Pearsall's Books

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Thursday, October 28, 2004


Blogging has been very light so far this week as I have been working long hours. Hopefully I can get some more done in the next couple days. Same goes with responding to email. At lunchtime I will try to answer the unanswered!
|| RPH || 3:59 PM || |

Monday, October 25, 2004

Banlieue 13

There's a new Luc Besson film coming out in France soon, called Banlieue 13 ('Suburb 13'), and it looks amazing. Trailers can be seen here. How long will we have to wait for it in the Anglophone world?

Normal blogging service to resume tomorrow.

|| RPH || 5:27 AM || |

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Outlaws, Part One

This is the first part of a two part series looking at American criminals who use racist ideology to justify their atrocities. This first part is about violent white racists. The second, which I'll post tomorrow, is about a violent black racist.

James Coates Armed and Dangerous: The Rise of the Survivalist Right

The American extreme right exists in the shadows. In Europe far-right parties like the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, Le Front National in France, the Freedom Party in Austria, the BNP in England, as well as other groups in other nations, routinely capture a substantial minority of the vote in local and national elections. In America, this is not the case. The resurgence of the far right in Europe has been based on issues that are either absent from the American political agenda or already monopolized by the Republican Party, such as race, immigration, rising crime, the dilution of national identity at the hands of EU federalism, and the breakdown of traditional families. The parliamentary model of European democracies, with their plethora of parties, also helps these extreme right parties, whereas their American counterparts are powerless. There is little prospect of any third party gaining significant strength, and the Republican Party (although content to nod and wink at racism as the need arises, particularly in the South) is not going to abandon its twin pillars of religious fundamentalism and corporate interests for racial demagoguery.

With little hope of electoral gains the variety of extreme right movements discussed in this book (survivalist militias, militant white nationalism, Posse Comitatus anti-tax and conspiracy theorist groups, the heretical Christian Identity movement) labor away at the margins, prophesising forlornly about the forthcoming race war, spreading anti-Semitic propaganda and feuding internally. With growing electoral success the European groups have somewhat moderated their message, in particular by shying away from Holocaust denial and airing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as those contained in the infamous Tsarist forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, in order to achieve greater success through concentrating on the most populist, effective themes. Without these sort of wider political concerns the American extreme right functions as a breeding ground for stranger and stranger ideologies and conspiracy theories.

This book is something of a time capsule, in that it reflects very much the worries of the pre-9/11 world. Originally written in 1987 with a new preface written in 1995 in response to the Oklahoma City bombing, it's a very interesting reminder of the time before Islamic militancy reared its head against America. This was a time when a series of events (the Waco siege, the Randy Weaver shootout, the rise of the militia movement, and, of course, the Oklahoma City bombing) seemed to show that the most serious threat to America's security would be homegrown, from the fringes of America's right wing. As things turned out, it was nothing of the kind, so reading this book now one cannot help but be struck by the tone of hysteria that occassionally surfaces in the course of the text, alluding to this impending threat, this growing force.

Now, of course, things are very different. Not only has the Islamist threat far superceded that of the extreme right in the minds of Americans, but the far right itself is quite diminished from what it once was. The militia movement has shrunk considerably from its mid-90's heyday, several of the key leaders of the Neo-Nazi movement (like Richard Butler of the Aryan Nations and William Pierce of the National Alliance) have passed away leaving their organizations in a state of disrepair, the Klan is the merest shadow of its former self, Christian Identity has shrunk considerably, and everywhere across America the main issues for the white nationalist movement, its main rallying cries, have been moving in what they would see as the wrong direction. 'Miscegenation' (aka mixed-race relationships) has never been more accepted, immigration throughout the 1990's and into this decade has continued at an avalanche volume, California has lost its white majority, and everywhere the forces of multiculturalism run rampant while the cause of White Separatism lies punch-drunk on the floor. Above all, the obsessive anti-Semitism that characterizes the extreme right, perhaps the single theme that unites all the different strands of American racist ideology, has never been more out of step with the wider right wing of American politics, which has moved to an iron-clad support of Israel.

Despite it seeming a bit out of date, and a bit hyperbolic in its overestimation of the threat posed by the racist right, this is generally a pretty interesting read. The first chapter is an overview of the different strands of the American extreme right, their origins and their ideologies. The second chapter, perhaps the most interesting, discusses the neo-nazi terrorist group The Order, the most dangerous racist terror group of the post Civil Rights era. It concentrates on their perpetration of some of the most meticulously planned and lucrative armored car robberies in American history, their plans to use the proceeds of these heists to establish an Aryan homeland in the Pacific Northwest, and their assassination of (Jewish) Denver talk radio host Alan Berg, an event that inspired the Oliver Stone film Talk Radio.

The third chapter looks at the Christian Identity movement, a heretical variant of Christianity that attempts to get around the age-old problem of the anti-Semite: how can you effectively attack Jews as the enemy of Christian civiliazation when Christ Himself was a Jew? Their solution is that the true ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who disappeared from scripture after being captured by the Assyrians, are in fact the peoples of western and northern Europe, such as the French, the English, the Germans, the Finns, etc., while the people who are traditionally known as the Jews were the tribe of Judah who threw their lot in with Satan during the Babylonian Captivity. As Biblical interpretations go, it's certainly one of the more far out ones. The central abiding principle of Identity Christianity is that the the post-Babylonian Jews are responsible for all the evils to befall the Aryan world. The Roman persecution of the Christians? A Jewish conspiracy. The Black Plague? A Jewish conspiracy. Bolshevism? A Jewish conspiracy. The Federal Reserve Board? A Jewish conspiracy (don't ask me, I don't understand the problem with the Federal Reserve Board either). Race mixing? A Jewish conspiracy. Basically, in this hate theology, anything you dislike can be laid at the door of the dreaded Jew. The Aryan Nations described them as, "the natural enemy of our Aryan (White) Race. This is attested by scripture and all secular history. The Jew is like a destroying virus that attacks our racial body to destroy our Aryan culture and the purity of our Race."

The fourth chapter looks at the Posse Comitatus, a movement based on a strange sycretic moral code that holds that to pay income tax would be to acknowledge the Jewish-controlled state (known as the Zionist Occupational Government), and that the international financial system has been a fraud since the gold standard was abandoned, and, finally, that the US Constitution guarantees that no man should have to answer to any authority higher than county sheriff. This is a loosely-formed ideological persuasion whose adherents have, at various points, participated in massive tax frauds, extensive subterrenean barter systems to avoid the overground economy, jailhouse-lawyer style lien-filing blitzes, and even the assasination of representatives from various levels of government. Chapter five looks at various bizarre Survival Right compound groups, people living in communities a bit like the hippy communes of the 1960's but with lots of guns and lots of anti-Semitism and lots of crazy ideas (well, that part is not so different from the hippies).

Chapter six is about the 'lone wolf' phenomenon, men not officially allied with any group who act on their own against what they see as 'the system'. Men like David Lewis Rice, who butchered the Goldmark family in Seattle on Christmas Eve in 1985 on the mistaken belief that Charles Goldmark, the father and husband, was the head Communist Jew conspirator in the Pacific Northwest, a man ready to give the signal to a North Korean army massing over the border to invade. The Goldmarks were Protestants. Or David and Doris Young who bombed a school in Cokeville, Wyoming, in 1986. The character sketches built up in this chapter, of the lone wolf as natural loner, alienated from society, turning deadly with exposure to Survivalist and White Supremacist ideologies, foreshadows the most famous Lone Wolf of all, a man who embodied all these traits, even though he committed his great crime after the book was originally published. I am referring to, of course, the mastermind of the Oklahoma City Bombing, Timothy McVeigh, a loner and Gulf War veteran who drifted into the world of the survival right before attacking the Federal building in Oklahoma in an operation directly inspired by William Pierce's genocidal wet dream of a novel The Turner Diaries.

The two final chapters look at the distribution of political propaganda and survivalist tracts show how in their way members of the extreme right, like other niche operators, have always worked at the cutting edge of communications technology, from mailing lists to ham radio to primitive Usenet services to today's panoply of internet-based distribution mediums.

In conclusion, I'd have to say that this was quite good book to read for background on the American far right, but that it was let down a bit by its datedness (hardly the author's fault, but it is impossible to read anything without knowledge of the events of proceeding years) as well as a certain amount of exaggerating of the scope of the threat generated by this collection of charlatan, bigots, loners and, yes, psychopaths. The Oklahoma City bombing is, to date, the only instance where the blood-curdlingly apocalyptic rhetoric of decades of American extreme rightism has been put into practice, and there has been nothing of the sort since, and certainly nothing to be compared with what the global Islamic terror movement seems to be able to conjure up on a regular basis. A far better book on the far right, for those interested in the subject, is Nick Ryan's Homeland: Into a World of Hate.

|| RPH || 11:15 AM || |

Friday, October 22, 2004

From the Shelves: Florida Reviews, Part Two

Robert Andrew Powell We Own This Game: A Season In The Adult World Of Youth Football

Florida is one of those states where football is essentially a religion, a devotion that manifests itself from the pros to the colleges to high school all the way down to the Pop Warner youth leagues. Currently over 170 Floridians play in the NFL, the third-highest number after Californians and Texans, and it's a good bet that virtually all of them got their start in youth leagues. This state-wide love/obsession for the game is magnified in places like Miami's Liberty City, perhaps the worst neighborhood in a city notorious for bad ones. The very real problems of somewhere like Liberty City, with its struggles with bad housing, bad schools, high crime, drugs, fractured families and persistently high unemployment, give professional sports a particularly powerful allure. The constant elevation of young black men from communities like Liberty City to the unimaginable wealth granted by the pro leagues maintains this. The youth leagues, the first point of contact kids have with organized sport, thus become imbued with these competitive desires, these dreams.

On the most basic level this is an account of the 2001 seasons of two teams that Robert Andrew Powell followed for the year. One, the Liberty City Warriors, is based in the heart of Miami's African-American community. The other, the Palmetto Raiders, is a team from a tony suburb whose white coach had achieved great success by recruiting talented black kids from less salubrious parts of metropolitan Miami. In the end, though, it is about much more than just the kids, it is about the coaches, the parents, the hangers-on, the community surrounding the teams, the city and its history, and, especially, about the black community in Miami.

"When I'd started the project I'd planned to spend most of the season getting to know the kids who play the game. Why do they play? What pressures are on them, if any? Yet, after I returned from Orlando and began thumbing through my notes, I realized that in talking to the people most invested in Pop Warner football, I'd spent most of my time talking to adults." (p. xvi)

As the book opens the Liberty City Warriors, national Pop Warner champions in 1998, are preparing for the new season coached by a volunteer group of local men, Brian, Pete, and Anthony, guys who give up most of their free time coaching, organizing, and raising funds for the kids to play football. Twenty-five miles southwest is the home of Raul Campos, coach of the reigning Pop Warner national champions, the Palmetto Raiders. Campos, like the coaches of other teams in predominately white areas had reversed a long series of losing streaks by bringing in faster, more athletic, hungrier black players from around the Miami region, such as the neighboring town of West Perrine. His recruiting success was largely based on a combination of a winning tradition established early on in his tenure and an unabashed use of special perks for the kids: rides to games in specially-chartered coaches, home and away jerseys, steak dinners, special team letter jackets, and above all a very good chance of a week long trip to Disney World in Orlando for the Pop Warner national championships, all paid for by Campos and his friends in the construction industry. Campos' success at Palmetto helped accelerate the growing seriousness of youth league football in South Florida, with other teams joining in the competition to attract the best youth talent.

""Everyone wants to make it to the playoffs. Everyone wants to go to nationals. They're letting this get out of hand. Boy, one of these days, man, this shit is going to blow up and somebody's going to get shot. Watch."" Raul Campos (p. 145)

Miami is America's newest big city. It's spectacular growth over the last fifty years is primarily down to two events: the Cuban Revolution and the exponential spread of air conditioning. Air conditioning allowed the massive development that turned Miami into a sprawling metropolis. Before the Cuban Revolution Miami was a backwater city, a deeply segregated outpost of the Deep South. The black community, composed of migrants from other parts of the South and from English-speaking parts of the Carribbean, especially the Bahamas, was cut off from political power and influence and from economic advancement. Unlike in other parts of America, where black politicians began to take control of cities and a black middle class was growing quickly, these problems remained pronounced in Miami. The Cuban Revolution in 1959 would ultimately send over a million Cubans to South Florida, mostly members of the almost entirely white middle and upper classes. The Cuban exiles quickly seized power from the old Anglo ruling class of Miami and set about re-making Miami as the capital of Latin America. Following in their path came hundreds of thousands of poor immigrants from Latin America and the Carribbean islands, especially Haiti and Jamaica. The effect of this was to lock the long-settled African-American community into their existing neighborhoods and hold them back from economic and educational advancement. Unlike other cities in the South where blacks could move into other neighborhoods as whites left, the black community in Miami found itself competing for cheap housing with all the new immigrants, as well as for economic gains and education.

""I'll put this out for what it's worth: The influx of Cubans is what hurt us," Dunn says. "The gains the blacks were on their way to receiving were taken away...Being black in Miami is almost - not quite, but almost - like it was being black in America in the fifties and the sixties in America. We have second-class citizenship. Limited opportunities. Segregation in certain tiers of life, segregation in government. A lot of blacks don't see a place where they fit in down here." (Richard Dunn, p. 99)

This influx of Latinos, along with Miami's geographical location, brought a new major industry to Miami in the 1970's and 80's: drugs. As the southernmost port city in the United States Miami became the nation's pre-eminent center of drug trafficking. Although the major importation syndicates were in the hands of Colombians and Cuban exiles drugs made a huge impact on black Miami, especially with the invention of crack cocaine. Black drug gangs like the Boobie Boys and the John Does (so called because they had no official name) quickly expanded from selling crack in ghetto neighborhoods like Liberty City and Overtown to franchising operations throughout Florida and beyond. A soaring murder rate and widespread drug addiction, along with a flight of decent-paying blue-collar jobs following riots in the early 80's, helped make conditions in Liberty City even worse than before.

""It used to be pretty bad," recalls (the Warriors') Brian Johnson, who grew up on the same block as the leader of the John Does. "When it started you'd hear about someone getting shot and you'd say, 'Man, wow, someone got shot.' After a while, when gunshots went off and another person went down it was, like, not even news."" (p. 88)

The rise of the major drug gangs has had a profound effect on local football in Miami. The willingness of major players to bet tens of thousands on high school and youth league games adds further to the pressure on the young players, young men who are already often burdened with their families' unrealistic dreams that they too can one day ascend to the Promised Land of the NFL. Often, players will receive cash bonuses from gamblers after victories for playing well (this is also discussed in the fantastic Showtime documentary The Year of the Bull about high school football in Liberty City). In the book, this subtext is shown constantly by the crews of gang members hanging around the edges of Pop Warner games, smoking weed and placing bets. The most vivid example comes in Powell's description of Palmetto's playoff game against Goulds. The game is in overtime, the Raiders are driving towards the touchdown zone, seemingly in sight of certain victory, when suddenly shots are fired. The culprit turns out to be a gambler with a big stake on Goulds who, seeing his money slipping away, fires into the air, in an attempt to stop the game. Powell is particularly excellent at showing how all these external problems and expectations corrupt what should be an innocent time. He also shows how, even with these difficulties, football can be a very powerful force for good in the lives of kids who may have troubles at home and at school. For example, Coach Campos often knows more about the players he coaches, their thoughts and their feelings, than their families do. Just being part of a team, especially a successful one, can be very good for these kids' discipline and sense of self-worth.

If America sees black men at all, it sees them as stereotypes. The athlete, the drug dealer, and the rapper. The most famous rapper ever to come out of Miami is Luther Campbell, known throughout the city simply as Luke, the head of The 2 Live Crew. Luke played a crucial role in revitalizing youth league football in black Miami, helping found the Liberty City Warriors, and constantly supporting them with gifts of money and special philanthropic gestures. Perhaps no one else in the book explains so simply just what football means to people in his community:

""That's what we own...We own this game. I mean, you can take whatever you want to take - our land, our housing, our jobs, whatever. But we got our dignity and our pride. We might not have ever had any leader to lead us to the promised land, but at least we got our football. We own football."" (p. 19)

|| RPH || 4:50 AM || |

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Quick Point

Needless to say, and I should have mentioned this in the introduction, but I won't really be writing conventional book reviews, more using the books I'm talking about as a general source to discuss issues I find are relevant and interesting.
|| RPH || 9:41 PM || |

More to Come

I'm currently working on two more Florida-related pieces and a piece on Lutz Kleveman's The New Great Game about the oil rush in the Caspian region. They will be posted when finished. I should have one of the Florida pieces done by tonight. I'm currently (slowly) reading through Stiglitz's Globalization and its Discontents, so there will be a review of that when I am finished.
|| RPH || 9:37 PM || |

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Florida Short Reviews, Part One

Carl Hiassen Kick Ass

Carl Hiaassen is perhaps the most famous chronicler of modern life in South Florida. His hilarious satirical novels involve a technicolor circus gallery of corrupt politicians, rapacious developers, narco-traffickers, perverts, junkies, renegade ex-Governors, fishing fanatics, rogue televangelists, criminals, sleazy lawyers, gormless tourists, doddering retirees, garden variety losers, the unclassifiably weird, and actual normal humans, amongst others. If you have little knowledge of Miami and its surrounding areas his books seem to exist in a fantastical creative universe. Then you read Kick Ass, a compilation of the cream of his 1985-1999 columns from his other job as columnist for The Miami Herald, and you realize that real life in Florida is so impossibly, floridly, flavorsomely bizarre that Mr. Hiaassen must have real difficulties coming up with scenarios to match the subjects of his newspaper columns for sheer strangeness.

Like all great local journalists, Hiaassen's columns use a combination of a very common sense moral framework and a gift for razor-sharp turns of phrase to give eloquent voice to the concerns of ordinary people. Completely fearless, and intensely dissatisfied with the status quo, Hiaassen's Kick Ass, like all great compilations of newspapers columns, is the sort of book that you can turn to over and over, re-reading one or two favorite columns as the mood takes you. Covering the years between 1985 and 1999 it is subdivided by subject, with most of it devoted to Hiaassen's major concerns: the ongoing destruction of South Florida's environment, the grotesquely corrupt local brand of politics, and the chaos that has resulted from Florida's population surging at a rate three times that of the country as a whole over the last three decades. Despite the glitzy image of Miami Beach, with its superclubs, Art Deco buildings, dazzling beaches, visiting celebrities, and its crowds of the silicone-enhanced, Miami is a place with serious problems, with one of the highest poverty rates of any American city, a massive crime rate, infrastructure that is falling apart at the seams, deep ethnic tensions, and such serious corruption and waste that these problems rarely get better, merely compound. In the finest tradition of muckraking journalism Hiaassen pulls no punches in going after those who bear the most responsibility for this state of affairs, savagely attacking the developers and politicians and corporate interests who run Miami.

"You just cover a lot of ground and you do it aggressively and you do it fairly and you don't play favorites and you don't take any prisoners. It's the old school of slash-and-burn metropolitan column writing. You just kick ass. That's what you do. And that's what they pay you to do."

|| RPH || 6:35 AM || |

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Baile Funk

As an addendum to yesterday's post about Alex Bellos's book, I'd like to point you guys in the direction of some current music from Rio de Janeiro. It's known as 'funk' but really it sounds like early-80's electro with rapping in Portuguese over the top. They are probably talking about all sorts of gruesome stuff, but I don't speak the language, so I can just enjoy it on pure sonic terms. It's great fun in a novelty kind of way - 808 bass! New Wave synths! Portuguese rapping! Bongos! There's something heart-warming about knowing the 80's lives on in the slums of Rio.

Anyways, if you are interested in hearing some, check out the Funky Do Morro site. Articles about the scene that spawned the music can be seen here, here, and here.

|| RPH || 3:37 PM || |

From the Shelves: Latin America, Part One

Alex Bellos Futebol: The Brazilian Way Of Life

For my first review I would like to talk about my favorite book among the many that I have read this year, Alex Bellos's look at football (or soccer, if you prefer) in Brazil. To almost anyone in the world the mention of the word Brazil instantly brings up one image, that of the seleçao, clad in the famous yellow shirt, dancing across the field in pure joy. Perhaps no other poor country in the world has such a favorable stereotype as Brazil - images of samba and carnival and a racial melting-pot and beautiful women in small bikinis on the beach. Above all, the world's view of Brazil in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been shaped by the exploits of its national football team, the practitioners of what is seen as the purest and most beautiful form of the world's game, the jogo bonito.

Brazilian culture, beyond the simple stereotypes mentioned above, is largely unknown in the Anglophone world. Brazil, with over one hundred and eighty million people in over half the land mass of South America, is an increasingly important and vibrant player internationally. It is also a nation of notoriously deep economic divisions, where European levels of prosperity exist alongside African levels of poverty. It's major cities, where shantytown favelas controlled by heavily-armed drug gangs squat near luxurious walled condominium complexes, witness some of the world's highest crime rates, as seen in Fernando Meirelles's spectacular film City Of God. Yet, despite these problems, Brazil still functions, and it has proven to be one of the world's great creative laboratories, producing incredible music, film, literature, dance, and, above all, it's own particular slant on the world's game.

Football was brought to Brazil by the English (the game's inventors) in the early twentieth century. It caught on quickly and would in short order redefine how the entire nation saw itself, rewiring perceptions of masculinity, of race, of class, of region, of religion, and of Brazil's place in the wider world. Brazil's population, a spectacular melange of indigenous, European, African, Middle Eastern and Asian elements, took to the game like no other people on earth. The genius of this very entertaining book is that Bellos uses futebol as a key into the Brazilian soul, starting with the game and looking at how it is influenced by, and influences, a wide range of elements of Brazilian culture.

I first wanted to know how a British game brought over a little over a century ago could shape so strongly the destiny of a tropical nation. How could something so apparently benign as a team sport become the greatest unifying factor in the world's fifth-largest country? What do Brazilians mean when they say, with jingoistic pride, that they live in the 'football country'?

In the course of his thousands of miles of travels around Brazil he looks at the links the game has forged with all elements of society. As you would expect from a trip around a country as culturally rich and varied as Brazil he meets all sorts of wonderfully quirky and expressive characters, such as Father Santana, the candomblé (an Afro-Catholic hybrid religion synthesized by black slaves) priest at Vasco Da Gama, traditionally the club of the Portuguese community in Rio; a man whose career has seen him burying crosses behind goals, crowned the Black King of Carnival in Rio, and serving as the chief masseur to the Kuwaiti national side. Or The Man With The Crutches, who has lost one leg up to the knee yet nevertheless travels Brazil performing keepie-up exhibitions using his stump and his crutches. Not to mention the team of transvestites, the Brazilians playing in the league of the Faroe Islands (part of a 5,000 strong Brazilian footballing diaspora), the man who designed the legendary national jersey (who, it turns out, supports Uruguay at international level), a football stadium where the equator serves as the half-way line, the upper-class playboys who invented 'autoball' in the 1970's as a sort of Demolition Derby with a giant ball, the Peladao (a combination football tournament and beauty queen contest held annually in Amazonas state), the hyper-devout Pentecostalists of Athletes of Christ, the Corinthians supporters club Hawks of the Faithful who have nearly sixty thousand members and annually compete for the Carnival championship in their guise as a samba escola. He takes in games everywhere from the famed Maracana in Rio to mudflats on the Amazon River to 'ecoball' kickabouts among remote Indian tribes, all the while delving into the history of the game and discussing such important events as Brazil's shock loss in the 1950 World Cup final to Uruguay, and discussing great players of Brazil's past and present like Pele, Garrincha, Socrates, and Ronaldo.

Of course, as with anything in Brazil, the joyousness of the people's game is dogged by a darker side. The domestic game is in particularly dire straits. The national governing authority, the CBF, has been consistently knee-deep in corruption scandals, especially among many of the more prominent members. The directors of many clubs consistently pocket huge windfalls from the sale of players overseas while their players go months without being paid. Each season the league format is re-jigged, leading only to confusion and apathy among supporters, and frustration among the players, especially among the lesser lights, who are underpaid and buried under what is one of the world's most densely-packed seasons. Frustrated to the point where taking a guaranteed paycheck in Armenia or Malaysia seems tempting. There is all sorts of chicanery in the selection of the national squad, especially for friendly matches and lesser qualifiers, as appearing in the famous yellow strip is the single most effective way to advertise yourself overseas. Then, of course, there was the debacle of the 1998 World Cup final, where Ronaldo mysteriously fell ill before the match, and was only a shadow of himself as Zinedine Zidane led the French to a famous 3-0 victory.

Yet, despite these problems, this is ultimately quite an uplifting book, concluding with a fantastic interview with Socrates, O Doutor, the hero and captain of Brazil's legendary (but ultimately unsuccessful) 1982 World Cup side, and one of the all-time greats of the world game. A middle-class youth who continued his medical studies even as he was breaking into the Corinthians first-team, and from there into the seleçao, he even played an important role in moving Brazil towards democracy during the last days of the military regime through the anti-authoritarian players movement he founded, Corinthians Democracy. With his education and life experiences he is probably the best person to explain the unique appeal of Brazilian football and culture and why Brazilians, despite the problems of their nation, would never want to be from anywhere else:

"Brazilian culture - this mix of races, this form of seeing the world and life - is possibly our greatest national resource. Because it is a very happy culture, it is not discriminatory, it's's a big disaster zone, really, but it is the essence of humanity. When humanity organized itself too much it lost its most basic characterisations, its instincts, its pleasures. I think this is what we have which is best, which is absolutely why I am in love with Brazil."

|| RPH || 4:56 AM || |

Friday, October 15, 2004

Away for the weekend

I'm going down to Virginia for the weekend for my cousin Carmel's engagement party. I am working on a full-length post about Alex Bellos 'Futebol: The Brazilian Way Of Life' that I will post on Monday. Have a great weekend everyone!

|| RPH || 9:18 PM || |


Hello, this is my first post. This blog will be dedicated to reviewing the books I read because, well, I like to read, and also because I feel like writing about them and passing the information on to others. It's simply a (potentially) wider forum for me to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, lecturing people about somewhat obscure facets of history and current events. Trust me, I've seen that somewhat glazed expression in the eyes of friends and family members enough to know that my own personal obsessions are not shared by everyone! Having not written seriously since I finished my History degree at the University of Edinburgh last year I will start with an overview of the 'finished' contents of my bookshelves, the books I've read since the start of this year. These posts will be subdivided by region (the Middle East, eastern Europe, Africa, the US, etc) as well as by theme. Once that is out of the way and I feel like my writing has become a bit more fluent and a bit less awkward than it does at the moment (there's nothing like spending a lot of time on internet message boards to dull down your expressive abilities), then I shall move on to writing proper reviews of books as I finish them. In addition to talking about books, I will also try to provide links to the sort of sites I frequent on the net and the sort of individual voices thrown forward by this new medium that I admire so much.

So what do I read? Well, I read about wars. And conflict. And suffering. Mostly (but more on that in a moment). Why? Simply because I am another urban white twenty-something guy that lives a moderately boring life doing dull clerical work, having a few beers with friends from time to time, and making the odd snide joke about people behind their backs, and, if I am completely honest with myself, because it is a very safe, conventional life. I am old enough that I no longer do 'crazy' things (I certainly won't go out Friday night and come back Sunday any more), but I am not yet at the point where I am going to get married and have kids and propagate the continuation of America. It's just that mid-20's limbo. And I enjoy it. I love it. I get a bit paranoid walking through the ghetto neighborhoods in New York City (which themselves are nowhere near as horrible these days as places like Detroit or New Orleans), so I know I'd shit myself completely in Grozny, or Karachi, or the Congo, or Fallujah, or Medellin, or somewhere else of equal horror. So, in a frankly voyeuristic way, I like to read about these suppurating sores of the human condition at arm's length, because I am fascinated by the workings of the world. The ways that different people react to situations, the interconnectedness of modern history, how events in one place can ultimately mean so much somewhere else in a completely different context and culture; how big events move like a daisy cutter, and how seemingly small events can ripple outwards and affect all kinds of different places and peoples in unpredictable ways. How the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath would have such an impact on Ethiopia in the 1980's, that sort of stuff. History never ended; in the United States there was just a ten year period of pretending it no longer applied. It's back in our faces with a vengeance now. And from my vantage point overlooking it all (well, my desk in Queens), I am going to add my voice to the cacophony of explanations and theories.

Like all blogs, this is a narcissistic project. Anyone who publishes a blog is operating under the assumption that other people are interested in reading what they have to say. I, of course, am no different. It's not sports, it's not clothes, it's not movies or music or celebrities or even the narrow partisan combat of much of the biggest political blogs on the web (and I should say that I really enjoy those blogs) but my own little attempt to scrape up a corner of that wider picture or, failing that, to try to point people in the direction of the sort of information not presented in the major media, especially the longer-term trends. It won't be all horror, all the time, as I'll be discussing some books that discuss sports, and music, and movies, but mostly it will be about the bad things that happen to people elsewhere, as well as a certain amount on the country I live in, its endless strengths and bottomless weaknesses.

I hope you enjoy it.

|| RPH || 7:16 AM || |