rational quantifiable resilient and neurotic
June 17, 2010, 12:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

American sports, like Americans, are quantifiable.  Not footie.  It’s tragic, frustrating and neurotic.  Three years ago, the American conservative press wrote articles on how soccer is subversive.  I laughed out loud.  They’re still writing them during this cup.  This article by David Brooks, is a shift:  it admits our parochialism, and also proposes a real difference between rational, stats obsessed America and the football mad rest of the world.

David Brooks on the world cup –

The World Cup calls this parochialism to mind because soccer is not just a sport, it is an entire mentality. We in this country prefer pastimes that are rational and quantifiable. Football plays can be drawn up in a playbook and baseball lends itself to statistical analysis.

But the rest of the world follows a sport that rewards resilience and neuroticism. Soccer is a sport perfectly designed to reinforce a tragic view of the universe, because basically it is a long series of frustrations leading up to near certain heartbreak.

The author Nick Hornby once had the brains to turn around while at an Arsenal match to watch the faces of the fans instead of the game. He observed that over the course of 15 minutes, the fans reflected frustration, rage, bitterness, despair, false hopes and discouragement. That’s because the players are perpetually pushing the ball forward, and it often looks like something is about to happen, but in reality it almost never does.

The goals are never scored.

-David Brooks, A World Cup Mentality, New York Times


the juxtaposition of two holes
June 16, 2010, 4:52 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: ,

In the following paragraph, there are two visions of how we live and occupy our environments publicly.  The first is a ‘left over’ vision that has us milling about in streets, vestigial, undesigned, shopping, getting here and there.  The second is the iconic monumental space that has become more an empty symbol than a real place of public engagement.

The European architect characteristically wants a way out of the limitations and stifling hierarchies imposed on him by his built environment.  And the North American planner longs for a public realm that will allow him escape from his private life which has more or less overtaken him.  Their visions quite accurately describe how we live today:  in North America, we live our public lives in places that are designed for something else – commerce, transport; and in Europe we live in places that were once, a long time ago, designed for collective engagement but have long since lost their vital, proper meaning.

Interestingly, and to provide some context, Roberto Unger, the author and a professor of law, is scolding a panel of luminary design professionals who he moderated in a discussion about public space at Harvard University.  Half way through the discussion, he decided his panel was smart but shockingly passive.  The professionals, to a person, saw their roles in society as merely meeting the briefs of their clients.  Money talks.  No vision.

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June 10, 2010, 5:03 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,

At the genesis of  American society are two dominating myths: Jefferson’s agrarian utopia and Winthrop’s city on a hill, says Thomas Bender in his article excerpted below.  He says they are almost opposite in many ways, but that the one thing they agree on is a commitment to sameness.  Homogeneity, the myth of equality and “natural harmony”; in opposition to heterogeneity, conflict, even democracy.

A healthy city is built on difference and the healthiest was founded on it and remains so today.  New York is a good example:  its founding principles and conditions were based on difference:  different religions, different languages, different races, different markets.  Bigotry and religious sameness were expunged and the place flourished.

In this excerpt Bender claims that the idea of an autonomous market – the iconic claim ‘let the market decide’ – is one of the insidious results of this culture of sameness.  If we live in natural harmony and we are all the same, then there will be no conflict in markets and, more significantly, there will be no need of political intervention or regulation or power in the naturally harmonious economy.

Here is the excerpt:

Myths of sameness inevitably misrepresent the condition of life in a modern and urban society.  Not only do they favor provincialism over cosmopolitanism, but they undermine our ability to bring economic life within the purview of a democratic politics.

If there are fully shared values – either as a fact of nature, as Jefferson would have it, or as a result of very strong communal institutions, as Winthrop proposed – the market need not be an arena of conflict.  It would be no more than a mere mechanism of exchange, essentially without implications for power relations.  If, however, the assumption of consensus is false, then the market, unless politically controlled, becomes autonomous and self-legitimating – an all-too-faithful representation of modern power relations.  Just this happened in the course of the nineteenth century, but for many Americans the myth of equality and of natural harmony masked the implications of this development, allowing the bulk of economic decisions to be insulated from political control.  Americans, more than any other people, came to accept the market as a law of nature, as a public philosophy.

-Thomas Bender, “New York as a Center of Difference‘” Dissent, Fall 1987