Saturday, December 4, 2021

Why I don't watch much sports

Photo by football wife from Pexels

Jane Coaston has one of the more interesting and lively minds around. So she even makes the experience of college football interesting for me. In her latest newsletter, she writes about her joy at Michigan's recent victory over Ohio State, its most-fierce rival:
Obviously, as I am not a member of the Michigan football team, I did not play a single snap of that game. And I watched it from my warm and cozy apartment, rather than in the snowy stands of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. But I was so invested in the action that my heart-rate tracker thought I was working out. When the game ended, and Michigan had won, I felt as if I had won, too, from hundreds of miles away.

I am, of course, not the only one who felt this way. A fellow Michigan graduate and current N.F.L. Network host Rich Eisen told me that during the game he felt so personally involved that he turned to his wife and asked, “Why does this mean so much to me?” He said that during previous games, when Michigan was losing to Ohio State, he would have to force himself to take stock of what was good in his life. “I would often sit there and think to myself, ‘I’ve got a beautiful family, and I’ve got three healthy children.’”

After Saturday’s win, Eisen was at a loss to describe this particular brand of joy, just as I have been. “Obviously, childbirth and marriages are your best days of your life,” he told me, not all that convincingly. “But this win over Ohio State, I can’t even really put it into words, and it’s my job to do that sort of stuff.”
This is why I don't watch sports all that often.

I can tell you when and why I made the decision. In 1998, I was living in Emporia, Kansas. Gamedays for the Kansas City football team were a big deal to me then -- I planned my Sunday afternoons around them. Some friends who worked at the local university regularly hosted a group for the games, and put on quite a spread. It was joyful. That year, the Chiefs went 13-3, looked like they might go to the Super Bowl, then ... flamed out in their first playoff game.

A few months later, KU's basketball team headed into the NCAA tournament looking like a national championship contender. Paul Pierce, an eventual Hall of Famer, led the team with Raef LaFrentz. And that team ... flamed out in the second round of the tournament.

All of this made me feel awful. Obsessively awful.

So I pretty much stopped watching. Oh, I still keep an eye on how the teams I used to love are doing, but in a general way. When KU won the national championship in 2008, I did in fact go down to Massachusetts Street to join the celebration. I'm not immune to the way that victory can make my community seem joyful. But on a day-to-day, game-to-game basis, I've pretty much extracted myself from fandom. Letting my emotional well-being ride on the athletic exploits of young men just didn't seem wise to me, or a way to be happy. I didn't -- don't -- have the emotional bandwidth for sports. 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Amanda Ripley's 'High Conflict'

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get OutHigh Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out by Amanda Ripley

Amanda Ripley's book focuses on people who get trapped into endless conflict with each other, the difficulty of getting out and how it's sometimes possible. It's aimed at a readership exhausted by America's political polarization, it's clear, but mostly only nods at that Very High Conflict while focusing on smaller-scale stories.

I was reminded of a few things. About my Mennonite congregation's process to become a church that welcomed LGBT members, nearly 20 years ago. About the NYT's much-mocked reports about Trump supporters in Ohio diners. About how much conflict can embed itself into whatever culture or subculture we call home, so that the act of trying to honestly understand people with other viewpoints is very much a countercultural act. (And, frankly, even a spiritual act -- even for somebody somewhere between Mennonite-and-agnostic like myself.) About how I might unwittingly be a "conflict entrepreneur." About how I need to do better, both in my personal and professional lives.
Still digesting.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

A republic, not a democracy!

Chris Lehmann reviewing a new book about Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society:

Nor was this Welch’s only anticipation of the present-day reactionary temper on the right; he and his anti-statist allies saw social democracy as the harbinger of eventual Communist takeover, and so loudly insisted that the U.S. was never meant to be a democracy and that the embrace of democracy spelled certain ruin. Recommending The People’s Pottage, an anti–New Deal tract by his friend Garrett Garrett as “required reading” for all Birchers, Welch hailed its clear-eyed account of “the Communist-inspired conversion of America, from a constitutional republic of self-reliant people into an unbridled democracy of hand-out seeking whiners.” A common refrain of the Bircher faithful was that America is “a Republic … not a democracy. Let’s keep it that way!”

The NYT Notable Books of 2021

 Lists like this make me panic about how much I'm not reading.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Common book: Mercy

 “ We’re imperfect people in relationships with imperfect people. Mercy should be mandatory.” -David French

Monday, November 22, 2021

Bag O' Books: 'Wildland: The Making of America's Fury' by Evan Osnos

Wildland: The Making of America's FuryWildland: The Making of America's Fury by Evan Osnos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The past decade or so has brought readers a fresh round of what's probably an old genre -- the literature of American decline. Books like George Packer's "The Unwinding" and Alec MacGillis' "Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America" have documented the forces tearing our society apart -- a financial system that delivers disproportionate wealth to a select few who hide themselves in walled-off supermansions; governments that neuter themselves and their ability to serve their citizens' well-being in order to make the rich richer; the left-behind places in rural America and in the Black parts of our big cities; the hollowed-out newspapers whose meager pages leave the electorate ill-informed and vulnerable to the conspiracy swamps of social media. "Wildland" is another one of these books, and it's a very good book, but it is also -- on top of those earlier examples -- exhausting. Our country is falling apart, and that's tremendously shitty, but it makes for some great literature.

Star Trek movie rankings

For the 25th anniversary of STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, my personal ranking of best Trek movies.

Top Tier Classics:

* Wrath of Khan

* First Contact

Really Good: 

* The Voyage Home

* The Undiscovered Country

Reasonably Entertaining:

* The Search for Spock

* Generations

* Nemesis (I realize I'm on the short list of people who would even rank it this high.)

* 2009 reboot

What fresh hell is this?

* The Final Frontier

* The Motion Picture

* Into Darkness


* Insurrection

* Beyond