13 Jul

A Theory about my World Cup Watching

Here’s something that occurred to me a few weeks ago: All else being equal, if I lived outside of the US, I might not love the World Cup as much as I do.

I recently read about some of Jorge Luis Borges’ opinions on soccer; he didn’t like it. According to Shaj Mathew, writing at New Republic, Borges’ “problem was with soccer fan culture, which he linked to the kind of blind popular support that propped up the leaders of the twentieth century’s most horrifying political movements.” Borges was an Argentinian, who witnessed firsthand the Dirty War and the rise of a fascist government—horrifying political movements—so it makes sense that “he was naturally suspicious of his countrymen’s unqualified devotion to any doctrine or religion.” He feared that nationalism seems to go hand in hand with soccer. “Nationalism only allows for affirmations, and every doctrine that discards doubt, negation, is a form of fanaticism and stupidity.” I just want to pause and digest this last comment. Nationalism only allows for affirmations; you’re either with us or against us; love it or leave it.

Franklin Foer uses the term tribalism instead of Nationalism, but he illuminates exactly what freaked Borges out when he describes how in the “2002 World Cup [held in South Korea], there was a deadly riot in Bangladesh between fans of Argentina and fans of Brazil.” Or how “support for Rangers [over the Celtics in Glasgow, Scotland] has become a means for venting a sort of lingering Catholic hatred.” (Apparently, fans have adopted the Rangers as the Protestant team, and even wear orange despite the team’s colors being blue, white, and red.)

Indeed, soccer somewhat regularly brings out the worst kind of us vs. them mentality. A really great example of the nationalism inherent in soccer comes from Diego Maradona’s description of Argentina’s victory over England in the 1986 World Cup. In 1982, there was a brief 10-week war between the UK and Argentina over the Falkland Islands, off the coast of Argentina. Four years later, the Argentine team beat England in the World Cup in Mexico. Maradona writes in his autobiography, “It was as if we had beaten a country, not just a football team. Although we had said before the game that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas War, we knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys there, killed them like little birds. And this was revenge.”

I could give a lot more examples, but suffice to say soccer is prone to disturbing tribalism. So I think Borges has a point.

And yet, there’s something pretty appealing about that level of passion and belonging. When I lived in Ecuador, we were drawn into the soccer fervor a little. When they beat Argentina, all of Quito erupted into ecstatic celebration. I remember watching the game at a restaurant and seeing a guy jump up at a near-goal moment and shout “Fuera Lucio,” a reference to the very recent ousting of corrupt president Lucio Gutierrez. It was a joke, but still, the link between pride in the national team and pride in the citizenry’s patriotic ouster of an asshole made a lot of sense. And it felt genuinely patriotic. In fact, one thing I noticed when living in Ecuador was that people there were very aware that the government did not necessarily represent the citizenry—hence, despite the widespread unpopularity of Bush, who was the US president at the time, Ecuadorians did not look at me as a de facto supporter of him. They didn’t judge people by their political leaders. Consequently, they seemed to have a strong sense of what ties them all together, and that bond exists quite apart from politics, or rather in spite of politics. On a regular basis, I heard the term “La Patria” thrown around. It means homeland, fatherland, and is rooted not in politics but in heritage.

I have to admit that back here in the states, I’m soured on the term patriotism because it has been so co-opted by those with political motives. It’s oft-referenced by knee-jerk “love it or leave it!” types or by politicians looking to gain an emotional foothold among those who remember when patriotism meant something other than supporting the Patriot Act.

And my level of tribalism/patriotism/nationalism has, at least in the majority of my adult years, been mitigated by an awareness that nationalism is kind of dumb. I mean, in this country, we all came from somewhere else (footnote 1), and relocating to other parts of the country is so common, at least amongst the educated classes of the Midwest, that we almost all recognize the absurdity of regionalism, the cousin of tribalism and nationalism (I have very good friends in Seattle, Portland, Denver, NYC, Alaska, Minnesota, and Boston).

So I take our nationalism with a grain of salt.

Actually, maybe it’s worth distinguishing between nationalism and patriotism. If Nationalism is a relatively unquestioning support of the political state, especially as it compares to other political states, then patriotism is merely a love of one’s own homeland and doesn’t necessarily equate to a blind, untested preference over other people’s homelands or to any real competitive or comparative m.o.

For me personally, I find it very easy to have little stake in the winner or loser of the World Cup. The US is never a contender. And in some ways, that assuages the potential for tribal identification or a competitive/comparative nationalism. I get to watch and root for other nations. And if/when I have less stake in who wins, my spectating becomes a matter of appreciating the athleticism on display and the story that develops over the course of the 90- or 120-minute game, rather than personal identification with the struggles of my people.

In other words, soccer is decidedly not tribalist for me. And I think that has a lot to do with my being an American.

Watching soccer feels foreign, worldly, like vacationing in Europe. In fact, it reminds me of watching the European championship when my wife and I honeymooned in Ireland. And coincidentally, just as I was in the midst of writing down these thoughts, I came upon an article in the most recent Harper’s magazine written by a guy named Simon Kuper, author of Soccernomics, who says, “Soccer—especially European soccer—makes American fans feel like cosmopolitans.” He goes on to say that American soccer fans “tend to be Democrats, even though sports fans overall lean Republican.” That jibes pretty well with the very unscientific observations I’ve noted on Facebook.

My theory is this: because my consumption of the sport is based not on fanaticism and tribalism or other political subtexts, I am both free of some constraints that might otherwise determine my preferences and ignorant of some information that might otherwise deepen my attachments. I’m a tourist. I’m a visitor. I vacation in the country, love it, and leave with my good memories intact. Were I, like Borges, to live in soccer-land, I’m not sure I would like it as much. It just might reek of politics a little too much.

(footnote 1: except for Native Americans, who are among the most impoverished and historically trod-upon groups in this country. And in fact, it’s sort of “patriotic” to celebrate the revisionary history in which European settlers sat down to feast with the Native Americans, which just goes to show the very shaky foundations upon which American patriotism is built.)

13 Mar


I feel the need to take a break from what I normally do here, which is usually creative and relatively playful stuff. But I can’t really have a site called Wisco-anything without giving some attention to what’s happening to my home state. Below is a list of resources I compiled and posted to Facebook. Read, educate yourself, and combat the viral ignorance out there. If all you want is the Action list, click here.

As FDR once said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” It is in the spirit of education that I am compiling a list of resources on Scott Walker’s assault on public employees. Please, take the time to educate yourself and gather information. The coming war will be an information battle. Those with money will fund propaganda, and those in power will spread lies and half-truths. The mainstream media has shirked its responsibility as the “fourth branch” of government; it is up to us to seek out accurate information.

Walker has chosen to favor corporations over working class employees; he has manufactured a crisis that doesn’t really exist. Not to say that we aren’t facing some tough economic times, but to blame public employees for those economic hardships is disingenuous. Our country is involved in two unpopular wars, and we have just bailed out irresponsible banks and their bonus-earning CEOs, who caused the conditions of our current recession. In the meantime, here’s what got passed on March 10th.

I’ve categorized the issues as follows:

1) Class War: this is about the unfair fleecing of public employees for the benefit of the rich. A sub-category here: cronyism.

2) Lies: the misinformation and lying perpetuated by Walker Republicans (I specify Walker Republicans because not all Repubs are as dishonest).

3) Media Fail: the various ways in which the media has participated in the misinformation or spread lies.

4) Polls: obvious, no?

5) People: a look at who these “union thugs” are.

6) Inspiration: a few videos that might encourage those who feel as depressed as I do.

7) Action: what you can do to help out.

Class War:

Connecting the dots from Wisconsin to D.C. (video explaining the Walker Republican “unpopulism”)

Plutocracy Now: What Wisconsin Is Really About (article with charts!)

Daily Show on “fat-cat” teachers vs. CEOs and their bonuses (video)

Colbert’s The Word – New Country for Old Men (exposes the economic injustices at work here)

Wall Street v. Working Class; You Have More Money In Your Wallet Than Bank Of America Pays In Fed (article)

GOP strategy: Disaster capitalism (video; Naomi Klein interviewed)

The Koch-Walker mutual favor-giving diagrammed

Maddow Exposes Walker’s Privatization Agenda and His Past Failures in Doing So (Cronyism 101, here)

Battleground Wisconsin (Op-Ed by Dean Bakopoulos)

A brief article explaining the basics of the class war

A very good summary of what has been unfolding in Madison

Ezra Klein – Unions aren’t to blame for Wisconsin’s budget (WaPo)

The hollowing-out of Wisconsin (A good, brief article about how Walker is flushing Wisconsin down the toilet.)


Daily Show exposing Walker’s lies about protester damage

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he campaigned on his budget repair plan. Liar

20 lies (and counting) told by Gov. Walker

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says Wisconsin is broke. Lie.

Scott Walker’s unprincipled rigidity(WaPo)

The Wisconsin Lie Exposed – Taxpayers Actually Contribute Nothing To Public Employee Pensions (Forbes)

Walker gins up ‘crisis’ to reward cronies

Myths of the Budget Bill

Teachers Unions, ACT/SAT, and Student Performance: Is Wisconsin Out-Ranking the Non-Union States?

Media Fail:

Media Malpractice in Madison (article from The Awl)

Media Blackout: CNN Fox News and MSNBC Ignore 100,000 WI Protesters

Really Bad Reporting in Wisconsin: Who ‘ Contributes’ to Public Worker Pensions?

Colbert exposes the FOX/Tea Party misinformation and mischaracterization of protesters and public opinion


Poll: Majority want Walker to negotiate (WI Policy Research Institute (conservative-leaning))

WSJ/NBC Poll: Strong Support for Bargaining Rights

Poll Shows Support for Embattled Public Sector Workers (NYT/CBS)

Poll: Americans favor union bargaining rights – USATODAY.com

Weirdness in Wisconsin: Poll on 2/17 paid for by We Ask America

?Building a Stronger Wisconsin Poll Finds Voters Overwhelmingly Think Walker has Gone Too Far in Proposals Related to Public Employees



Voices of Wisconsin (video)

Ground Zero in Wisconsin (interactive photos)

Republican War On Working Families


Taylor Mali on what teachers make (video)

Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protest

Wisconsin “Budget Repair Bill” Protest Pt 2

Wisconsin “Budget Repair Bill” Protest Pt. 3

Wisconsin Protests Pt. 4

Two Weeks In Madison: A Tribute


Help to Recall The Republican 8

WEAC’s site has easy forms for emailing your reps

Donate to recallrepublican8 efforts

Donate to PCCC recall committee

Donate to keep great ad on tv

Help Kloppenburg get elected on April 5th

Pledge to recall Walker

I encourage you to spread this information to friends and family. It might help to cull it and pass on just a few articles or videos. Truth, reason, and compassion are on our side; if you approach others with compassion, you can change their minds.

A personal note of my own:

As a public educator, I have seen how school boards deal with budget constraints. Scott Walker’s proposed budget has almost $1 billion of cuts from education (in the upcoming 2 years) and his abolition of collective bargaining will result in the quality of schools plummeting. Why? Because in order to meet the financial constraints they face, school boards will cut enrichment opportunities (like extracurriculars and reading specialists); they’ll likely mess with the schedule of the day/year (having fewer days of operation or requiring teachers to have fewer prep periods–two things that will reduce the quality of the curriculum); they’ll definitely reduce teacher pay (guaranteed because of Walker’s changes to benefits and pensions), and they may change the entire wage scale (eliminating higher pay or raises for teachers with professional development or advanced degrees, thereby discouraging teachers from getting any better at their jobs); they’ll be forced to have smaller staffs (mass retirements may somewhat offset the need to lay teachers off, but schools won’t fill the vacancies), which will increase class size. I could go on and on. The forecast is dark.

I’m not pleased about receiving a massive pay cut (one that will essentially equal the mortgage I’m paying on my house), but I’m even less pleased with the coming decline of public education. I have been demoralized and disheartened by the events of the past few weeks. But I’ve also been thrust into gathering with a group of people with whom I’m sure I would often disagree, but with whom I’ve felt a sense of community I have not ever experienced before. One night, while down at the Capitol, I overheard a woman telling a young girl, “All these people are our friends.” Please keep the passion going in the next year.

01 Jan

Top Ten Musical Discoveries of 2009

Well, I wasn’t quite as exploratory with new music this year. I went app-crazy, but we’ve been over that. I mention the apps, though, because one of the big keepers of the year was PandoraJam, which doesn’t do much besides allow you to listen to your Pandora radio stations. Oh, except it also records the songs. So that was a pretty cool discovery.

The result, however, was to take me through a period where I acquired a lot of singles but didn’t get to know artists very well. In some cases, I tried investigating the artist — like Architecture in Helsinki — but wasn’t impressed with most of their music, so I stuck with the one or two songs I had. In other cases, Pandora steered me in the right direction and I got introduced to some great new stuff. Last.fm did the same. And then there was my little brother, who is perpetually a good source of new music.

Not all of the below are new in 2009; they were just new (or renewed) for me.

On last year’s list was Yann Tiersen, who remained a standby this year, too. I got most of the sheet music for his stuff, and I make Eileen play it all the time. It’s some of the only music I can handle when I grade essays. But in lieu of putting Yann on this year’s list for the exact same music, I’ll substitute two others. First, Detektivbyran. I’ll pause a moment for you to sound it out. Detektivbyran. Get it? They’re a lot like Yann, but just a little more electronic and much goofier. Still, good stuff. The other new discovery is much less goofy and almost certainly a big influence on Yann since he’s French and quite minimalist on the piano: Eric Satie. I don’t know why it took me so long to discover Satie, but I really like his stuff.

In keeping with my not-branching-out, I have to include Andrew Bird on the list this year, too. His album Noble Beast came out last January, and it’s one of my favorites. Plus, I saw him in concert this fall and then discovered his live albums, entitled Fingerlings (multiple volumes), which allowed me to relive his stupendous live performance. Andrew Bird has a lot to do with why I now own a violin.

So, too, does Horse Feathers. These guys were a brother recommendation. In fact, he invited me to a free concert of theirs on campus this past fall. With a cello, guitar, violin, saw, and drums, they’re kinda the exact band I’d like to be in. Mainly cuz I’d like to be able to play all of those instruments.

I suppose if I got good at all that stuff, I could be my own band. Just give me a little audio tech savvy and a singer as good as Nataly Dawn from Pomplamoose, and I’d be set. Of course, then my name would be Jack Conte, the other member of Pomplamoose. The thing about these guys is they’re totally on their own — no record label or anything. They put together these wonderful YouTube videos. I could watch them for hours.

I could also watch DJ Earworm videos for hours. He and Girl Talk are the best mashup artists out there. For the past three years, Earworm has put together a “United State of Pop” song, which mashes together the top 25 US Billboard hits of the year. I don’t keep up with a lot of mainstream pop, so I’m not always familiar with the all the songs, but it doesn’t matter. What he creates usually stands alone as a great piece of music. (He’s got a website where he offers all his stuff for free).

Where to go from here is a bit of a toss-up. Going the hipster route, there’s Seabear, Barcelona, and the Dodos. I went through minor stages with all three. Barcelona is pretty similar to Coldplay, though perhaps more chill, less pop. I discovered them via this kick-ass film of an aquarium. Seabear has some pretty catchy stuff, but to be honest, I’m not quite sure if they’ll stand the test of time. Same with the Dodos: a few great ones, but not sure whether I’ll keep coming back to them. Jury’s out.

Another kick-ass internet video (Keith Loutit’s Bathtub IV) lead me to Washington, an Aussie woman with a nice EP (no, that’s not a euphemism). Then, through some sort of roundabout route, I discovered Josh Pyke, another Aussie, whose song Middle of the Hill is addictive.

And to round out this list of over-ten top ten artists, I’ll throw in my final two brother recs.: J. Tillman and the Avett Brothers. The Avetts are sometimes a little too hippy for me, but their latest album was pretty great and didn’t evoke dirty, mooching posers like their earlier stuff did. J. Tillman is the drummer for Fleet Foxes, who I kinda like. But Tillman’s stuff tends to be a little more contemplative, so I like it even more. The song Evans and Falls might top my list for singles in the past year (though it’s actually two years old).

I guess if I’m keeping this list to ten, I might put Washington, Seabear, and the Dodos on the back burner for now as I solidify my opinion of them. That leaves my top ten list as follows:
1. Satie
2. Detektivbyran
3. Andrew Bird
4. Horse Feathers
5. Pomplamoose
6. DJ Earworm
7. Barcelona
8. Josh Pyke
9. J. Tillman
10. The Avett Brothers

31 Jul


If you have a mac, and you’re looking for ways to up your procrastination, I’ve become quite the expert. Here’s what you do.

Step One:
Subscribe to RSS feeds of various mac app websites. These sites will introduce you to really cool software that you are just a click away from downloading. Most of them increase productivity.

Actually, as I was writing this, I also subscribed to macapper.com, which gave me a pretty good example of how RSS feeds can make your procrastination efficient. See, what I did was I skimmed through the 30 Macapper articles downloaded to my mail client and I came upon a review of Snowtape, an app which allows you to listen to internet radio, record it, and 1-click export the recording to iTunes. Nevermind that I don’t listen to internet radio, I clicked on the link to Snowtape anyway, and it’s downloading as I type. Now that’s multi-tasking!

Step Two:
Just because you’ve subscribed to the feeds doesn’t mean you’ll look at them a lot. So what you need to do is get Growl, a genius app which will display a small pop-up notification every time you get a new email or when a new article shows up in your RSS feed. Let’s imagine, then, that you are typing up a blog entry or something else really productive. Suddenly, Growl displays a quick note (in the lower left of the display for me) that promises a comprehensive review of 8 time management apps. You can click on the Growl notification, which will display the RSS article without even opening your mail.app window. Now that’s efficiency.

Step Three:
This isn’t just about staying informed, though. You’ve got to go beyond just reading the RSS feeds. Occasionally, you need to follow the links and download new software. Some of it’s free, like the FuzzyClock app I downloaded this morning. Others, like Snowtape, aren’t. But don’t worry. Those unfree apps always have demos or free trials, so you can use them for free for a week or two at least.

My Setup:
As you can see from the diagram at the top, the essential feeds are AppStorm, Minimal Mac, and Smoking Apples. AppStorm and Smoking Apples have reviews on a daily basis, and they’ve supplied the vast majority of my procrastination. Minimal Mac is very new, and it’s m.o. is to simplify your computing experience through aesthetically pleasing workspaces that eliminate distraction. Subscribing to Minimal Mac’s feed is the most beautiful paradox.

The above triumvirate is responsible for my current setup, displayed below.
Read More

26 Jul

Le Tour 2009 RIP; Or, Why I Would Die in The Tour de France

Well, it’s over now. And Monday’s going to be a sad day, indeed. No more Tour to watch. I guess on the bright side, I’ll gain an additional four hours a day, but I’m still sad to see it go. It’s always impressive and always a bit humiliating. I mean, the skills and athleticism of the Tour riders are incredible. I would literally die if I were to try to compete in the Tour. Here’s how:

1. The sag wagon (of death). No doubt, this is the first thing that would kill me. I wouldn’t last one stage on the Tour. Actually, the first stage is a time trial and there’s no sag wagon there. But on this year’s stage two, I’d have been swept up pretty quick. The average speed of the lanterne rouge (the slowest rider in the Tour) was 38.4 km/h, which equals 23.8 mph. That’s in 21 days of riding, which included 2150 miles and 90 hours for the slow guys.

2. The peloton. What do you get when you combine claustrophobia and poor bike handling skills? Me. Causing a huge crash in the middle of the peloton. I’d hit someone’s back wheel 10 minutes into the first ride.

3. Hairpin turns. And road furniture. If I didn’t take out myself and dozens of others by my nervous pack riding, I’d definitely eat it at a) a traffic circle, b) a curb, c) one of those crazy 180-degree turns like the one on the Champs Elyse circuit. Every time the peloton rounds that thing, I think someone’s going to crash for sure.

4. Descending. I’m pretty conservative going downhill. I got up to 48 mph once and it scared me. Add in some switchbacks and a road without shoulders, and I’d be the fastest guy down the hill. Only problem is I’d arrive without my bike and without an intact bone in my body.

5. Fans. I wouldn’t have the bike handling skills to avoid the idiots that run in front of me on the road, so I’d probably run into a half dozen of them on every stage. But even with the necessary skills, I’d get so mad at them, that I’d probably lash out like Contador did on stage 15. Except I wouldn’t just do it once. I’d do it constantly, and eventually, I’d get my glycogen-depleted ass kicked by one of the overjoyed spectators. Like one of these guys:

6. Mont Ventoux. Or whatever ridiculously hard mountain stage they throw at you on the last day of racing. The headwinds up there were 25 mph, which would have reduced my net speed to -15 mph.

7. Jens Voigt’s crash. It didn’t kill him, but that’s because the hardest substance on earth is Jens Voigt. I would have died.

8. Thor Hushovd’s near-crash. Another instance in which I’d lack the necessary skills to not die.

9. This podium girl. Ouch!

10. The Schleck brothers. By my count, Andy’s total number of attacks in the Alps: 13.