Overweening Generalist

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Sports Fandom

Being a True Murrkin I'm only pretending to care about the World Cup. The US could win the World Cup this year, and then again four years from now, and still, "football" would probably only attain the status in Unistat of "slightly less popular than the NHL." It's the fucked-up way we Murrrkins roll, rest of the world. Sorry about that. No offense. Don't get me wrong: anyone can see your "football" is beautiful; we're not talkin' aesthetics here, man. We're talkin' sports! Slapshots, slam dunks, 3-run homers, going for it on 4th and 4, after the Two Minute Warning. Sports is a drug, and we're mainlining it, baby. Have been since The Shot Heard 'Round The World. (<----To anyone who wonders about the psyche of Unistat: you can learn a lot from studying this 2-minute clip!)

Currently, my fave comment on YouTube about the above clip is this:

Henry Marriott
3 months ago
  The 'shot heard round the world', more like the shot heard around America and no where else because every other country hates baseball because its an awful sport! Lol Americans living in their dream world again

Let this be a warning to any readers not in Unistat. I chose/was brainwashed to follow Los Angeles area pro sports teams (Dodgers/Angels/Lakers/Kings) at an early age. I see sports fandom as a sort of disease. And yet I still "follow" my teams. Maybe I should have written it as "dis-ease."

I've been wanting to vent - or "come out of the closet" - about the enormous time I've wasted investing my emotional energies in sports fandom. But I haven't been able to. Until now. Gawd, this is difficult.

I remember the day, long ago, when I was reading a Noam Chomsky book. It was a transcription of an interview. Chomsky was discussing political ideological systems in the former (?) Soviet Union and Unistat. There are "experts" who advise the public what to think about matters too "difficult" for them to understand. At times, Chomsky has called Unistat's political experts "mandarins," the "guild structure," and "the commissar class." (Think of the NeoCons, David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Michael Grunwald, Jeffrey Toobin, Andrew Ross Sorkin, David Gregory, Michael Kinsley, and far too many to count, much less stomach.)

Chomsky had been trying to explain his idea of "Cartesian common sense," in the framework of citizens utilizing their intellectual endowments to truly work with others and understand the world, which is difficult in a world set up like ours is, presently. Here are the passages:

James Peck: How can common sense emerge, in this context?

Noam Chomsky: Well, let me give an example. When I'm driving, I sometimes turn on the radio and I find that very often what I'm listening to is a discussion of sports. There are telephone conversations. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it's plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount. They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussions about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it's on a level of superficiality which is beyond belief.

[Chomsky then says that citizens do this because they feel they can't do anything about the problems in the world or their own country, so they invest their intellects in a "fantasy world," where nothing really matters. Skipping ahead a bit...]

James Peck: Do you think people are inhibited by expertise?

Noam Chomsky: There are also experts at football, but these people don't defer to them. The people who call in talk with complete confidence. They don't care if they disagree with the coach or whoever the local expert is. They have their own opinion and they conduct intelligent discussions. I think it's an interesting phenomenon. Now I don't think that international or domestic affairs are much more complicated. And what passes for serious intellectual discourse on these matters does not reflect on any deeper level of understanding or knowledge. 

One finds something similar in the case of so-called primitive cultures. What you find very often is that certain intellectual systems have been constructed of considerable intricacy, with specialized experts who know all about it and other people who don't quite understand and so on. For example, kinship systems are elaborated to enormous complexity. Many anthropologists have tried to show that this has some kind of functional utility in the society. But one function may be just intellectual. It's a kind of mathematics. These are areas where you can use your intelligence to create complex and intricate systems and elaborate their properties pretty much the way we do mathematics. They don't have mathematics and technology; they have other systems of cultural richness and complexity. I don't want to overdraw the analogy, but something similar may be happening here.

The gas station attendant who wants to use his mind isn't going to waste his time on international affairs, because that's useless; he can't do anything about it anyhow, and he might learn unpleasant things and even get into trouble. So he might as well do it where it's fun, and not threatening - professional football or basketball or something like that. But the skills are being used and the understanding is there and the intelligence is there. One of the functions of things like professional sports play in our society and others is to offer an area to deflect people's attention from things that matter, so that the people in power can do what matters without public interference.
-pp. 33-36, The Chomsky Reader, ed. by James Peck. There's an elaboration by Noam on this subject in Understanding Power, pp.98-101, if'n yer at all innarested.

So, here I was reading Chomsky and nodding my head, yes. I liked the idea that my seemingly clueless fellow-citizens had the capacity to understand politics, but chose not to. I took this and abstracted to the implication that some could possibly change their minds and start paying attention to what really mattered. I liked Noam's riffs about the intellectual system of kinship in non-Western societies. I of course love all of Chomsky's attacks on "experts." Chomsky all too often smears "the social sciences" as being filled with these "guild structures," which unfairly tars some anthropologists and sociologists - even a few renegade economists I like, and who are clearly not part of a "guild structure" (David Graeber/Peter Berger/Ha-Joon Chang, anyone?) - but that's Noam being Noam. He does think that just about anyone can arrive at a nuanced and informed stance about the world and domestic problems, if they practice what he calls "common sense." I desperately want to believe him. I grapple with this one, friends.

And yet, at the same time, I am following my teams, and entering into that "fantasy world" of meaningless relationships with "my" players vs. The Other Guys. It's something I think I should have dropped completely around the age of 18. However, far from it. I think I read that passage from Chomsky when I was 29 or 30. Things haven't gotten better for me, and I've learned a lot about why, which I'll get to, I promise.

Now, I had familiarized myself with Marx's ideas about "false consciousness." I had been struck by T.S. Eliot's observation about the increased interest in sports in Unistat in the middle of the 20th century: "decadent athleticism," a perfect example of Kenneth Burke's notion of effective poetic rhetoric of "perspective by incongruity." I had noted how, in the deep history of the Great Books program in Unistat, a 30 year old President of the U. of Chicago, Robert Hutchins, got rid of football at the school. Imagine being that serious about your students reading Plato, Kant and Tolstoy!

I noted how often sports metaphors were used by political "experts" and even by some of my countercultural favorites. Dr. Timothy Leary was quite mindful of the game-like aspects of social "reality" and so larded his talks and writing with sports metaphors. Leary was a good friend of Johnny Roseboro, a catcher for the Dodgers in the 1960s. I tend to think Dr. Leary also thought he could "score points" (<----you can't escape this shit in Unistat!) with the non-counterculture by using sports metaphors. I don't think it worked for Dr. Leary. When Tim talked about the role of alcohol in the territorial 2nd circuit of his 8-Circuit Brain Model, I found it wonderfully applicable to sports.

                                 I don't know who this guy is, but he's making my point.
                                 And he manages to add to my embarrassment. So who 
                                 forced me to put him here? I blame myself...

Academic Philosophers and Sports
Within the past six months, a philosopher named David Papineau made the argument that becoming a fan of a team is not like shopping for a washing machine. He wonders how fandom could be fully rational. On the other hand, he sees children as needing nurture, but favors his own kids over other children; there's no "objective" basis for doing so, but accepts that this is the way we are. All children deserve love and care, but he will concentrate on his own. Similarly, praying for your team to win just seems absurd, as if the deity would favor your team over the other. Not much rationality there.

Papineau says that humans are unique animals in that they consciously choose to tackle long-term projects, which entail ultimate goals. Such as Winning It All. Going All The Way. So, at some point, you choose a team (or inherit them from your family or friends) and the team becomes part of your Project. You become committed to your team winning, reaching its ultimate goal. Like life, there will be setbacks, and much of your fandom is a social thing. When I read Papineau's idea of "projects" - which is apparently a hotter topic in academic philosophy than I'd realized - I thought the idea of the project of being a fan of a winning team was like the project of obtaining a mortgage, getting a degree, making more money, getting better and better at the job, being a better friend, getting to be awesome at sex, learning a musical instrument or another language. (Dear Dr. Papineau or his colleagues: if I'm wrong here...?)

Another philosopher, Alva Noe, responded by alerting his NPR readers to Papineau's blogpost on fandom. Noe had warned Papineau that, when he moved to New York, he should root for the Mets in baseball, and not the Yankees, who represent everything rotten about Unistatian culture. (And I agree, but...later. Maybe.) At one point Noe says we'd like to be "admiring sporting achievement for its own intrinsic qualities," which I also agree with and it's why I now tell all my friends and family and new acquaintances that this is why my sports fandom is "ironic." That's the actual term I use. I suspect I'm trying to get myself to believe it. But most of the time, I am ready to applaud the other team, if the play is spectacular. When Lebron James has played "my" Lakers, I'm in awe of his abilities. It's aesthetically pleasing to see someone that good. I never thought I'd live to see a basketball player as good as Lebron James. But I said "most of the time." I've come to agree with Eric Simons, who in his stellar book The Secret Lives of Sports Fans: The Science of Sports Obsession, that "to be a sports fan, first of all, is to  seriously undermine your free will." (p.21, and Simon's book is far superior to the overly-analytical and not exactly down-to-earth thinking about sports and fandom that I've seen from every philosopher I've ever read on the subject. What makes Simon's book so great is his New New Journalist's generalist's approach to the topic, and just check out the index for "dopamine" or "oxytocin" or "testosterone" and "mirror neurons" and neurobiologists and primatologists, etc: this is the book on what it means to be a fan, and what makes Simon so cool is that he addresses his own sports fandom, does experiments on himself and his friends, and has a healthy sense of humor. See Carlin Wing's considerable review of Eric Simon's book HERE.)

Back to the philosophers: Noe engages with Papineau and then proffers this: "We need to give up the hyper-rationalistic demand that we justify ourselves and our commitments." For some reason, Noe doesn't cite William James or John Dewey or especially Richard Rorty, who would have said the same thing, but much earlier. (Has Noe ever "come out" as a neo-pragmatist? Inquiring minds wanna know.)

Just to drop another example of how I see the philosophers as three-quarters baked on fandom:  Recently, academic philosopher Simon Critchley wrote on soccer (what the rest of the world calls "football"), "Working Class Ballet." Critchley enjoys it, dammit. And here's a bit on how he couches his argument:

"Football is all about the experience of failure and righteous injustice. It is about hoping to win and learning to accept defeat. But most importantly, it is some experience of the fragility of belonging: the enigma of place, memory and history." Yea, yea, yea Critchley, can you move your head a bit? I think I missed the ref's call there. Was it in or out? Let's see the replay and confirm our suspicion that this ref has had it in for us from day one!

Seriously, Critchley's take is nice and all, but, like Eric Simon might say, pretty soft-core. The line from Noe about being hyper-rationalistic holds for me here. I'm most concerned with the non-sanity of fandom. 'Cuz I've been there.

Woody Allen
A longtime fan of the NBA New York Knicks, in the book Woody Allen on Woody Allen he says investing in your team - giving meaning to it all - is a microcosm of what we do with life. So here Woody seems a lot like David Papineau. But remember, this Woody Allen character thinks the most meaningful thing in life is to constantly work (!), and his favorite book is Ernest Becker's 1973  The Denial of Death.

                    My favorite baseball player for the next 10 years, at least: Mike Trout

Sports Fandom Insanity: The Most Compelling Game, For My Money
There was a time when Frederick Exley's "fictional memoir" A Fan's Notes was the most literary account of the drug-addict-like sickness of being a sports fan. It was like The Lost Weekend with lots of sports added in. I read it with relish and wondered why there wasn't more of this stuff around. Since then, I'd like to point to the film Big Fan as a perfect depiction of the sheer un-sanity of some sports fans. This film should be seen and discussed much more in our effed-up political state (Unistat). If you're like me and wonder about why you can't...be more like Chomsky regarding sports, see this film. And be glad you're not that bad.

As of today's date, to my eyes, surpassing Exley and everyone else for nailing the craziness and complexity of the literate sports fan's..."illness"?, see the piece "Red Sox Antichrist" from Steve Almond's book Not That You Asked. Key passages: 106; 109-110; 122-123 (Red Sox fans and their alcoholic martyrdom); 123-124 (fandom and politics; it speaks to the Chomsky passages above); 125 (Red Sox fans); 133-134; 137-138, esp. bottom of 137 ("sports hangover"); 138 (sports and politics); 140-142.

Brief Note on Donald Sterling and Pro Team Sports in Unistat and Canada
Sterling simply got popped. Of yea, he was particularly egregious as far as rapacious billionaires who own sports teams go. I know people who told me about Sterling's racism 20 years ago. Team owners are some of the very worst people in the set of {humanity}. He just crossed the line too publicly, so there had to be a big show by the NBA that they won't cotton to this sort of attitude or injustice. Forcing Sterling to sell is a dramatic show, and I'm glad it looks like they'll be able to pull of off. (But my libertarian streak wonders about possible slippery-slopes here.) But it is a show. Don't get me wrong: from my knowledge Sterling is an atrocity. But the true step toward sanity would be for every team to be owned by the fans, like the Green Bay Packers are in the NFL. That would be a meaningful step. Do I think it'll happen soon? Nooooooo. Things are going to get worse, or as some of my sports fan-friends put it, "worsier."And for those of you who see Kobe Bryant's new salary/contract plastered all over the news and ask, "Where is the sanity?" Just look at Wall Street. No matter what some player signs for, no matter how "heartless" he may seem to the fans he's leaving as a free agent, for some other City's fans, he's getting what he's worth. He's an entertainer; he's not ruining lives. And for this idea about value I am indebted to Publilius Syrus, a 1st BCE Roman who said that a "A thing is worth whatever the buyer will pay for it."

Chomsky Didn't Dare Phrase It Like Prof. Carlin!
"And remember, the polls show the American people want capital punishment, and they want Social Security. And I think even in a fake democracy people ought to get what they want once in a while. If for no other reason than to feed the illusion that they're really in charge. Let's use capital punishment the same way we use use sports and shopping in this country: to take people's minds off how badly they're bein' fucked by the upper one percent." - written pre-9/11 by George Carlin, in a Swiftian diatribe against capital punishment, found in Napalm and Silly Putty, p.216

Apologia, or Just Apologies
This post was overly long, and for that I apologize yet again. I do feel a bit better, but I have a long way to go. With the dumb-world of sports fandom - aside from what Chomsky says - I'm surprised I still have the brain power to write a coherent sentence. I have only said about 3% of what I have to say about sports, which I think can be a beautiful and even noble thing. My problem is how often it misses the beauty and noble mark, and by how far. As the announcer said while watching a Mickey Mantle home run disappear into the distance: "a country mile!"

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Maureen Dowd's Edible Cannabis Freakout: Another Drug Report

Maureen Dowd was warned about ingesting THC and other psychoactive compounds derived from cannabis. Still, she ate the whole candy bar. And had what will go down as one of the Famous Bad Trips. (There's already a section on her Wiki about this.)

Okay: I did the same thing. I know exactly where she's coming from. My aunt had a boyfriend (this was around 20 years ago) who grew his own, and it was good. My sweetheart and I spent the Fourth of July with them. The aunt's boyfriend said I ought to try his brownies, which he'd just taken out of the oven. I tried one. Then he said have another. I ate that. You know the rest: about 45 minutes later, I feel IT come on. And on. And on. And more. More. I start to feel very uneasy. The level of stoned-ness was increasing, it seemed, so quickly, that it was like the feeling you get when the stereo radio was on very low and you're talking with your friends, then some song comes on that you all love and the conversation stops, you turn it up loud. And someone says "Louder!" and pretty soon the windows are shaking and you and your friends are smiling, rocking out, laughing inaudibly.

I got so stoned that, on the drive home, I confessed to my sweetheart I was freaking out. She said - she was driving, thank goddess - that I'd seemed sorta weird. I just let loose and described The Fear.

So he is putting down junk and coming on with tea. I take three drags, Jane looked at him and her flesh crystallized. I leaped up screaming, "I got the fear!" and ran out of the house.
-very early tableau from Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs. ("Tea" here is cannabis.)

I remember expressing regret. Sweetheart said it would probably subside in a few hours. Meanwhile, "Witchy Woman" by the Eagles came on the car radio and when the solo came up, I "saw" the guitar being played: a Gibson Les Paul with a sunburst finish. It just had to be. Yea, you read that correctly: I was trippin' balls so big-time I "saw" the guitar I was hearing on the radio, a tune that was recorded 25 years earlier. I'd heard the song a thousand times. Now, the dude's vibrato was overwhelmingly psychedelic. At the same time, this was a Bad Omen: I'm trippin' on "Witchy Woman"? At this rate, Bartok would probably melt my brain. The Mahavishnu Orchestra would flatline me. Liszt would lay me out; the Goldberg Variations could prove grave. Maybe Terry Riley's In "C" could calm me, but I didn't have it and couldn't cop.

Home, sweetheart asked me to air out our camping tent, because we were due to head out to the Sierras and the Sequoia National Park the next day. It's one of those tents that are lightweight hi-tech and so easy to put up a 12 year old could do it in 90 seconds. I gave up after what seemed like an hour. I couldn't figure it out. Cannabis is really really RILLY bad - for me, at least - in executing step-by-step "rational" action. This was ridiculous.  Later, I sat in an empty room in the dark, trying to enjoy it all, wishing I had some sort of antidote. I tried listening to Ustad Shujaat Kahn doing a raga, but it was too intense.

I woke up the next day still stoned. We drove four hours into the Sierras, and I was still stoned. What a nightmare! The amount of quality bud that was dumped into the brownie mix must've been just insane.

The next day I'd returned to something like my "baseline" "normality." But I felt adrenaline-poisoned, because of the stress of having to cope with the world stoned, because clearly, I hadn't planned for such a series of psychological hurdles.

Now: I've read four or five articles about Colorado's first few months of legalization, and this seems a significant problem: the word must get out about edibles: you cannot titrate if you're new to the stuff. Of course we must keep this away from the chilluns. You think you know what a candy bar is; they've always been such comfy familiar friends.

Ingesting cannabis seems completely different to me than smoking it, and ever since this Bad Trip, I've stayed away from edibles.

I want to jump all over Dowd - who I admit I have disliked since around the Lewinsky scandal, when I first became aware of her - for being a typical East Coast pop-liberal NYT overrated pretentious idiot-journalist. She and David Brooks and Thomas Friedman make me long for a speedy, agonized Death of Giant Corporate Journalism, or their kind, at least.

Dowd was TOLD to watch it with edibles. But her Bad Trip resonated with me; I felt a sympathetic kinship when I read about her fear in her hotel room. We need massive education about this stuff. You smoke too much really good weed and have a panic attack? It will be over in an hour or two. You EAT too much powerful weed? You might be in for a doozy, friends. Eat a teeny, tiny bit, and then wait at least an hour before deciding whether you need more.

DIGRESSION: In Terry Southern's short story, "Red Dirt Marijuana," a young white kid from the South is talking with his much older friend, a black man. They have found a big flowering pot plant on a farm. The kid has tried pot before but it made him "sick"; the wizened black man tries to explain to the kid why he couldn't handle cannabis before, but might be able to now:

"Now boy, don't you mess with me," said C.K., frowning, "...you ast me somethin' an' I tellin' you. You brain is young an' unformed...it's all smooth, you brain, smooth as that piece of shoe-leather. That smoke jest come in an' cloud it over!" He took another drag. "Now you take a full-growed brain," he said in his breath-holding voice, "it ain't smooth - it's got all ridges in it, all over, go this way an' that.' Shoot, a man know what he doin' he have that smoke runnin' up one ridge an' down the other! He control his high, you see what I mean, he don't fight against it..." -Terry Southern, Red Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes, pp.8-9

[This seems neurophysiologically suspect, but poetically true: both Dowd and I probably needed more ridges in our brains to handle it. - OG]

The other problem in Colorado seems to be exploding houses, because of people trying to make hash oil, and butane volatility. This part seems maddening to me: are you trying to tell me all the smokable Dogshit Orgasm and Jack Herer and Purple Kush isn't doing it for you? You need to risk your life and your neighbors' houses to get that righteous buzz from "dabbing"? If so, you've probably got a problem, pal. Seek help. Get outside. Stop getting high for six months, and feel the "high" of your short-term memory roaring back; dig all the complex nuances and edges of "everyday life" that you hadn't realized you'd gradually caked your cerebral cortices up with bong resin thicker than manhole covers. I've done it. When you come back six-ten months later and take a small hit of something like Kali's Shaven Vulva Grapefruit Surprise sativa (I actually made that one up...I think?), you'll really enjoy it. And you'll be acting like a decent - if freaky - Responsible Citizen.

So far, the Colorado experiment seems a smashing success, and the winds are blowing in our favor in other states. The problem with edibles is about public education. The problem with ditzy hash oil explosions seems more troubling to those of us who want more political gains with cannabis, not a roll-back. Hash-oil house explosions are bumming me out. Quit it you guys! (<----Do you think this will work?)