are) that denies payment – except inconveniently, he never acknowledges that it’s editors, many of whom are former reporters, who often seek free labor. Why? Because in a capitalist system, that’s what they do: maximize their profit, lower costs – and journalism participates fully in that system. And by posting substance-less declarations like this (“get paid!”), you’re actually making things worse. The notion that money is the only true value we should attach to journalistic endeavors should strike many journalists as offensive. Kreider tries to backtrack into a distinction about valueless art and the market economy, but journalism has always toed the line as a consumable commodity. The Internet pushed the demand into overdrive, and journalism responded with outlets like Buzzfeed. Our most popular news shows are comedy shows. Don’t blame the Internet for a collective failure of imagination. These might be entertaining, but they are not art. Are we surprised the market wants to pay less?

The example of his sister is really unfortunate and sloppy but if you do want to go in that direction and apply market logic, then you would draw parallels between our broken healthcare system including unnecessary procedures and medications and news outlets trying to manufacture news.

And don’t forget how we have all made information less valuable by giving away so much of it. We blog and we tweet and we post our lives on Facebook. If you retreat from serious journalism, as the industry has done, then you-are- saying more people are capable of this work. If you really want to improve journalists’ condition, it would be more useful to redefine value or you reshape the market. The kind of journalism that is prevailing struggles to argue it is providing a public service or strengthening civil society. On the other hand, did Edward Snowden ask for payment for his revelations? What is being done to encourage that kind of journalism? Unpaid labor is a systemic issue and getting a few bucks is hardly a sufficient remedy, as Kreider suggests; the question he should have asked is how much should different kinds of articles bring in? Or, why are social workers not paid well for helping people? Frankly, I think he’s making a plea to get paid because he’s making arguments for an industry that is losing its identity.

Also, he’s kind of a conceited pig – hard to make an argument about fairness when you’re self-absorbed and sexist.

21
Aug
13

this week’s idiocracy moment – aug. 21

august 21, 2013

Each week, I post an example that shows how we are approaching Mike Judge’s vision in his film Idiocracy. The movie shows how a society with wayward priorities, including corporatization of our government, commercial scientific research and hostility toward intellectualism, leads to an overall dumbing down of the population.

Here is this week’s moment:

In Idiocracy, water has been displaced as the life-giving liquid of choice by sports drinks, because they are filled with “electrolytes.” What are they? What do they do? Nobody knows. But as the main product of the eponymous corporation Brawndo, which bought out the Food and Drug Administration, everything from water fountains to irrigation systems (but not toilets) dispenses “Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator!” Why is this stupid? Because water is about water – it’s about hydration and nutrients that you can’t just replace by adding electrolytes to any liquid, especially a dehydrating beverage like beer. But that hasn’t stop scientists from wasting resources and brain power to try. Next up, non-polluting gasoline!

Australian scientists brew “hydrating beer.”

12
Aug
13

toward an idiocracy

Mike Judge’s movie Idiocracy came out in 2006 and largely flew under the radar, at least compared to the success of Office Space. I first saw Idiocracy in 2008, when I was living in Burundi. I could see Judge has an amazing ability to simplify without being simplistic. His movies offer landscapes that reward repeated views and explorations because his details are subtly incisive and biting; they are often the main source of commentary. Shiny polyester clothing that we pull out of dispensers? Fast food from vending machines? Rounded corners on all the buildings to protect us from ourselves? Wow, wow and wow. But the best part is the very direct premise loaded with implications. In short, the world is getting universally dumber because our breeding habits are exacerbating inequalities like social class, wealth and intelligence, and we as a society are focused on the wrong priorities. The most average person alive today would then become the smartest person in the world five hundred years ahead.

Even though Judge extrapolates far ahead to arrive at this dystopian future, his analysis begins now, and many of the signs, literally, are around us. The insidious creep of corporations sponsorship to show up on everything from stadia to subway stations to events to research projects, the unchecked privatization of basic services like education and healthcare, the obvious breakdown of effective representative government – these changes add up to Judge’s Idiocracy.

So in addition to blogging about media matters, development issues and my dog, I’d like to introduce a weekly post about how we are moving closer and closer to Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Here is a current example.

In Idiocracy, the very average protagonist, played by Luke Wilson, stumbles into a movie theater, and this is playing.

Ass1 Ass2

Judge suggests movies are getting worse and worse, and who needs dialogue, plot or characters when you can have trashy and pointless images like a gratuitous (Oscar-winning!) bare ass? Occasionally it farts.

And we love it. We love it because it sucks and we as an audience have been dumbing down our tastes for decades. It’s so bad, it’s the best. Sound familiar?

Enter Sharknado and all that it represents.

A quick sweep online reveals numerous headlines with phrases like “so-bad-they’re-good” or “in praise of bad movies.” Some extol the virtues of occasionally consuming low-grade garbage because sometimes it’s so bad, it’s good. Like fast food?

Here’s an article in celebration of “Sharknado-bad” movies:

http://www.inquisitr.com/877066/12-shark-movies-that-are-sharknado-bad/

This Wired piece tries to dissect the phenomenon intellectually:

http://www.wired.com/underwire/?p=125205

Clearly, entertaining “bad” movies have been around as long as cinema, but Judge’s point is a question of standards, and ours, he suggests, are very slowly but steadily eroding when it comes to movies, much like other, more important areas of our lives. Maybe things will start to change when we start demanding that change. Otherwise, it’s just more of the same – or worse.

*** As a bonus, I’ve also been mentally tracking over the years the prescience of the movie Demolition Man, a very very loose adaption of Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World. So far, it has predicted:

– Arnold Schwarzenegger will become president. –> He’s already governor.
– People will be teleconferenced into and attend meetings with their faces appearing on monitors. –> Skype
– Taco Bell will be the main food supplier in a post-apocalyptic society. –> Extrapolated out to fast food in general and this is not too far off.
– Cars will become self-driving. –> Google car
– Wesley Snipes might kill us all –> pending…

Here’s an old New York Times article hailing the modest genius of Demolition Man.

06
Aug
13

there needs to be an app for that

August 6, 2013

My article about mobile technologies assisting the fight against sexual violence in conflict zones ran in the Global Post a couple days ago. Here are a couple links that I wanted to attach to the article to give it more context.

First, about Syria, there have been two major features of the international community’s (lack of) action that I wanted to highlight: political gridlock and weak leadership. These factors exacerbate or even sustain the ongoing violence against civilians, largely committed by the ruling regime.

On the political gridlock: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42513

On failed leadership: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/07/2013717163831228330.html

The other two links elaborate on the “problematic” U.N. mission in the Congo with specific case examples. The second article cites a damning case of the U.N. not even aware of a mass atrocity 2 km from its base, highlighting a total disconnect from the community it purports to protect.

Peacekeepers gone wild in the DRC: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/peacekeepers-gone-wild-how-much-more-abuse-will-the-un-ignore-in-congo/article4462151/

Report of mass rape near U.N. base: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2010/08/201082402724259229.html

I think it’s important to emphasize my article for the Global Post is not a technology-will-save-us-all piece. Rather, this seems a case where technology can and must come in to compensate for larger institutional failures. Ironically, technology could potentially provoke those institutions to act, as with documentation of rights abuses, but its nature as a citizen-driven informal method also guarantees it will encounter major obstacles before it can considered useful to those institutions, either as data or evidence. The fight against sexual violence, especially in conflict zones, can use all the tools and ingenuity it can find, but really, civilians shouldn’t have to resort to that, and agencies like U.N. bodies should consider bolder, even forceful approaches if it wants to really “fight” sexual violence. Smartphones have so many less productive applications that people should be enjoying.