Friday, August 22, 2008

foto de la semana 3

it seems that a hectic schedule of pouring bourbon down my throat and staying up late to watch men's indoor volleyball in an effort to escape the harsh realities of the world are going to prevent me from taking post-worthy pictures every week. consequently, this is going to become a semi-monthly feature now (i would say bi-monthly so as to give me the flexibility of posting once every two weeks or once every two months, look it up people, but i think that would just be too confusing, not to mention the easy way out). new (at least new to you) pics will be forthcoming on the first and fifteenth of every month, so come celebrate payday with me. until then, here it is. we are closing out summer soon (how the hell did that happen) and this is nice representation of the oncoming end of a good thing. if you don't wish you were there, man you're someplace sweet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The powerful and privileged may ignore history and its lessons with impunity. For others, it is not wise to succumb to illusions.

(this title has nothing to do with the post)

this picture got some press from the always morally elevated but more aptly defined as those utilized and paid for by companies to sell products to their readership and consumers, aka the commercial media. the initial reaction was for many, i imagine and confess, one of shock if not a distinct level of outrage. in the vein of, "ah those goddamn spaniards, so backwards, homogeneous, they cant even understand the offense, or are they demasiado arrogant to care?" i thought that and all and then some, and then began thinking about it out loud as i relayed it to a friend. it was as if the verbalization opened up a different, i think deeper, way of understanding.

"ain't it only offensive if there's an implication that there's something wrong, or offensive about, having, or being as represented as having, slanted eyes? isn't there some imputation on the part of the viewer that's required to make the gesture disrespectful/distasteful? can a pure descriptive comment carry any value judgment?" i don't know, i think i'm with the fucking wannabe guineas on this one.

this is the most sensible thing i've read about the olympics thus far.

It wasn't always the case, but these days, in general, public funds spent on Olympic athletes constitute a subsidy for people who have had stable and carefully planned family upbringings, who enjoy inherent genetic advantages over the rest of us and who are likely to go on to success in life whether they win a medal or no. It's the next thing to eugenics, and it makes less sense.

Monday, August 18, 2008

On the Great One

Last Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the trade/sale of Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. Though just 27-years old at the time, Gretzky was already the most dominant offensive player in the history of the sport, and perhaps more importantly, he was a national icon. People south of the border, and I don't mean Mexico, cannot comprehend the importance of hockey in Canada. Hockey was and still is inextricably twined to Canada's psyche and collective identity. The best way to put it for Americans is to think about our relationship with baseball, football, and the idea of personal freedom, and then add them all up. And multiply by ten. That's hockey in Canada, and Gretzky the figure was the pinnacle of Canadian hockey in 1988.

The trade changed the game forever. And that is to say, it changed the economics of the game. What was once a very regional sport in the US, hockey made its way into the national consciousness. Gretzky wasted little time in peddling every product imaginable as US companies and advertisers saw for the first time a potential use for this strange sport played on ice and by exceedingly simple and polite farm boys from up north. In addition to saving the franchise in LA and giving Hollywood celebrities a reason to visit the Great Western Forum on Saturday nights and not just Sundays (when the Lakers played), Gretzky introduced people throughout the so-called sun belt to the sport, and the owners, never one to pass up the opportunity for tons of easy cash, expanded aggressively in the US and the league grew from 21 teams to 30 in a decade's time. But perhaps most significant, it changed the course of my life. Hockey interest quickly gave way to fandom and then finally obsession. A fun novelty grew into a serious outlet for analytical curiosity and is now a vocational calling that has, surprisingly, gained some traction. I eventually outgrew my fascination (who am I kidding, hero-worship) with the Great One; I moved on to appreciating a different kind of player with a different personality (a little more flair, a little more dangle on both counts), but Gretzky the will always have a soft place in my heart for the great gift of hockey he brought to me. The NHL Network, yes there is such a thing and it’s awesome, replayed a bunch of old Gretzky-games in honor of the anniversary, and I took the opportunity to watch them and revisit the past. Here are a few thoughts:

• It really is mind-boggling that Wayne Gretzky was so good. It almost makes no sense. You often hear people talk about him and say something like, “well, he wasn’t the biggest and he wasn’t the fastest,” and that really distorts the reality of it. Wayne Gretzky was one of the smallest and thinnest players to play the game. And while he may not have been the slowest, I’d bet that he would have lost a goal-line-to-goal-line race with close to half of the players he played with. The guy was about as unsuspecting a physical specimen you’ll ever see. He makes badminton players look like badasses. But there he was, skating circles around some of the biggest, toughest, meanest S.O.B’s you’ll never want to meet, let alone chase you around with a piece of lumber. So how did he do it? Well, when I say he wasn’t particularly fast, it’s true, he wasn't, but he was quick as hell. His first two strides got him close to top speed. And he was very shifty with a turning radius of basically nothing. He could skate at top speed while carrying the puck, never needed to look down while handling it, and had perfected the art of lofting the puck about 4-inches off the ice (over a stick-blade or skate) and making it land perfectly flat, soft like a kitten rolling around down feathers with a ball of yarn in its mouth. But more than anything, Gretzky understood the game better than anybody else. A lot better. He knew (although “knew” may not be the correct word because it implies a degree of sentient consciousness and actions so rapid and effective as Gretzky’s must, on some level, come from other-worldly instinct and intuition) exactly where the puck was going and where he should go to get it or to get open. It’s quite amazing to watch because it actually looks like he’s playing in a different game than everyone else on the ice. It’s almost more fun to watch him when he got a little older (though not too old) because he could no longer beat most players one-on-one and had to instead rely on his smarts and anticipation. It was literally as if he was moving around defenders like marionettes on ice in order to open up passing lanes for an open teammate. Just awesome to watch. I guess when you never have to look down at the ice to pick up the puck and keep it on your stick from the time you’re 13-years old, you’re probably going to be able to do things like that.

• Boy, has the game changed in the last 20 years. Gretzky would never, ever, evah evah have been able to get away with what he was doing back then. Firstly, the guy didn’t play any defense. None. Defense to Gretz was slowly coming back into your own zone and kind of just hanging out in front of the other team’s defensemen and skating in half-circles, before rocketing to the boards to pick up a loose puck, or sprinting to the red-line for a long pass from someone like Kevin Lowe or Jari Kurri (who was the defensive conscious on that line). It’s unbelievable how much that shit wouldn’t fly today. All the things that people decry certain players for doing these days (the victims are almost always Europeans like Jaromir Jagr or Pavel Bure), like not coming back on d, overstaying shifts, just looking for the long lead pass, all that stuff was if not invented then at least perfected by Gretzky. He was the master of all of it. The shift where you spend over a minute in the other team’s zone, puck finally gets sent down the ice, you skate very slowly to your bench looking gassed like you’re going to go off, and then all of a sudden the puck comes back the other way and you’ve got all the energy in the world to skate back on offense again. Classic Gretzky. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a smart move if you’re the Great One (or Jagr or Bure), and I wish the game was played more like that these days. But with the other team taking 35-second shifts and with each of its players in the right position defensively, those types of players are a thing of the past. The game sure has changed.

• I know Kevin Lowe as the Edmonton Oilers GM who’s made some incredibly dumb moves in the last few years: botching the Chris Pronger trade being probably the worst, though his 07 summer of “I’m going to spend a ton of money on someone or be damned!” is fairly close behind it. However, a long time ago, Lowe had a bunch more hair and was a fantastic defenseman. I never realized just how good he was, but watch a couple games from 88 and 89 and he really stands out. He didn’t get a lot of the billing on those teams (having 5 or 6 hall of famers will do that), but he was really good. Steady as a rock, very good skater, some offensive ability, played tough, never seemed to make a mistake. It’s not a coincidence this guy won 6 Stanley Cups. I don’t think he was ever even nominated for a Norris or ever made it on to the Canada Cup teams, but he was a quality first-pairing defenseman. I’m trying to think of a present-day comparable, maybe a better version of Tom Poti, who coincidentally was traded away from the Oilers by Lowe. Poti was a puck rushing offensive guy early in his career but has now morphed into an effective, smooth-skating defensive guy.

• Watching the old games from the time I fell in love with sport takes me back to a special place. It’s just such a great game with such a great culture surrounding it, I struggle to remember a time when it wasn’t a freakishly important part of my life. As my love for hockey has grown and evolved in the last 20 years, I look forward to my relationship with it continuing to change over the course of the next 20 years as well. Becoming a father and being able to share my love and relationship to the game with my child(ren) would perhaps be the pinnacle of this fondness. Whether it’s watching a game or getting on the ice together, being able to use hockey to teach my son or daughter the little I know about life, teamwork, dedication, success, and failure would be a privilege and the culmination of a 20+-year love affair. Thanks, hockey, thanks, Wayne.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

photo of the week 2

i've already broken my promise to include only pics taken in the preceding week. well, let's just say breaking the rules and thinking outside the box is how we do it in this feature. and being too lazy to pick up the camera, apparently. so to make amends, i give you two pics in this installment, both solitary musicians doing their thing, a random accordion player in quebec city and gustav from dungen here in nyc. notice how the secondary figures, the accordionist's shadow in the first and the girl lurking in the background in the second, occupy similar but inverted positions within the frames, their subtlety adding to rather than detracting from the force of the subjects. booyah.

Friday, August 8, 2008

photo of the week 1

this is going to be a new feature here, a new picture taken during the previous week. this one's from the spring, looking inside gramercy park. they'll be more current from here on out.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

three meltdowns and one china syndrome

Tang Jie, a 28-year old Chinese graduate student and creator of the popular nationalist video above, discussed a broad range of topics in a recent New Yorker article, including the obvious prevalence of state censorship in his homeland. He noted, "[b]ecause we are in such a system, we are always asking ourselves whether we are brainwashed," he said. "We are always eager to get other information from different channels." Then he added, "But when you are in a so-called free system you never think about whether you are brainwashed."

The ramp up to China's momentous showcase of its, inter alia, grand power, wealth, and athletic prowess has brought with it a ton of English language press. The New Yorker, the very best in non-hockey, non-Chomsky reading, has looked at the rapid ascent in the development of China's boxers, while the Times has denuded China's clever solution to the troubling presence of the devastatingly poor that inhabit the cracks of Beijing's colossus: just build a wall over them!

I find much of what's written in the American mainstream on China to be a healthy cocktail of equal parts condescension and ethnocentricity, topped off with a splash of good old fashioned ignorance (and a dash of cointreau). Of course, Chinese rule in Tibet deserves a harsh rebuke and threatens the very existence of the Olympiad, whereas American occupation in Iraq, with a far greater civilian death-toll and an almost complete destruction of civil society, deserves criticism within the noble, intellectual culture only in so far as it costs American lives and affects the American economy.

I'm not a fan of Chinese nationalism in the same way I don't support nationalism of any kind, not to mention the entire idea of nation-states. The only person I've known with a rational justification of patriotism came from a Baltic Republic, a country whose very cultural existence was threatened by its lack of political independence. Maintaining cultural identity, linguistic diversity, religious freedom are all to be respected and valued. Being proud of your community, way to go, bro. But a bias in favor of one's own political leaders and rights over those of another peoples? A cloak for self-interest and alternative to compassion and understanding. Patriotism is the last refuge for scoundrels indeed.

It's hard for me to say if Tie Jang and his retinue lean a little closer to the "good" kind of civic pride or the "bad" kind of mindless jingoism that enables rulers and elites to exploit in the name of country. But China, as a non-industrialized and globally uninfluential player over the course of the most recent geopolitical periods, has not given its people too much to cheer about over the last 50 years, singing songs and prayers to Mao notwithstanding. As the Middle Kingdom makes its steady climb towards industrialization and wealth accumulation, the young intellectuals in those obscenely massive urban centers are shunning the glossy enchantment of the West that other countries in similar states of development so hopelessly imbibe (hello, India); rather, they are looking inward and to the past to forge a unique and more concretely Chinese identity, one that appears be accompanied by the manpower and the economic muscle to flex that identity around the world. What does all of this mean? The naive hope in this beaten down corner is that any buttress against US global domination and its very non-democratizing efforts around the world has to be a positive step. The more likely result, however, based on even a cursory examination of the history of world affairs is that it will be business as usual, the names of oppressors slightly changed, but the list of crimes and victims always as long.