The Ukrainian coach, Blokhin, said something awhile back that speaks more to the current racism kerfuffle than Polish/Ukrainian excuses of “oh, those nazi salutes are just people pointing in the direction of the opposing team fans” or “they’re just protesting the exclusion of Krakow (excluded in part because of racism).”

Blokhin said and I quote:

 “The more Ukrainians that play in the national league, the more examples for the young generation,” he said. “Let them learn from Shevchenko or Blokhin and not from some zumba-bumba whom they took off a tree, gave him two bananas and now he plays in the Ukrainian League.” 

Sheva is a god so let nothing be said about his character from this quote but really, Eastern European football’s exposure to black people comes from the nigerians and Brazilians the oil billionaires imported to play in their post-Soviet teams. They didn’t really vet them because there was a belief that African players are naturally stronger and more skillful. So what they got instead was a ton of mediocre-ish players exposing political and class divides. The training regimes needed to be updated for the modern game. What did the players do? They blamed black players for it. Ultras have an outsized power in Eastern Europe. You’ll see a thread of anti-semitism in this too if you look closely enough. In Hungary, MTK are the second most successful club historically yet you’ll find they had the lowest attendance figures pre-relegation and you run the risk of getting beaten up if you dare to wear their shirt. I mean, they were a legitimately great team. But alas, MTK are considered a Jewish team. Are the players Jewish? They aren’t. But Jews have come to symbolize something, just like black players have. They serve as a reminder of power that rests elsewhere, of cultural change that is tangible yet imperceptible, of being left behind.

It is a complete and utter false equivalence when people say racism in, say, England, is even comparable to Eastern Europe. England has black people in their national team and a very high proportion of mixed-race people so the racism is less virulent, less hostile. I root for Sweden. One of the reasons why (the primary was that they were the first trading card I found for Euro 92 and also WC 94) was Martin Dahlin. An Afro-Venezuelan Swede! It helped that he also owned in 94 but 94 was important for the debut of the greatest Swedish player ever, Henke Larsson, a Cape Verde-an Swede. I rate him higher than even my idol, Zlatan, a Bosnian-Croat Swede, who will win Euro 2012 for Sweden. My point is that football is a microcosm of the culture of formerly monocultural countries. Football is one of the ways cultures are exposed to other cultures. My impression of Sweden was very different before I saw Dahlin and Larsson. But it’s not obviously easy for nations to seem like a multicultural ideal when demographic transition is such a difficult ask. Sweden struggles to assimilate its Bosnian/Serbian/Muslim/Arab population, seen in miniature by Swedish attitudes towards Malmo, Ibra’s hometown. Ibra talks in his book about the systemic pressures acting on him and others like him. His very presence in the national team is a negotiation of identity. Millions have to support him and that’s a negotiation too. Some countries have an easier time of this than others. This is why France’s WC-winning team was to be such a watershed moment. A French team that’s mostly black and Algerian? With a Basque standing in for white people? By and large, Europe is negotiating the assimilation of its Muslim population. Some of Europe’s biggest stars are Muslim, which will make the job possible. Benzema, Ozil, Ribery, Dzeko, Henry. When this is made clear in Ukraine/Poland, the idea is that they will see and appreciate the diversity that they don’t see in their home games.

Mario Balotelli is obviously one of the first players people who are convinced that football in Europe is racist will invoke. I submit that he is not a good example and yet at the same time, his saga is a model for how cultural attitudes evolve. Remember, football is both a “civilizing process” and “an antidote to civilization,” which is part of what makes it so intertwined with nationalism and ethnic pride. Balo is one of the most talented players in the game. Strong, lethal and blessed with incredibly vision, Italy’s hopes at the Euros rest on his often disinterested shoulders. He has been heckled more than any other black player in recent memory in Italy, a nation that has idolized Rijkaard, Weah, Thuram and Kanu, to name a few. His crime is not just being black but being Italian to boot. He is the first major black Italian player to represent Italy. Liverani, the first black Italian, was never good enough to conjure up this hysteria. Juventus fans claim that they’re not booing him or making monkey noises at him because he’s black but because he has a bad attitude. While he does have attitude problems, his blackness gives Italians permission to rain abuse on him that they wouldn’t on other players with bad attitudes like Vieri, Cassano or even the despicable Matrix. Ultimately, the abuse is part of Italy’s growing pains. They are forced to reconcile the fact that there are now black Italians with the fact that their hopes rest on someone who is other. To their credit, they have made peace with it to a large extent. Poland and the Ukraine haven’t had reason to. When the time comes, if it does, football will find a way to expand the meaning of what it means to be Polish or Ukrainian or what have you.

I was very cynical when UEFA decided to host in Poland/Ukraine because of their longstanding issues with racism and anti-Semitism. But on reflection, I think I believe more in football’s power to show people a new way than I do in the wages of racism. Football has a responsibility as the world’s most popular sport, something you find kids playing on dusty fields in every forgotten part of the world. Football unites because it is so primeval. We all get it. If anything can make a difference in Poland/Ukraine, it’s football. I trust it more than any political process or any recriminations.

I hope you go to Poland/Ukraine if you get the chance. Football will conquer all.

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RIP Ray Bradbury

June 6, 2012

I read almost everything he wrote as a teenager. I haven’t returned to him since but I think what I’ll miss most is his relentless, sentimental humanism. People like Vonnegut, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Jim Harrison, all those sincere people you read when you’re too young to think you’re fooling anyone but too old to not see the beauty and callousness that resides in each human heart, they’re the ones that will live on forever. Or the ones that should. Their work wasn’t complicated but it had a moral center you could feel in your bones. They were campfire storytellers in that way, a little primeval. Bradbury believed in people in a way that might seem foolish to us now. I think the last controversy he was involved in was when he said that we have too many internets and too many machines. He refused to put out Kindle versions of his books. He was an anachronism and a humanist and a damn fine person. May we eternally remember that he sang his body electric. RIP.

“To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must write dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfume and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories–science fiction or otherwise. Which means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” 

I recently had the chance to see Takashi Miike’s masterpiece, Ichi the Killer. It remains, to my mind, one of the defining horror/gore films of our time. Its comic book-like feel belies a supremely nihilist/essentially humanist philosophy. It might be hard to get to it and it’s totally understandable if you don’t care to find out. After all, by the time you get to the ending, you’ve already waded through buckets of blood, truly depraved torture, rape and may have had to take advantage of the barf bags that Miike was so kind as to provide during screenings of the movie.

There is not a single black and white character in the movie. In fact, the only sympathetic character, the kind cop-turned-Yakuza bodyguard Taneko, driven mad by his powerlessness in the grand scheme of things, kicks to death an already raped woman. Even his son, Takeshi, the bullied boy, comes face to face with his dark side, kicking his father’s killer, the eponymous Ichi, who is lying helpless on the floor, crying his eyes out, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the leg. All of this happens in the shadow of the battle between the 100% masochist, Kakihara, and the 100% sadist, Ichi. Both characters are larger than life, perfectly suited for their position in society. There is, however, a greater power at work, the Chinese pimp, Jijii, who is manipulating them both and driving them towards the ultimate showdown.

The ending is, I’m informed, unsatisfactory. Kakihara, driven to despair by his inability to be killed, skewers his brain through both ears, imagines that the helpless Ichi is able to kill him, and falls to his death, exclaiming “Wow, this is amazing!” as he plummets. Somehow, this does not satisfy Jiijii, who leaves, disgusted, ending the movie. The denouement consists of two scenes: a blue shot of Kakihara, alone, his jaw dropped to reveal his pathos, and finally, a shot of Jiijii, who seems to have hung himself in an elementary school playground, while a Takeshi/Ichi figure walks away.

What meaning are we to derive from this? What was the point?

To answer this, you must have paid close attention. Recall the scene where Jiijii calls Kakihara, goading him to his final battle. This is what he says:

Do you think that what you’re doing will make everything inevitable? No matter how hard you try, it’ll all be in vain, you asshole. People like you who can only watch know absolutely nothing. I’m pulling the strings. Even yours. I’m controlling everything. Don’t you feel it’s all running a bit too smoothly, you creep? Your fate is without a shred of meaning. You’ll be killed senselessly by Ichi. No more, no less, asshole.

This phone call is the key to understanding Takashi Miike’s point. Without it, the movie is without purpose, made worthwhile only by Miike’s amazing direction, frenetic pace and stylized violence. If you can only watch, you will know absolutely nothing. If you observe, you will see a few things.

You see, Jijii is a stand-in for God/the director (you can, if you choose, read the rest of this post as a critique of the director’s role vis-a-vis characters and choice/authorial intent). Kakihara is the epitome of evil, Satan if you will. Ichi is simply a crusader, an instrument of God’s will, the #1 (Ichi means #1 and is the symbol on the back of his suit) instrument if you please. We are taught that God is all-powerful, omniscient, omnipotent. This is demonstrated by Jijii’s ability to hypnotize Ichi and others into doing his will. He can replace memories. He can change shape, revealing himself to be the muscular titan instead of the weakling. The entire movie is Jijii’s game. Kakihara on the other hand is a force of nature. He terrorizes for the sheer hell of it. He castrates, mutilates, tortures, scalds, all for the purpose of feeling something, anything at all. He is the ultimate big bad.

You see, Jijii, in that phone call, reveals that he believes evil is devoid of meaning. He believes that because he is pulling the strings and knows exactly what path each character will take, all life is pointless, save his. He is an active God. He is a God that grants man the illusion of free will but manipulates to get him to do what he wants (see: Ichi). Is such a God truly good? Is he worth serving? After all, Ichi is only tasked with killing evildoers. He doesn’t kill or harm any innocents. In fact, he goes out of his way to protect Takeshi from bullies. Is our purpose only to serve such a selfish God? To be fair, is the Abrahamic God any different from Jijii? After all, all is already known. It happens in his name, right?

Ichi is a 100% sadist ie. his pleasure is only in the inflicting of pain, unlike Kakihara whose only pleasure in in the receiving of it. He is a righteous killer, who in his mind, is only doing good. Torquemada would have said the same thing about himelf. Throughout the movie, Ichi is never physically hurt in any serious way. Only when he is shot in the leg by Kaneko does Ichi feel pain. Faced with pain, Ichi breaks down and becomes useless. Thus far, he has believed in Jijii, that he is an instrument of his will and invulnerable. He is unable to give Kakihara the climactic showdown he craves. Jijii’s best laid plan, his Messiah killing the Devil himself, fails, even though the Devil does die, but not in the way he would like.

What does that mean?

It is Jijii whose life has no meaning. He realizes that despite all his power he really isn’t able to get what he wants. Kakihara, despite only hallucinating the means to his end, does get what he wants, proving that Jijii is a useless God. His chosen fails him. Humans have limitations, yes, like Ichi, but they’re also capable of breaking from the plot. Ichi’s breakdown, where he is unable to do anything but weep inconsolably as he realizes his vulnerability, is an epiphany for such a powerful character. Kakihara’s self-deception might condemn him to occupy his solitary Hell, unable to be physically tormented as he desires, but he is free of the cosmic game. Where does that leave Jiijii? He might as well hang, which he does.

Faced with man’s animal nature and willingness to deceive, God serves no purpose.

WARNING: I will use the term football to refer to both sports. I am trusting your ability to read in context.

First, some context: I love football (soccer). My girlfriend loves football (American). We managed to arrive at a compromise, where I support her teams and watch their games, and she does the same for mine. The following teams have gained a fan via this deal: AC Milan, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints. The following teams have gained an anti-fan (just as important): Dallas Cowboys, Manchester United, Juventus.

This post is mostly a recap of conversations we have had regarding the Champions League. The way I saw it, fans of both footballs should intuitively get the other football. And they can, with just a little work to understand real football’s premier showcase, the UEFA Champions League.

Read the rest of this entry »

RIP Jack Layton

August 22, 2011

This is tragic. Jack Layton was awesome. It feels like only yesterday I wanted him for Starship Captain/Prime Minister and now he’s dead? Goddamn. Cancer sucks. He was exactly the kind of man we need in these times: idealistic and energetic and wry, forceful but not disagreeable. The kind that does not consider hope and compassion to be things one shies away from, no matter how jaded the populace (oh America, how jaded you have become). A joyful politician, that’s a rarity, one I hope we see more of in the future. I’ve never seen him in person–I wish I had during the last election when he sprightly campaigned with a walking stick–but even on TV, he always seemed a man deeply alive. L’espoir/hope is the most beautiful word in any language. It needs its defenders. It’s so goddamn easy to be nihilistic about the economy and politics. It’s easier still to be angry and bitter, full of resentment. It’s so tempting to think society and government aim to serve everyone but you and yours. These are troubled times to be sure but that’s why men like Jack Layton should exist, to remind us of the better angels of our nature, and to coax us into justice and compassion. Us modern humans, we don’t ever go quietly into our better nature.

It’s fitting, I guess, that Jack’s last lines (as expressed in his deathbed letter) were “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Summer

August 22, 2011

It is somewhat amusing that I’m in business with both a Muslim theologian/scientist and an anti-Muslim bigot. Summer started with me hanging out with my incredibly talented and beautiful sister, unfurled slowly until I was being exiled in Switzerland with 20 euros (Wells Fargo thought I’d stolen my credit card to buy knickknacks in Zurich), survived a couple weddings and ended with a couple unplanned days in the chaos of Delhi. If things didn’t close at midnight, it’d be in my top 5 favorite places in the world, easy. My trip to the Middle East was only supposed to last 30 days. It lasted 47. I owe my girlfriend a ridiculous amount of sex. She kept a meticulous log of how much sex she was missing out on in my absence. So much work 😛 It also amuses me that no one could possibly sympathize with my complaints in this regard.

Libraries

May 26, 2011

I hate walking past the newark Public library now that there are signs that tell me it’s only open 3 days a week. I’ve never been a frequent patron of that particular library yet somehow, it irks me that it’s no longer an option. Sure, no one needs libraries anymore unless you’re poor and need internet access. Sure, they typically don’t have the books you really want.

My first time at this particular library was on my campus visit. Mike Turner and Ryan McIlvain were on hand to show me around the library building. I didn’t think the layout was particularly impressive, especially compared to the bustling modernity that is the Vancouver Public Library. newark’s Public library could, instead, double for a cheap vintage hotel with its central rotunda and spiralling staircases. There was a book sale on the third floor. We dug through stacks of old paperbacks and made fun of their titles and cover art. The elevator was dirty. On the main floor, the stacks were ugly and utilitarian. Even so, it was, unmistakably, a library, and made me happy.

That’s not why I’m sad about its eventual closing. It isn’t nostalgia but a notion of nobility that has me willing to donate money to a cause no one seems to care about. A library is like a forest in a national park, a relic perhaps, but beautiful and worthwhile in and of itself. We don’t go to parks to see ourselves. We go to parks to be among those not ourselves, the birds and the trees, the rivers and the trails. Libraries are like that. Unlike the internet, where the pages talk back, in a library, all one has is one’s yearning presence. We’ve gotten great at searching but not seeking. We search on the internet, and that’s well and good and worthwhile, but we really only seek at a library.

nipples

May 23, 2011

I was drinking at the time but I thought this was hilarious and the best comeback ever to someone saying feminism was evil and wrong because “everyone knows men and women are exactly the same and are thus affected exactly the same by all this patriarchy bullshit.”

“You’ve got nipples, yes?” I replied. “So do women.”

So zen, drunk me. Awesome.

Post-Rapture looting

May 20, 2011

Okay, as some of you know, my birthday party AKA Tequila Monstrosity is happening at the same time as the Rapture. You will be doing shots of tequila out of my watergun while the elect are yanked bodily into Ronald Reagan’s White Heaven. You are possibly concerned that you’ll miss out on some sweet looting. Fear not. We shall fan out from my place and loot to our hearts’ content.

rapture

After Bin Laden

May 2, 2011

In the shadows of tall buildings
The architecture is slowly peeling
Marble statues and glass dividers
Someone is watching all of the outsiders

-Jump Little Children, Cathedrals

They told me via text message. They told me to check my twitter. The twitter isn’t mine but I use it anyway. It reminded me of how they told me via text message then too, on 9/11. I was with my buddy Yazir then. I was his wingman, and vice versa. We were picking up a girl. Did we score? Did we fail? I don’t recall. When we heard the news, he said “they deserved it” and danced. He was born in Saudi Arabia. I jokingly called him a terrorist. I told him it was all downhill from here. He’s over all that now. He has a job and significantly less rage. 10 years will do that to anyone. These days, I take the PATH in to World Trade every week. I could have been there, celebrating with the others, if rehearsal hadn’t been moved up to 7 pm. It would have been an excellent excuse to drink and party with strangers. Things would have come full circle.

It’s strange how I’m of a generation that’s defined by coming of age in the post-9/11 world. It must be somewhat like being an Eastern European coming of age behind the Iron Curtain. That same reckless feeling, hollow. We lived and loved and all the while, folks were telling us there were bad people about to kill us, ghosts, basically, with impossibly long claws, prehensile tails and a stick of explosive clay. We went along, apathetic, while enhanced security, enhanced interrogation and enhanced screening were normalized. Three wars. We were kids. All we could do was grow up a little. To tell the truth, I can’t remember a time before this. I fucked my first girlfriend shortly after 9/11. I watched tens of people die, swept away by a flood in the years after. I had a gun pointed at me on the near side of that day. I graduated high school, college and grad school in the post-9/11 world, grew a metal beard, started a rock band and two metal bands, took up smoking, drinking, learned to cook but never to clean, all of this…life, for better or worse. Funny, I wasn’t even in the US in 2001, and new york was just where all the Christmas movies were set as far as I was concerned, but I wonder what it would have been like to have smoked my first cigarette in the pre-9/11 world? Would it have felt any different? This is the sort of thing that defines a generation. I’m glad it’s over.

I’ve felt like we’ve been living in Don DeLillo’s world for 10 years. Mao 2, perhaps, because that’s my favorite. That’s the book where he talks about how when the artists cede their place as the vanguard, that space is taken over by terrorists in the popular imagination. These 10 years have been a foolish time, hollow and electric. Things could happen at any minute, theoretically, though they never would, not the way we were told, but we prepared anyway. We gave up so much for so little. You’d feel cheated, if you were anything like me, young and determined to be hopeful about the world. 9/11 set up a static charge that hung in the air, infecting everything, that is only now finally finding release. In the days before today, all the passersby’s hair stood on end as they passed each other on the street.

The beginning of all this was a symbol. The beginning of the end, also. It’s okay to celebrate.