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Globalization as Imperialism with a Kinder Face: The Case of the Sports World

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After discussing the recent 2017 IAAF World Track and Field Championships held in London with a friend, I was struck just how clearly the sports world shows that globalization is imperialism with a friendlier face. Just as Michel Foucault argues in Discipline and Punish, changing forms of punishment—from violent torture to confinement in modern prison systems—made punishment less barbaric while simultaneously further legitimizing it, globalization makes imperialism more palatable to the “modern” mind. Exploitation of the global south by the global north, and poorer countries by richer countries, continues unabated in the globalist world.

Reviewer David J. Rothman notes that, for Foucault, systems like schools, factories, hospitals, and prisons:

 

expanded the scope of discipline and legitimized it. It turned the individual into a “case,” which simultaneously helped to explain his actions and to control them. The very concept of the individual as a case represented a “thaw” that liberated scientific knowledge (to think of the patient as a case was the beginning of medical innovation), and at the same time expanded institutional means of control (for example, the right of the hospital to confine the mentally ill). Thus, a case approach “at one and the same time constitutes an object for a branch of knowledge and a hold for a branch of power.”

In the instance of the prison, this case orientation encouraged the expansion of knowledge in such disciplines as criminology, psychology and eventually psychiatry. Concomitantly, it legitimized incarceration in the name of treatment. Since the institution could cure, it was proper to confine.

 

With the advent of modern prison systems punishment was refined and, in the process, became more pervasive. This is no different than the evolution of international power structures from those represented by imperialism and colonialism in the past and those created by globalization in the present.

Emin Colasan, a Turkish columnist, wrote an article on 12 August 2017 regarding “Devsirme” Turkish athletes. The term itself is from Ottoman history, once used to refer to the Janissary Corps, but now used to refer to naturalized foreigners, particularly in sports. Mr. Colasan notes that Turkey’s two medalists in the recent IAAF Track and Field Championships were not in fact Turkish at all: Cuban Yasmani Copello won a silver medal in the 400 meter hurdles while Azeri Ramil Guliev won gold in an upset victory in the 200 meter event. While this is of course an unbelievable achievement for these two athletes (as a former track and field athlete myself, I know the hard work the sport requires), it would be wrong to characterize it as an achievement for Turkish sport itself since these athletes were not products of Turkish sporting infrastructure. Mr. Colasan provides another example in the Turkish National Women’s Basketball Team, where Americans like Quanitra Hollingsworth represent Turkey in international competitions. For Hollingsworth it is a “business arrangement” (https://aroundthehorns.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/quanitra-hollingsworth-turkish-citizen-olympian/ that will ultimately help her career—but it won’t help the careers of native Turkish basketball players who may hope to one day represent their country.

 

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The Internationalization of Turkish Sport, from Ramil Guliev to Quanitra Hollingsworth. While this is of course a positive development for these two athletes in particular, it might not be as positive for native athletes. Images Courtesy of: http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/10/world-track-championships-surprise-victory-for-turkeys-ramil-guliyev-in-200/ (TOP) and https://alchetron.com/Quanitra-Hollingsworth-620347-W (BOTTOM).

 

The importing of foreign sports stars is something that Qatar, among other oil rich gulf states, is notorious for. Deutsche Welle, writing about Qatar’s 2015 success in handball, notes that only four of Qatari team was actually from Qatar. The team made up of players from Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, France, Spain, and Cuba “had been enticed to play for the Gulf state thanks to six figure winning bonuses. They were also guaranteed a life long pension, if the team reached the semifinals”. Deutsche Welle offers a thinly veiled defense of Qatari actions, calling it true globalization and further justifying it by comparing it to the actions of major European football clubs:

 

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The Newest Qatari, Danijel Saric (Formerly of Serbia). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dw.com/en/qatar-buying-their-way-to-sporting-success/a-18233576

 

Qatar’s approach in this instance is no different to the way that big European football clubs operate. They search for talent worldwide, then sign them up and then train them. It’s just that Qatar’s sheikhs are doing it at the national team level, not for a club.

Some people might find it immoral, and maybe it is. But in high-level professional sport, where lots of money is involved and success is the most important currency, the approach is pretty common.

 

Again, it is the importance of “money” that drives Qatar’s—and Turkey’s—desire to obtain foreign athletes. Unfortunately, it is the kind of short-sighted policy that defines the actions of globalist leaders the world over. Rather than develop their own sporting cultures and infrastructure countries are trying to buy success; rather than develop indigenous technologies and businesses countries would rather privatize existing state run industries and import from multinational corporations. Such policies do little to encourage long term home-grown economic growth and the profits stream out of developing countries to the home-countries of multinational corporations based in the developed world.

What Deutsche Welle also misses—by comparing Qatar’s actions to those of “the big European football clubs”—is that the actions of those clubs is also imperialism disguised as globalization; footballers are imported to Europe from poorer countries in Latin America and Africa in a modern day exploitation of the global South in sports. The results have not been great for Latin American clubs, as a courser look at the history of the FIFA World Club Championship (later FIFA Club World Cup) shows: While the competition was roughly equal in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (South America won 6 championships to Europe’s 4 from 1960-69 while Europe won 7 championships to South America’s 11 from 1970 to 1989) the advent of globalization changed the balance from 1990 onward. From 1990 to 2004 Europe won 10 championships to South America’s 5 and after the start of the FIFA Club World Cup in 2004 South America has won just 3 competitions to Europe’s 9 (the last time a South American participant won was 2012). Because of the globalization of sport poorer countries have no incentive to develop sporting infrastructure. South American and African clubs will sell young players off (the raw materials of world football) at cheap prices for them to be refined at major European clubs; countries like Turkey and Qatar will just buy sporting success in lieu of developing their sporting infrastructure. In this respect human beings become commodified; both processes are similarly short cited and create a vicious cycle in terms of both sporting and economic development.

Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of imperialism and sports can be found by looking at the make up of international football teams. The French national side of the 1980s (immediately following decolonization) was mainly a European team. The team that represented France at the 2016 European Championships was mainly an African team, the results of years of French Colonialism. Belgium is no different, and King Leopold’s horrific actions in the Belgian Congo will not be erased by Vincent Kompany’s success on the pitch representing Belgium any more than French domination of Algeria was erased by Zinedine Zidane’s brilliance. That European countries still reap the benefits of colonialism is shocking; that European neo-colonialism—under the guise of sporting globalization—continues unabated is disappointing.

 

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The French Side at the 1984 European Championships. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.lalsace.fr/sport/2016/06/07/france-des-entrees-en-lice-qui-donnent-le-ton

 

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The French Side at the 2016 European Championships. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2016/06/10/euro-2016-on-friday-kick-off-times-tv-channels-and-team-news-ahe/

 

As I have argued, the current globalized world is one that puts a kinder face on imperialism, masking some real issues. While it is certainly a positive development that Belgium has started to recognize the footballing success of African footballers specifically, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if these players could represent Congo instead of Belgium. If African football is to develop—and an African team is to win a World Cup—the best players cannot be continually outsourced to Europe. Such policies serve to continually retard the growth of African football.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://onedio.com/haber/iyi-birey-iyi-vatandas-ve-iyi-futbolcu-yetistirmek-icin-adanan-fikirlerin-eseri-altinordu-615891

 

I hope that more clubs take a suggestion from the Turkish second division club Altinordu, whose motto is “A good person, a good citizen, a good footballer”. Founded in Izmir in 1923, Altinordu deliberately took a Turkish name (literally “Golden Horde”) so as to represent Turkish nationalism following the founding of the Turkish Republic in the same year. As the team’s motto shows, there is a real nationalist undercurrent that puts citizenship and individual character before being a footballer. Most importantly, the team’s policies are actually positive for Turkish football. The club will not sign non-Turkish players, and puts an emphasis on nurturing homegrown talent instead. The team narrowly missed promotion to the Turkish Super League last season with a roster whose average age was less than 23. The team’s chairman Mehmet Seyit Ozkan made headlines last year when he said “Even if [Argentine star Lionel] Messi wants to play for Altinordu for free, I would definitely reject him”. Mr. Ozkan underlined “I believe in our young Turkish players. I’m giving chances to them”. This kind of policy can only help Turkish football in the long run since one contributing factor in Turkish football’s recent decline has been the rising number of non-Turkish players; clubs have no incentive to develop home grown talent because a 2015 rule change allowed Turkish teams to field an XI made up entirely of foreign players. In 2016 the Turkish Super League was made up of 47.5 percent non-Turkish players; it is a similar situation to what is seen in the English Premier League (and we all know what year it was the last time England won a major football tournament (!).

Whether football fan or not, we should all be concerned about the negative effects of globalization and be prepared to discuss different perspectives. Even if it seems to be more humane, the current system is reminiscent of the bold faced imperialism and colonialism of the past, benefitting the global north at the expense of the global south. In order to encourage long term growth worldwide—both culturally and economically—it is prudent to recognize that globalization is far from an unequivocally positive trend.

 

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Globalization Has In Fact Exacerbated Inequality In The West. Image Courtesy Of: http://marketbusinessnews.com/financial-glossary/economic-globalization/

 

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An Amusing Picture Describes the Thin Line Separating Cultural Imperialism from Globalization. Image Courtesy Of: http://f10cmc100-2.blogspot.com.tr/2010/10/globalization-versus-cultural.html
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In the Wake of Diplomatic Crisis With Qatar, Six Countries Demand the 2022 World Cup Be Moved As the Shortcomings of Modern Journalism in the Ideological Age Come to the Fore

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Once again, football is not immune from international political developments. On 15 July 2017, Reuters reported that “Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt had collectively written to FIFA asking it to remove Qatar as hosts [of the 2022 FIFA World Cup]”. The aforementioned six countries allegedly called Qatar “a base of terrorism”. The move stems from the June 5 2017 decision by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain (and later Yemen, Libya, and the Maldives) to cut diplomatic ties with the wealthy Gulf state.

The diplomatic row, no doubt, is a geopolitical move by Saudi Arabia to isolate rival Qatar for pursuing close ties with Iran and supporting Islamist politics in the Arab Spring and beyond. One of the most interesting parts of the row is Saudi Arabia’s attempt to shut down Qatar-based news network Al-Jazeera. While football fans are well aware that the Qatari World Cup is a farce—the decision to grant the competition to the Arab state was one based solely on financial concerns and not sporting concerns—they may not be aware of how important the World Cup is to Qatari soft power both regionally and globally. One other important aspect of Qatari soft power is the media company Al Jazeera (as well as Bein Sports).

The globalized world is one where media conglomerates, like CNN in the United States, rule. These “journalists” are far from the Hemingway-era muckraking journalists who risked their careers and personal safety for stories; these days journalists seem all to willing to toe the line desired by their employers. Unfortunately, Al Jazeera is no different. Take Al Jazeera’s coverage of the 15 July 2017 anniversary of last summer’s failed coup in Turkey. An opinion piece, written by Ismail Numan Telci of Sakarya University, is particularly appalling.

Mr. Telci is also a member of SETA, a pro-government think tank in Turkey. That alone should uncover the biases inherent in his piece. What is more problematic, however, is that his entire article focuses on the UAE and Egypt’s alleged support of last summer’s failed coup in Turkey. It is not a coincidence that both of these countries also recently cut ties with Qatar; Al Jazeera is opportunistically using the anniversary of the failed coup in Turkey to further Qatar’s geopolitical agenda by slamming both the UAE and Egypt. This, of course, can hardly be considered independent journalism. Instead, it is journalism designed to adhere to a certain political and ideological line.

It is yet another example of why—in the globalized world of instant news media—we must all be wary of what we read; we must remain cognizant of the inherent biases hiding in all news media. Nothing is written in a vacuum and sadly journalism is not free; Al Jazeera is an arm of Qatari soft power and that inherently limits its freedom of expression. Indeed, on Al Jazeera’s sports section there was no mention of the threat to move the 2022 World Cup, as far as I could see.

 

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Nothing To See Here…Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/topics/subjects/football.html

 

Yet, because Al Jazeera is the most globalized of all Arab (or for that matter Middle Eastern) news networks, it has the greatest sway on public opinion. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt have a comparable news network with international reach. While this gives Qatar an advantage in shaping the narrative of Middle Eastern politics going forward, no one should think that this coverage is “unbiased” in the manner that traditional journalism, before the advent of 24/7 news coverage, once strived to be. As for the football? It remains to be seen how Qatar will negotiate this latest setback regarding their World Cup, since allegations of slave labor in stadium building have already been well publicized…

Football Fans Take Part In Anti-Capitalism Protests in Hamburg Surrounding the G20 Meetings as Absurdities Abound

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Poland ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg set the tone for the absurdities which would follow. Chris Cilliza, an employee for CNN (one of the major news networks guilty of publishing polarizing stories recently) tweeted a report that the Polish First Lady, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, snubbed Mr. Trump’s attempt to shake her hand during the latter’s visit to the Eastern European country. Of course, Mr. Cilliza’s poor excuse for journalism soon turned out to be “fake news”; Ms. Kornhauser-Duda did in fact shake Mr. Trump’s hand, it just did not appear in the four second video Mr. Cilliza Tweeted—perhaps it was a case of premature tweeting–and Polish President Andrzej Duda Tweeted a call to “fight fake news”. Regardless of one’s political inclinations, this event should remind everyone that they must carefully interpret what they see on the internet, lest they get sucked into the alternate reality of one-dimensional thought which is being pushed on the entire world.

 

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Tweets Fly With Abandon..Even When They’re Fake. Image Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4675312/Polish-head-blasts-critics-said-wife-SNUBBED-Trump.html

 

Unfortunately, many people bought the “fake news”, despite Mr. Duda setting the record straight. This might be, of course, because Mr. Duda is derided by media outlets (like The Guardian and CNN) for being “rightwing”. Indeed, the rightwing identity is one that the media loves to paint Poland with. Journalist Christian Davies wrote a damning portrait of Polish football fans in March of 2017, seemingly painting the whole of the country’s fans as “xenophobic white-supremacists”. Mr. Davies’ article explains the situation as such:

 

In the run-up to the Uefa European Championship in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, Poland’s then Civic Platform-led government (which was headed by Donald Tusk before he became president of the European Council in 2014) clamped down on organised hooliganism. It was feared that violence or instances of racism could disrupt the tournament and damage the country’s reputation abroad.

That provided an opening for far-right and right-wing politicians to adopt the nationalist fans’ cause, portraying them as ordinary patriots enduring harassment from a liberal government hostile to “traditional” cultural values. Their cause has also been adopted by hardliners within the Polish Catholic Church, who share PiS’s [Author’s Note: the acronym for the ruling Law and Justice Party] view that the country’s values and identity are under sustained attack by decadent, Western cosmopolitanism and the racial diversity imposed from above by Brussels.

 

Clearly, Mr. Davies’ sweeping generalizations are an example of bad journalism, similar to fake news. As a scholar of football fan culture, I am left wondering: How many Polish football fans did Mr. Davies actually speak too? My hunch would be that he did not speak to many; after all, the money in journalism comes from stating what people already believe and pandering to the readership, not from challenging existing beliefs and risking the loss of said readership. Is it true that there are xenophobic and racist football fans? Of course it is! Anyone familiar with football fan culture will know that there are more than a few fans that believe in negative ideologies. But this does not mean that all fans are conned by such violent ideologies.

After all, I would say that anything “imposed from above by Brussels”—such as “racial diversity”, to quote from the above article—is something that the citizens of Poland have a right to be miffed about, especially since Poland was once conned by internationalism and multiculturalism imposed from abroad (does anyone remember the Soviet Union!?). If people would like to defend their own countries and cultures from the meaningless mélange of globalization, then I would say they are right to stand up for nationalism. Of course, we don’t know what the football fans really think because Mr. Davies didn’t talk to them, he merely succumbed to the trend of one dimensional thought.

The same absurdities abound in the form of protests surrounding the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. The protestors say they are fighting “capitalism” and globalization”… yet they are also protesting against leaders like Mr. Trump, who himself espouses an anti-globalism and pro-nationalism point of view! It truly is an absurd situation. To make matters worse, these protestors are actually hurting local businesses. One shopkeeper whose business was destroyed, Cord Wohlke, was quoted by ABC news as saying, “I just don’t know why people would do this … It wasn’t the people who live here. They’ve done about 400,000 euros in damage. This is just criminal, not a protest”. Mr. Wohlke—like so many Hamburg residents—have every right to be upset at the violence, which doesn’t even compute ideologically. If these thugs really wanted to combat globalization they could have supported local businesses, allowing them to benefit from the G20 summit financially. Instead, they chose to destroy the city. It seems to be a dystopia indeed, just not in the manner that Croatian philospher Srecko Horvat thinks it is (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/06/hamburg-protest-g20-dystopian-nightmare-security-disunity-politics . Mr. Horvat calls German leader Angela Merkel a “leader of the free world”, ignoring that she is a globalist through and through! Mr. Horvat criticizes the G20 for implementing the Washington Consensus (perpetuating American control over the global economy) while the Guardian seemingly laments America’s “abdication” of its position as a global power (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/06/g20-summit-could-mark-end-of-us-as-global-leader-but-what-is-next at the same time. It truly does not compute, and this is where football comes into play.

 

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Hamburg is Burning and Football Fans Are Taking Part. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-09/g20-protesters-bringing-violence-to-hamburg-put-locals-off-side/8691894

 

Fittingly, Hamburg is home to St. Pauli FC, a football club known for its left-wing stance. The club is characterized by its ties to underground punk rock music and a staunchly anti-neo Nazi position; these are of course very positive and they have gained the club a cult status among world football fans. I myself find St. Pauli FC to be one of the more interesting clubs in a football scene that is being homogenized by the forces of globalization and extreme capitalism, in the form of industrial football. Unfortunately, I fear that many of the football fans who were involved in the protests—and even the St. Pauli executives, who opened the stadium doors to protestors and allowed them to camp there–are unaware of just how capitalist even an ostensibly anti-capitalist football team can be. It is a relationship that the media—purveyors of fake news and distorted facts—does not want fans to know about.

In the January 2012 issue of the academic journal Soccer & Society (Volume 13, Number 1), scholar Gerald Grigg wrote an interesting article entitled “’Carlsberg don’t make football teams . . . but if they did’: the utopian reporting of FC St Pauli in British Media”. Mr. Grigg provides a great summary of what St. Pauli FC is, while also pointing out that:

 

the real extent of such a group’s [the FC St. Pauli fans] cultural resistance may remain open to question. After all, as a professional football club, FC St Pauli still plays in a high-level organized league, pays professional players and, as a business venture, mirrors many of the same practices exhibited by other teams (Grigg, 2012: 77).

 

Although the team certainly does represent an admirably anti-racist and anti-homophobic stance, Grigg points out that the media also glosses over the less admirable qualities of the team:

 

Specific realities which may question the strength of the nostalgic and alternative picture portrayed in the reporting can also be found within the published articles, but in the main there is something of a ‘glossing over’ of the potential significance of details such as:

Signs that the modern business of football is catching up.

Sponsors [injecting] around 40 million Euro (34.6 million GBP).

They are now moving to new training facilities in 2012. 

Customers queuing up to buy merchandise … which includes toasters, rugby shirts, baby clothes, and ashtrays—all with the familiar skull-and-crossbones logo.

A rebuilding plan that will eventually see the whole stadium modernized.

Many of these facts may well represent the modernizations that occur or have already occurred across major leagues in western Europe and indicate that FC St Pauli may have more in common with their league counterparts, such as Bayern Munich and neighbors Hamburg, than it would first appear. It is interesting that the reporting which comments on such facts massively plays down their potential implications. The Times reports upon the development of the new stadium, but states that when it is completed, ‘it will never be confused with Hamburg’s UEFA five-star venue”. (Grigg, 2012: 78).

 

Grigg closes his article with a call for more first-hand studies of FC St. Pauli, to provide a fuller examination of the team in the face of the rather utopian rendering of the team by the media. For scholars of football everywhere, it is certainly a call worth heeding. By studying the absurdities of our time (like the G20 protests and the involvement of football fans in them) we can avoid the traps the mainstream media sets for us by independently analyzing situations. To show just how dangerous these traps can be, I will quote from the Guardian (one of the worst culprits of poor reporting) and present a selection from a recently published piece by an African-American writer who claims that the American flag makes him feel “afraid”:

 

As a black man post-election, I felt even less certain of what threats I might face outside my front door. Should I slow my stride so as not to startle the white woman up ahead? Should I give up my space on the sidewalk to the oncoming white man and his dog? Does my outfit identify me clearly enough as a recreational jogger and not a criminal?

 

This kind of poor reporting is, unfortunately, a clear example of racism. Yet, the author is celebrated—rather than criticized—for judging people based on the color of their skin! It is absurd that someone should be able to get away with clear racism in a mainstream news outlet, but that is the state of the world we live in. It is one dominated by the one-dimensional thought that is pushed through the media, presenting just one side of a multi-dimensional story. Is FC St. Pauli a unique football team, with a unique fan base that takes a positive stand on social issues and combats the negative elements within football fandom? Of course it is! But is it—like any football team—also a business (which also commodifies its own “alternative” image)? Again, of course it is! This is why we need to seek out an accountable media that tell us the whole story, not just part of it. Otherwise we end up with “anti-globalization” mobs protesting nationalism while, at the same time, ruining the livelihoods of their fellow citizens–the local shopkeepers–who are far from the corporatized global elites un-affected by violence in the streets.

 

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Cheers To The FC St. Pauli Fans For Staying Unique. Here Is To Hoping They Can Resist Their Own Commodification! Image Courtesy Of: http://www.footballparadise.com/punk-rockers-of-football-a-story-of-pirate-flags-and-the-anti-nazi-st-pauli/

The Pawtucket Red Sox: Baseball, The United States, and Globalization in 2017 at McCoy Stadium

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A few days ago I went to a baseball game with my little brother in the Pawtucket Rhode Island, a city that could be characterized as epitomizing the pitfalls of globalization and representing post-industrial revolution America. Author Dan Barry’s interesting account of the Pawtucket Red Sox baseball team, Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game, shows what baseball means to this depressed post-industrial town. It also shows what sport can mean to a struggling community. Although I had read the book years ago, it echoed in my mind as I sat in the seats of aging McCoy stadium with my brother, taking in a typically American sporting event in the early days of summer.

Schools were passing the time before the end of the school year by giving the kids a de facto day off by taking a field trip to the ball park; the voices of children melded together and created such a buzzing sound that my brother and I referred to them as “bees”. Later I learned that it was “kids and seniors day”, an odd combination but it made sense when my brother (himself only fifteen) pointed out that “people walk slow when they are young,” pointing to a small child negotiating the stadium steps with his father, “and they also walk slow when they are old,” no doubt referring to our father. Indeed, it is the circular nature of life that my brother—perhaps unwittingly—uncovered on this afternoon.

The afternoon consisted of a double header, two seven inning games. The first game is spent behind home plate, “the best seats in the house” as my brother said. I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of (empty) seats around us were those reserved for corporations. It was normal for them to be empty for a game with an 11 am start time, after all the owners of said seats were busy at work making the money to afford those seats. It was also an example of industrial sports at their finest, the best views go to those with the most money. The rich get richer (financially and culturally) while the rest…well, you know how the story goes.

 

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Behind the Plate, Welcome To Pawtucket. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

The first game ends with a victory for the home team as my brother and I head over to Papa Gino’s for a pizza, waiting out the twenty-minute break between games. As we wait we watch a a controversy over payment: did the woman in question pay or did she not? It is a meaningless discussion since life will go on, it is—after all—an overpriced cheese pizza that is in question. Perhaps those working could have kept track of things, but that is beyond my purview. Maybe they’ll just build some more security cameras in the future in order to ensure payment (and ensure our surveillance as well in the process).

As the second game starts we are sitting on the grassy berm in the outfield, behind the left field wall. The stadium is now empty, as both the school children and the elderly have left. This, I think to myself, is the essence of both baseball and America: the ball hitting leather, the crack of the bat, and the sun on your face. It brings you back to a simpler time…it is a time, judging by the empty stadium, that no one wants to remember. Perhaps a double header is too much; people have more important things to attend to…people must get on with their days and engage in the other American national pastime: shopping.

 

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An Empty Stadium But An Amazing Day. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

The mascots come out to amuse the few fans that are left by throwing cheap plastic balls into the stands. My brother and I each catch an oversized plastic ball, sponsored by Wendy’s, and toss it around for a few minutes. I watch a young boy and girl, probably eight or nine years old, play with the same plastic ball which they had caught. It was shades of Jack and Diane, harkening back to a time when a plastic ball could amuse as much as an iphone. It reminded me of my own obsession with plastic footballs in Turkey as a kid, as Bryce Brentz heads to the plate to the tune of country music completing the theme of Americana.

The crack of the bat turns my attention back to the game It’s a line drive foul and the visiting team’s left fielder tosses the ball into the bullpen, and the bullpen pitcher tosses it up to us. My brother fields the ball and tosses it over to me, completing a different type of life cycle. I examine the Rawlings ball—the writing half smeared by the spot where the bat made contact. “Official International League Ball”. I feel the seams and turn it around in my hand. “Made in China”. I look at the plastic Wendy’s ball . . . “Made in China”.  I yell over to my brother: “Hey-the official game ball—and the fake ball—are both made in China. This is absurd!”

 

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Made In China. Images Courtesy of the Author.

 

At that the young kid—of Jack and Diane fame—asks to no one in particular (even though Diane is standing next to him) “Why is everything made in China?”. When even a nine-year old can ask the questions politicians can’t ask, you know we live in an absurd world. At least—in this classic American scene on an early summer’s day in the post-industrial Northeast—the home team won both games of the double header.

In a Crazy World Andorra Gives Some Hope to the Underdog as They Win Their First Competitive Match Since 2004

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The news around the world has recently become more and more negative; between the threat of ISIS/ISIL, North Korea, and failing economies (and cultures) in the global West it is refreshing that football can still provide some hope and even humor. Today’s rare event is one example, as the Andorra national team stunned Hungary 1-0 in qualification for the 2018 World Cup. Surprisingly, most immediate reports of today’s qualification match day only referred to Andorra’s victory in passing: The Mirror focused on the Netherlands’ thrashing of neighbors Luxembourg while ESPN chose to focus on victories by Portugal and Sweden. Reuters were the first to focus solely on Andorra’s achievement.

Given that mainstream outlets like ESPN sometimes focuses on odd subjects in football like Saudi Arabia’s apparent “refusal” (the word ESPN chose) to participate in a moment of silence for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in London, I am surprised that they did not do a feature on Andorra’s victory. The moment of silence controversy was certainly an odd focus for a football article, given that the video clearly shows the Saudi side silently standing on their side of the field, with some players folding their hands behind their backs. The team seemed to simply be participating in the moment of silence in the manner they saw fit; unfortunately, ESPN chose to immediately interpret their actions negatively, politicizing the event and serving to further a growing divide the world over between “the West and the rest”. FIFA, of course, decided not to punish the Saudi Arabian football association after a Saudi apology, but I’m sure we all understand that—knowing FIFA—their decision most likely came down to money.

Regardless of whether one thinks the Saudi decision to “not participate” was right or wrong (personally, I would have liked it had they lined up like the Australian side did if only to avoid this needless controversy), it all comes down to intent in the end. As I always tell Sociologists, it is impossible to know people’s intents. In this case, since we cannot know the Saudi FA’s intent because we are not mind readers, it seems odd for ESPN to have immediately politicized the event (and, in the process, fueled anti-Muslim rhetoric by criticizing the Saudi Arabian team without providing any background information). Remember, after attacks in Istanbul last summer UEFA refused to hold a moment of silence at a EURO 2016 match to remember the Turkish victims of an ISIS/ISIL attack on Isanbul’s Ataturk Airport. This, of course, fuels the perception that it only matters to the world when attacks target Europeans (or Westerners), and not when they target Muslims. When this happens the important fact that the perpetrators are the same, and that the victims—regardless of their religion—are still victims is missed.

That said, I think we can all agree on the fact that Andorra’s victory is a nice, lighthearted story in world football (although perhaps not for fans of Hungary’s national football team, understandably). This is just the fifth victory in the history of Andorran football, and their first in a competitive match since a 2004 victory over FYR Macedonia. In fact, Andorra won their first match in more than 12 years when they defeated San Marino 2-0 in February of 2017. In March of 2017, there were celebrations in the tiny principality when the team got their first points in a competitive match since 2005 after drawing 0-0 with fellow minnows the Faroe Islands. The draw broke a 58 game losing streak in competitive matches dating back more than 11 years!

 

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The Celebration Was Real in Andorra! Images Courtesy of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3180032/andorra-end-dismal-run-of-58-competitive-defeats-with-faroe-islands-draw-in-world-cup-qualifying/

 

And now Andorra is actually on a three game unbeaten run in all matches dating back to February of 2017, and a two game unbeaten run in competitive fixtures since March of 2017. This means that Andorra is unbeaten in 2017 without conceding a single goal, a remarkable accomplishment for a principality sandwiched between France and Spain with a population of just over 85,000. That they could defeat Hungary, a country with a population of almost 10 million and with a rich footballing history makes these easily the biggest day in Andorran football history. It would be refreshing if mainstream sports media could focus on interesting events like this one, rather than perpetuating divides that already threaten the stability of our world. Focusing on football culture—one that most of the countries in the world shares—seems to me to be logical thing to do, and would go a long way to combat the divisiveness which has (ironically) become rampant in the globalized world.

 

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Congratulations to Andorra, a Team With a Beautiful Shirt. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3180032/andorra-end-dismal-run-of-58-competitive-defeats-with-faroe-islands-draw-in-world-cup-qualifying/

The Robots Have Arrived: A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on McDonald’s and the Rationalization of American Society in the Age of Extreme Capitalism (With Bonus Coverage of McDonald’s’ Love Affair With Industrial Football

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As an educator it is sometimes difficult to explain the intricacies of Sociological theory. Much of it is abstract and can best be understood only through real social interactions. Since too many sociologists (in the current context) shy away from actually interacting with their fellow humans (due to, mainly, political disagreements) I believe that it is important to put the subjects I teach in the context of real-life situations. A few nights ago, at the local McDonald’s, I was provided an experience that allowed me to better explain eminent Sociologist Max Weber’s concept of rationalization to my students. I shared it with them in class, and I believe it is equally relevant to the wider social world so I am choosing to share it in this context as well. After all, McDonald’s is one of the major corporations that sponsors football’s most visible competition, the FIFA World Cup.

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McDonald’s and the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Image Courtesy Of: http://bizztro.tumblr.com/post/88927751559/fifas-game-of-sponsors

 

Sociologist George Ritzer coined the term “McDonaldization” in his book “The McDonaldization of Society”. It was essentially an extension of Max Weber and his ideas regarding the development of a form of social control driven by a focus on efficiency and “means-end” concerns. This process involves a certain degree of homogenization and it is something that globalization itself perpetuates: Everything—down to our human interactions—must be rationally controlled; even the football stadium is not immune to this process. More and more new stadiums are being built in the interests of corporate profit and not the fans—what earns the the team money is the most important concern. This is why we have seen a backlash to industrial football among world football fans. The stadium has become a space for profit, not passion.  This process erodes human agency, and I saw—first hand—how this process works at my local McDonald’s.

 

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Marginal Sociologists Can Sometimes Transcend Their Own Marginality (Author’s Note: I Have Yet To Achieve That Level). Image Courtesy Of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_McDonaldization_of_Society

 

I dropped by the nearest McDonald’s for a late night snack the other day. Upon walking in I noticed that there were four (4) computer screens set up for ordering; there was just one human cashier. Since I am against the growing computerization (and mechanization) of society, I decided to wait in line so as to physically interact with a human being during my transaction. After all, the only way of telling corporations that human beings are better investments than machines is by supporting them. After waiting about three minutes I actually got the “privilege” of interacting with a human being.

 

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How Human Is The Idea Of Breaking Burgers Down Into Nationality For the World Cup? It Seems Like More Of  a Tool To Further Atomize–and Divide–Global Society In the Age of Globalization. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2014/05/taste-test-mcdonalds-2014-world-cup-brazil-and-australia-burgers/

 

I ordered one double cheeseburger (only onions and ketchup; no pickles or mustard). Assuming it would be a small purchase I presented two (2) American dollars as payment. The cashier informed me that the final price was two dollars and two cents ($2.02). I asked if $2.00 dollars was enough; it would save her the time of counting out ninety-eight cents in change and me the time of waiting. It made “sense” insofar as it reduced the need for “cents”. The cashier, for her part, did not budge. $2.02. She wanted those two cents. I searched on the floor for dropped change in vain. I pleaded for her to drop the two cents but she was adamant. $2.02. In effect, my human cashier had become as robotic as the machines that will soon push her out of a job. But, in the context of the rationalized world of extreme capitalism, she couldn’t understand that she had lost her human agency. If she had cut me some slack—as a human being could (and arguably should)—she would be held accountable by her manager for the missing two cents in her register at the end of her shift. And I get that. But I also get that it represents the kind of bureaucratic rationalization that Max Weber argues leaves human beings bereft of their own human agency. My cashier on this night might have saved the McDonald’s corporation from losing two cents, but that will not keep the McDonald’s corporation from laying her off in favor of a computer somewhere down the line. This particular cashier was all too willing to earn the company profit—which will likely not trickle down to her paygrade—at the expense of having a human interaction. In fact, for two cents, she even risked losing a customer (After all, I am not opposed to criticism of corporations who subscribe to the values of extreme capitalism, such as Starbucks).

 

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Again, in 2006, McDonald’s Was At the Forefront of Football Advertising. Image Courtesy Of: http://fifaworldcup.tk/fifa-world-cup/fifa-world-cup-2006-logo

 

In the end I decided to order a second double cheeseburger (since two are $3.20) so as to at least get more “bang for my buck(s)” (and to get less change). As I waited for the food, however, I became more and more incensed at the blatantly impersonal nature of the modern fast food restaurant. Eventually I lost my appetite. Rather than refuse the food (an action which I, for a moment, contemplated), I decided to take it and walked out hoping (for possibly the first time in my life) that one of the famous panhandlers in my city would accost me looking for money. When one did—asking for a dollar so as to purchase a bus ticket to a city more than five hours away—I made my own move: “I don’t have any money for you, but I do have two hot McDonald’s double cheeseburgers with only onions and ketchup—will you take them?” At that a smile crept across the gentleman’s face and I presented him with the food I had ordered. It was fitting that—in a dehumanizing world—we can still strive for humanizing experiences (even if extreme capitalism tries, at times, to suppress our own humanity).

 

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Like Starbuck’s, McDonald’s Might Attempt to Send a Multicultural Image (Look At the Clearly Inter-ethnic Display of the Four Children In This Advertisement) But That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Pursue The Kind Of Global Homogenization That Globalism and Globalization Encourage; A Kind of Discriminatory Cultural Imperialism That Erases All That Is Local. Image Courtesy Of: http://bizztro.tumblr.com/post/88927751559/fifas-game-of-sponsors

 

 

Troubling Times for Democracy All Over the World: A Few Thoughts from a Marginal Sociologist on the Budding Hobbesian War of All Against All in the Field of Culture and the Threat It Poses to Democracy

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When I wake up in the morning my usual routine consists of a cup of tea and a cursory search of “news” on Google so as to get as varied of a perspective that I can. The very fact that the vast majority of news outlets available to American readers are extremely biased towards either end of the ideological spectrum is concerning in and of itself; this type of polarization does not bode well for the future of “democracy” (in “quotes” because it is, itself, a debatable concept) in the United States, or the coherence of American society.

 

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A Useful Graphic With Which to Navigate the Culture Wars. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/check-political-bias-media-site/

 

That some news outlets are so questionable (to an unprecedented degree) is extremely worrisome. Yet, sometimes, even the “questionable” outlets can call out other “questionable” outlets in the form of a Hobbesian “war of all against all” in the media field (Bellum omnium contra omnes in the Latin for those readers who, like me,  slaved away studying Latin in high school). The Rightist Breitbart media (rightly) called out the false reporting of “Left” leaning Time Magazine in a very surprising—and sports related—story. Time Magazine Tweeted that Olympian Fencer “Ibtihaj Muhammad was detained because of President Trump’s travel ban”, and a subsequent story by  Motto, a Time publication, failed to rescind their earlier statement even though Ms.Muhammad explicately tweeted—four days after her original post—that her detention occurred in December (during previous President Barack Obama’s administration, and not during President Trump’s).

 

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Time Magazine’s Poor Journalism and Why We Should Always Question Media. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2017/02/14/muslim-american-olympian-claimed-detained-trump-travel-ban-detained-obama/

 

While Breitbart provides a portion of Ms. Muhammad’s interview (where she misleadingly insinuates that she was directly affected by Mr. Trump’s “ban”) The Washington Examiner quotes a customs official who, confirming that she was detained for less than an hour, said “She comes and goes many times. She travels quite extensively. She has never been stopped before. She wasn’t targeted. The checks are totally random; random checks that we all might be subject to.” And this is the issue. People have been detained at U.S. airports long before Donald Trump became President. The supposedly “totally random” checks are not all that random—I myself have been detained upon returning to the United States from Turkey and treated extremely disrespectfully by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (this happened under Mr. Obama’s administration, I may add); my only fault was coming from Turkey and being half-Turkish. Clearly, these checks are not so “random” and these are things that the Leftist media would be better served addressing; as I myself have noted before the dystopian nature of American airports is alarming. But to blame it on a specific President—without looking at the bigger picture—is worrisome and brings into question the very existence of an independent media.

In my mornings I also focus on Turkish news. Unfortunately, in the past few months, the news coming from the two countries has—surprisingly—become more and more similar! Since the attempted coup of July 15, 2015 more than 33,000 employees have been dismissed by the Turkish Ministry of Education; on 7 Februrary 2015 it was announced that more than 4,400 civil servants—including police and 330 academics—have been purged in the crackdown following the attempted putsch. Even Turkish diplomats are fearing for their lives in this authoritarian climate. The Turkish state is exercising its power to the fullest extent; emphasizing a Weberian “monopoly on the legitimate use of force”. Interestingly, the situation is not very different in the United States and it is something that should be worrisome for those concerned about the state of democracy worldwide.

In the United States there seems to be a power struggle between the intelligence agencies and President Trump (no doubt if it happened elsewhere it would be covered with a much more critical eye by the U.S. state media). The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. intelligence officials are withholding information from the President of the United States; this is clearly worrisome, since it would seem—to anyone—that this would hinder any good faith attempt for Mr. Trump to actually do the job that he was democratically elected to do. I put it in italics to emphasize a point that, clearly, many in the U.S. seem to not understand. One such pundit, Bill Kristol, went so far as to say “Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state”. For the uninitiated, “The ‘deep state’ is jargon for the semi-hidden army of bureaucrats, officials, retired officials, legislators, contractors and media people who support and defend established government policies”. Any of those familiar with Turkish politics will know how dangerous the deep state is for democracy, and it is something that I have mentioned before.

 

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The Insulting Words Of a Woefully Uninformed Man Who Has Only Lived The Privileged Life of the United States. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/02/15/bill-kristol-backs-deep-state-president-trump-republican-government/

 

While the dismissal of Mr. Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may not be the worst thing in the world (according to the Economist who are known for their sober analyses; please see here and here) , it does raise other questions—but not the type The Economist raises. Surprisingly, it was Bloomberg News’ Eli Lake who provided a useful analysis:

[F]or a White House that has such a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth, it’s strange that Flynn’s “lie” to Pence would get him fired. It doesn’t add up […]

It’s very rare that reporters are ever told about government-monitored communications of U.S. citizens, let alone senior U.S. officials. The last story like this to hit Washington was in 2009 when Jeff Stein, then of CQ, reported on intercepted phone calls between a senior Aipac lobbyist and Jane Harman, who at the time was a Democratic member of Congress. Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do […]

[A]ll these allegations are at this point unanswered questions. It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government. Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals.

 

These words—particularly the bolded portions—should deeply upset any American who cares for the semblance of “democracy” that they currently enjoy. Regardless of one’s political position, one should be concerned when a state begins to attack its citizens for doing nothing that is actually illegal (especially after rumors have come from both the “Right” and the “Left” that former President Mr. Obama is planning a “challenge” to Mr. Trump). Were Mr. Flynn’s actions questionable? Sure. But they were not illegal. And when the state’s intelligence agencies—ostensibly neutral—begin to undermine an elected government it is a slippery slope. Rather than celebrate these attacks on an elected government Americans would do well to realize that they risk surrendering their own “democracy”—with their own hands—to a nebulous, anonymous, and (most alarmingly) unelected group of individuals in the intelligence community. As alarming as Mr. Trump may be for some people, he is still—ostensibly—at least accountable to the people. That is something that cannot be said for the “deep state”, and this may be one of the biggest threats to democracy in American history (in the same way the totalitarian ideology of globalization represents a threat to democracy worldwide: just look to Turkey for an example).

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