Just Wanna Know

Revolutionary Propaganda Organ

Monday, October 31, 2005

White Men Can't Run

Air Force Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry commented last week, on his team's 48-10 loss to Texas Christian University, that TCU

"had a lot more Afro-American players than we did and they ran a lot faster than we did ... It just seems to me to be that way. Afro-American kids can run very well. That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me that they run extremely well."

So white men can't run either?

If this is DeBerry's strategy, it's clear why he's sitting at 3 and 6 so far this season. What a maroon! What I really relish demolishing, though, is John Walters' Campus Blitz experiment. John needs to go back to those notes he took in quantitave analysis class.

Walters first establishes a specimen group of "speed" positions: tailback, wide receiver/flanker (2), cornerback (2), and safety (2). He then limits his study to the current AP Top 25. No problems yet. After a thorough search of these 7 positions (for all 25 teams, his sample includes 175 players), Walters finds only 12 white players.

At this point, things start going haywire. Walters says 12 out of 175 equals 6.9 percent, while five of the seven starters on the Air Force team are white. Walters then notes that the United States is 81.7 percent white and 12.9 percent black. As a result:

"Basically, white people outnumber black people in this nation almost 7 to 1. Whereas, in the speed positions among the current Top 25 teams in Division I-A, blacks outnumber whites almost 7 to 1."

Walters says this even though, just above, he has 6.9 percent as the white percentage. A simple calculator will tell him that 6.9 percent equals 1 in 14.5. He's never confirmed that all the other non-white fast positions are black; therefore, if blacks outnumber whites 7 to 1 but non-white outnumber whites 14.5 to 1, then the largest single amount of runners are non-white and non-black. Hispanic? Asian? Native American? Who knows?! (Obviously, he can't tell the difference between percentages and odds, which is going to kill him at the races...)

Further, Walters notes that the United States as a whole is 81.7 percent white and 12.9 percent black. This is called a "control group"--the problem is that Walters' control group is non-representative. Walters could also point out that all the speed positions are male, and the US is 50 percent female; all the speed positions are between the ages of 19 and 23, while in the US as a whole the vast majority are not; etc...

Walters apparently can't see that top-ranking NCAA Div. 1 players come from a very carefully selected sample of youth. Some might argue that these youth were misdirected in junior high and high school away from more successful pursuits and toward sports, which resulted in their current exploitation as unpaid professionals working for their (lack of an) education as they try out for the NFL. Such misdirection is only possible among very poor and marginalized communities, and such communities are predominantly black in this country. Walters might further say something about the NFL lifespan of a running back, among the shortest in the NFL (I believe) because their knees give out so quickly. Who would prize such a position? Obviously, someone with limited options in life.

Walters could have spared revealing his ignorance had he proposed a control group made up of the rest of the NCAA Div. 1 starting positions. He might also make a close study of the Sudetenland Chinese.

As to his parting question--"Were [DeBerry's comments] inaccurate? I'll let you decide"--we still don't know, John, and it's all your fault.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Crusader Cannibalism

According to Janet Abu-Lughod (in Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350, p. 107),

"Muslims saw the Franks--as westerners were consistently referred to in Arab literature--'as beasts superior in courage and fighting ardour but in nothing else, just as animals are superior in strength and aggression.'

"This characterization was not totally unfounded. In 1098 Crusader destruction of the Syrian town of Ma'arra had been accompanied by acknowledged acts of Frankish cannibalism. Graphically described in the chronicle of Radulph of Caen (he admits that 'In Ma'arra our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled'), they were later 'justified' in a letter sent to the Pope by the Christian commander, who blamed the lapse on extreme hunger. Needless to say, this excuse was dismissed by Arab historians..."

(Abu-Lughod does not cite Staromestka's 13th century commentary on the Pivovary fragment documenting the role of cannibalism in the suppression and subsequent disappearance of the Sudetenland Chinese.)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Jay Leno Hosts Truth Teller

Check out Hawg Blawg's piece and especially the link to the video from Bright Eyes' appearance in early May on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, in which the singer tweaks the tail of George Bush and questions the president's relationship with God. This is really ballsy of Leno and probably indicates the level of frustration among Americans who can't see any purpose for US troops to continue to die in Iraq for no good reason.

When the president talks to God
Does he ever think that maybe he's not?
That that voice is just inside his head
When he kneels next to the presidential bed
Does he ever smell his own bullshit
When the president talks to God?

Nuf sed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh is a very timely book. It's a love story, of course, this time with a very restrained four-way quadrangle of mutual attraction and fear. What's really going to keep you going, though, is the backdrop: mangrove swamps along the India/Bangladesh border during a typhoon and tidal wave. The details and explanations of how these things work--how mangroves, tigers, crabs, and dolphins relate to each other--are really helpful as we keep having these floods and storms around the world.

I was most interested in the central conflict between ecological and humanitarian approaches to wildlife. Through flashbacks the novel tells of Morichjhapi, an island that was settled by starving refugees in the 1970s in direct contravention of Indian government plans to maintain it as a refuge for tigers and other wildlife. The book illustrates really well how the best-intentioned efforts on the part of progressive Western activists to save the world can turn into violent police riots, as threatened national governments seek to appease the neocolonial Western governments that are pressured by their well-meaning but clueless constituents to enforce land restrictions in these parks in the midst of famine. In the case of Morichjhapi, there really was a massacre when the government sent in troops first to blockade the settlers and then to forcibly remove them. Over 4,000 people died.

Whether the government attacked its citizens to save the tiger habitat, to save face with Western donors (who were probably quite sparse for 1970s nationalistic India), or to face down what became a direct challenge to its authority, I'm not so interested in finding out. What is interesting, though, with regard to the novel, is that Piya, the cetologist who loves the animals, is much less vividly drawn than her interlocutor Kasai, a businessman and former scholar/poet who has sold out everything he ever valued, although he never valued the animals. I felt the ending, in which almost everyone reconciled, was too sweet and neat--unwarranted by the height and pressure of previous violence and desire.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Reading now...

Right now I just started reading The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh. The only other book of his I've read is In An Antique Land. Apparently he's written a couple of other novels since then. I'm nearly done with Snow by Orhan Pamuk, which is great and beautiful and depressing and very bleak, so I had to take a break. I had recently read The Orientalist to prepare for a class, and the author, Tom Reiss, recommended in it that interested readers take a look at Ali and Nino, which is the most famous novel by Kurban Said, one of the alter egos of Reiss's subject in The Orientalist. Reiss establishes pretty conclusively that Kurban Said was one of the pen names of Lev Nussimbaum, a Jewish Azeri who emigrated to Berlin via Iran and Istanbul after the First World War. In Berlin points west, Nussimbaum assumed an Oriental identity and wrote under the name Essad Bey, and there's pretty good evidence that he actually converted to Islam before he died, poor and wretched, of a mysterious aging disease on the Amalfi coast of Mussolini's Italy, tended by a shadowy Libyan double agent...

So I read Ali and Nino and was really impressed--it's an unbelievably romantic love story of passion, politics, and religion set in Baku before and during the First World War. Ali is the son of an ancient Shi'ite noble family who falls in love with a beautiful Christian Georgian girl, but first he has to pursue her after she's kidnapped by a lusty, overweight Armenian millionaire in his car. Of course, Ali chases them across the mountains on a stunning golden horse.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Bill Mallonee, Scottie McBean's, Worthington, OH

Bill Mallonee, former frontman for the Vigilantes of Love, played his six-string and harmonicas (!) and brought to a small but enthusiastic coffee house crowd his caring, passionate, witty songs of love, death, addiction, sorrow, and pain.

This was the fourth time I've seen this guy play and the first time by himself. Each show has differed as radically as Bill's own music: the first, in a warehouse in Bartlesville, OK, in 1995, was a full-on Americana ensemble with 4-5 members playing standard rockabilly and country instruments--mandolin, pedal steel, fiddle, etc. The second time I saw Bill (1997) I can't remember a thing because I was tired--But I remember I saw VOL! Positive! The third time, in 2000, at the same festival in Illinois, Bill had only a drummer and a bassist along with him, and the sound was defiantly loud rock.

So it was strange to see him alone on stage with a guitar in hand and a table full of harmonicas behind him. His solitude brought to the fore the pathos and intimacy of his songs much better than the large ensemble did. Since he had to keep re-tuning his guitar and digging around on the table for a differently tuned harmonica, he kept up a patter in between songs. He explained songs and told stories: old jobs with old Vietnam vets, barfights with suspiciously homophobic biker/cowboys, a beat-up Toyota with the good gas mileage that is soon to be airbrushed with Willie, Waylon, Johnny and Hank... He talks good.

Throughout, though, the songs have remained the same: at times painful, at times transcendent meditations and stories about hard luck and harder grace. Bill sang two tracks off the very first VOL album I bought, Blister Soul. That tape is now long gone and hasn't been replaced, but the tracks resound in my head to the songs--Skin, Blister Soul, Five Miles Outside of Monroe, Bethlehem Steel. He sang Blister Soul and Skin, a monologue in which Theo Van Gogh questioning why his famous brother had to live his life the way he did. The stories of saints and sinners, racists and innocents, workers and dreamers at times so bleak as to seem hopeless and at other times possessed with daring love. Great show!