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Beware Mass Media: The New York Times’s Coverage of Turkish Football and Politics is a Veritable Disaster

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The New York Times Looks to Portray Hakan Sukur as the Aggrieved Victim in His Upscale Cafe. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/sports/hakan-sukur.html

 

U.S. President Donald Trump has been much maligned for his criticism of mainstream news outlets like the New York Times; he has indeed repeatedly criticized them for being “fake news” and has described them as “failing”. Of course, as is to be expected, the main (lame)stream media—like CNN—have hit back at Mr. Trump’s criticism with columns like Brian Stelter’s; that this particular column should carry the heading “Reliable Sources” is almost as absurd as the name of the Soviet Union’s main newspaper, Pravda, which was translated as “True”. Interestingly, Mr. Stelter’s claim that the New York Times (NYT) is not failing is based on purely economic concerns; Fortune reports that Mr. Trump’s opposition to the NYT has only served to bolster the periodical, whose stock was trading at a nine year high as of July 2017. Reuters corroborates this claim, as the globalist news outlet reported profits of over 15 million dollars in the second quarter of 2017.

 

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Mr. Trump Tends to Criticize the New York Time’s Poor Reporting. Since Turkish Football is a Subject I Know A lot About, I Have To Agree Here. Image Courtesy Of: http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/02/media/new-york-times-president-trump/index.html

 

What is surprising is that CNN and Fortune do not seem to understand that the “success” of a news outlet is not defined in terms of profit; rather its success is defined by its service to the people. Norwegian-American Sociologist Thorstein Veblen pointed out long ago that the commercialization of both media and education would have negative consequences, since it would mean that both would write for profits and—by extension—for the interests of those who would be providing investment. Taken in these terms, it should be clear that the main (lame)stream media is most certainly failing; they are writing in the interests of the global capitalist elite, but not at all in the interests of the millions of middle and lower class citizens at large.

A recent piece in the New York Times—written by John Branch about famous Turkish footballer Hakan Sukur—is a perfect example of the failing New York Times and, indeed, the failing main(lame) stream media in general. The 3 May 2018 piece makes Mr. Sukur out to be an innocent refugee, escaping an “authoritarian regime”; it is a portrait of an immigrant “trying to build his own American dream for his family”. While this, of course, follows the pro-immigrant and pro-victim narrative of globalism, the truth is a bit more complicated than Mr. Branch admits (or, perhaps, even knows—after all, journalism in the modern era has become a refuge for surface level analyses which often lack knowledge of deeper details). While many of my fellow Sociologists mock “the American Dream”, it is interesting that the NYT is so eager to bring it up—especially when looking to legitimate a famous figure who is being described as an innocent victim.

The reality is that Mr. Sukur was once a close ally of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan—indeed, he eventually resigned from his position as an MP in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and came under attack from Mr. Erdogan himself, mainly because of his support for the shadowy Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. While it is likely that Mr. Sukur did not have full knowledge of Mr. Gulen’s plans for Turkey, his support for the cleric is undeniable. He was likely a pawn, whose celebrity status could be used in order to sway public opinion in Turkey (similar to the way Lebron James is used in the U.S.), but that does not excuse the New York Times’ atrocious reporting.

 

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A Bizarre Triangle…Mr. Erdogan (Left), Mr. Sukur (Center), and Mr. Gulen (Right). Image Courtesy Of: http://kaanil.blogcu.com/hakan-sukur-fethullah-gulen-le-ne-konustu/18008146

 

In Mr. Branch’s story, he seems to insinuate that the attempted coup of 15 July 2016 was a good thing (after all, authoritarian regimes are “bad” and need toppling). Please see the passage in question:

It was his [Mr. Sukur’s] first interview since he left Turkey in 2015, nearly a year before the 2016 deadly coup that tried, and failed, to topple the authoritarian regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former friend and political ally.

This kind of framing—a topic I have written about in the past—would lead the uninformed reader to believe that a coup deposing an “authoritarian” leader would be a “good” thing. Of course, this is far from the truth—a successful Gulenist coup in Turkey would have been disastrous. Still, this is the kind of shoddy reporting that has come to be the norm in the United States, a place where famous political commentators like Bill Maher openly call for coups to depose leaders they don’t like (such as Mr. Trump).

The most insidious passage—indeed, the most repulsive portion—of Mr. Branch’s reporting, however, comes in his description of Mr. Gulen’s Hizmet movement:

Gulen’s Hizmet movement has, for decades, infiltrated Turkey’s institutions with a moderate strain of Islam, trying to nudge the country from the inside toward democracy, education and cultural openness more associated with Europe than much of today’s Middle East.

I have bolded the most important parts since they are, in my mind, absurd. That the New York Times—one of the leading news providers in not only the United States, but the entire world—should describe a movement which attempted to subvert Turkish democracy by attempting a military coup as one which tried to “nudge the country toward democracy” is a gross misrepresentation of reality. The New York Times seems to think that they can shape public opinion by using catch phrases and catch words like “moderate Islam”, “cultural openness”, and “democracy” in order to shape public opinion. This is, very clearly, an egregious example of an attempt by the media to support a very dangerous man in the name of progressive politics.

Observers should be aware of the duplicitous nature of the globalist mass media which prefers to play on emotions rather than report on facts. Mr. Gulen is no democrat, nor is he a champion of any kind of Islam; rather, he is a capitalist who looks to transform Islam into one more amenable to capitalist ideals (as the sociologist Cihan Tugal masterfully explains in his book Passive Revolution: Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism). That the New York Times would support a man who quite possibly ordered the bombing of his own nation’s parliament—and whose purported actions killed almost three hundred innocent people—as a supporter of “democracy” is both absurd and extremely troubling. For those of us who expect veracity from our news media—and despite the fact that ABC news thinks “The Colbert Report” is legitimate news (it is not)—this kind of reporting needs to be called out. It has no place in a country which prides itself on “freedom of the press”. We should all strive to take back our countries, and our free press, in the process.

 

 

 

 

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The Grammys and the Pro Bowl: Two Cultural Spectacles Amidst the Attempted (Re)education of America

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Sometimes it feels as if the whole of American society is going through a sort of attempted re-education. I have already written about the sad state of American academia, yet the attempts at re-education are visible elsewhere as well. They are evident in attempts to re-write American history (also here), and they are apparent in the demonization of police and the rule of law. The common denominator in these attempts at re-education is their focus on division, rather than unity. Unfortunately, the culture industry is a major tool in this divisive re-education.

Sunday 28 January 2018 is a good example of how this divisive form of re-education takes place. On this Sunday there were two major events vying for airtime in the United States: the first was the NFL Pro Bowl, the all star celebration between the AFC and NFC; the second was the 60th annual Grammy awards. The solution was . . . playing the Pro Bowl in the afternoon so as to not compete with the prime time Grammys. Of course, that also meant playing the football game in conditions which, at times, bordered on monsoon level. Despite the hiccups, I can say that Pro Bowl 2018 was definitely a nice experience; I have no doubt that it was much more pleasant than the Grammys (to be discussed later).

The Pro Bowl is, admittedly, a manufactured experience, as SB Nation notes. It is, of course, a great example of the kind of commercialization of sport that the United States is famous for. Ironically, the Pro Bowl is American football without the violence that is so often criticized . . . which means that, in the end, no one watches it. The situation is emblematic of what might be American English’s few proverbs: you’re damned if you and you’re damned if you don’t. Despite the rampant commercialization, it was still a human experience. Like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ display of proper parenting on national TV (something that is usually missing in the United States, due to the demise of the concept of “family”), the Pro Bowl offered me many opportunities to interact with some amazing people.

 

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The Pro Bowl had its Human Side As Well at Camping World Stadium. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

It was nice to see fans from all over the United States, donning the jerseys of their favorite teams, who had come to one stadium to quite literally hang out. I met a few Manchester United fans visiting from England who were able to point out the absurdities of the US: “So…the drinking age is 21 but you can go off to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan at 18?” . . . “Yep” . . . “Wait . . . you can’t bet on sports in the United States?” . . . “Nope” . . . and I had to add that, yes, few American football stadiums have covered stands when most top level European football stadiums—even lower tier stadiums—have at least one covered stand. It is the absurdity of America, it is also the uniqueness of America—uncouth and immature as it may be. I met a Denver Broncos fan from Cleveland who lamented the financial mismanagement of some NFL players, who manage to blow through millions of dollars without realizing that their careers are, quite dependent, on their own ability to stay healthy. Despite the over-commodified nature of the Pro Bowl, it was clear that—in American society—we can come together when we need to in the name of sports. As my British friends pointed out, in Britain the site of so many different jerseys would be enough to start a brawl.

What is shocking is that Sunday’s second event, The Grammys, was so different. It started with U.S. President’s Twitter spat with rap artist Jay-Z, whose criticism of Mr. Trump was met with a response that the unemployment rate for black workers is the lowest in 45 years. Unfortunately for Jay-Z, this was not his only embarrassment—despite being the most nominated artist at the Grammys he went home empty handed. Yet this feud was just a prelude to what the Grammys would become—a political s***(side?) show as music artists gave their political opinions one after another (a run down, which I will not deign go into here, can be found here).

 

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A Pretty Funny Tweet; Also Interesting That a U.S. President is Actually Interacting with a Citizen. Sadly, such Alternative Interpretations are Missing From Mainstream Media Since They Don’t Fit the Narrative. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/01/28/trump-rips-jay-z-for-remarks-on-african-american-unemployment.html

 

The irony of it all was, of course, that hyper-commodified music had become hyper-politicized. This is one reason I do not listen to new music; in a bid to follow the logic of late stage capitalism—where profit is king—most music has come to sound the same. It is emblematic of a society that has killed creativity. But it also begs the question: Why do we care what billionaire celebrities in a music business, that is less art and more money, think about politics? The last time I checked, neither Jay Z or Bono had been reading the latest theories in political science or sociology. They are not “left” in any traditional sense of the word; indeed Karl Marx is likely spinning in his grave after Hillary Clinton’s appearance on stage.  And that is why a technocratic government, propped up by the propaganda of the culture industry, is a very dangerous thing indeed. We are swiftly becoming two Americas: One that cares about mass culture, and another that does not. In order to bridge this growing gap, however, we will need new minds that can transcend the one dimensional thought emanating from the culture industry and academia. We are still human beings with an ability to think independently; I would say it is high time we recognize it in order to resist this cultural (re)education.

Football and Geopolitics: Behind the FIFA Scandal

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May 27 2015 will prove to be a day that lives in infamy—the day scandal rocked world soccer’s governing body, leaving 14 FIFA officials under arrest in Zurich, Switzerland. This is, of course, old news. I’ll try to make it interesting by putting the whole surreal event in a geopolitical context. Lets start with the basics. It was the United States Department of Justice that spearheaded the operation in a 164-page 47-count indictment. In some ways it felt like turning back the clock; the United States of America emerging from its isolation to ostensibly “save the world” by crossing the oceans as in World War One and World War Two. Of course, there were reasons for this particular move since parts of the scandal pertained directly to the United States of America; the Economist outlines them nicely. A video version for those averse to reading is available courtesy of CNN.

The United States has, since World War Two, controlled much of the world system indirectly through both formal and informal international organizations, befitting its hegemonic role. Financially it was initially through the Bretton Woods system, since then it has been the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Politically control came first through Woodrow Wilson’s brainchild the League of Nations, now there is the New York headquartered United Nations. Culturally the United States has been able to influence the world to a great extent as well; first through Hollywood and music, now it is through technological advancements such as iPhones and iPods, Google, Facebook and Twitter that American culture is felt the world over.

The one sphere in which the United States has failed to make a global impact is, arguably, the world of sports. Indeed the results of a 2014 Harris poll, which has asked Americans aged 18 and older the simple question, “What is your favorite sport?” every year since 1985, tell us that Americans are very USA-centric when it comes to sport.

 

America’s Favorite Sports in 2014 (Courtesy of ESPN)

The National Football League (NFL)(Professional [American] Football): 35%

Major League Baseball (MLB) (Professional Baseball): 14%

College Football (NCAA): 11%

Auto Racing: 7%

National Basketball Association (Professional US Basketball): 6%

National Hockey League (Professional Hockey): 5%

College Basketball (NCAA): 3%

 

The top three vote getters—and more than half of the entire poll’s respondents and 60 percent—listed sports played almost entirely in the United States as their favorite sports. The next highest sport listed is Auto Racing. Although this is a global sport—think of Formula 1 and Rally cars—I personally believe that responders had NASCAR (Again, very American) in mind when answering this question. That leaves the NBA and the NHL—just 11 percent of all respondents called these two their favorite sports—as the only ostensibly international sports to make the list. I say ostensibly because although basketball is played all over the world—and the NBA has been making itself more international with each passing year—it is still a very different game than FIBA’s Euroleague, to name one. Hockey is international in the sense that the NHL has 7 Canadian teams (alongside 23 American teams), but I’m sure very few responders cited in this poll had ever watched a game from Russia’s KHL. Hockey also has a fairly small fan base, limited to those living in northern climates along a belt stretching from Vancouver to the steppes of Central Asia and going only as far south as, perhaps, Zurich, along that belt outside of the United States.

Soccer is certainly the one place in world sport—and world culture, for that matter—that the rest of the world has a chance to best the United States. And it is this chance for “the rest to beat the best of the West”—the battle between the global South and global North played out on the pitch—that gives international football, and the World Cup in particular, its unparalleled allure. The recently departed Eduardo Galeano’s masterpiece Soccer in Sun and Shadow explains the phenomenon well without explicitly saying it (and therein lies the book’s genius, at least for me). So why did the United States focus its power on FIFA, what I explained in my thesis was arguably the first international organization and the globe’s first foray into global civil society, when the US isn’t even interested in the sport? The answer may lie in the organization’s history. FIFA was founded in 1904 in the midst of a different era, the era of empires when the hegemonic power base was located in colonialist Europe and old world territorial powers such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russian Empire, and Ottoman Empire were in decline. Fledgling nations rushed to achieve FIFA membership in order to affirm their independence—to states such as Lebanon, Syria, and others, emerging from the ashes of empires that had long controlled them as dusty peripheral provinces from lavish imperial palaces in far-off capitals, FIFA Membership was what NATO membership now means to Georgia, what European Union membership now means to Ukraine and Serbia. Membership to FIFA was a bold statement to the world: We Have Arrived! And this feeling has not gone away. Today there are 209 members in FIFA. Compare that to the 193 official member states of the United Nations. Look at Palestine’s attempts to push Israel out of FIFA if you don’t believe that FIFA membership can provide succor to those unable to get a seat at the United Nations at which to air their grievances. Perhaps the United States moved to strike a blow at an international institution that had strayed from its original goal of bringing together nations in fair play for everyone’s benefit; it was not founded to line the pockets of a few corrupt officials after all. So, like the American interventions in both World Wars, this can be looked at as another benign intervention by the world’s superpower in order to save the (sporting) world from itself. But there are other theories as well.

As many know, the nexus of the FIFA scandal lies in the bribes received by officials in return for, among other things, votes in choosing World Cup hosts. The hosts of the next two World Cups—as chosen by the aforementioned officials—are Russia (in 2018) and Qatar (in 2022). Both of these countries have something else in common—they are, on some scale, geopolitical rivals of the United States. And both won the right to host their respective World Cups over the United States’ interests; chief US ally England lost out to Russia in 2018 and Qatar beat out the United States’ own bid for 2022. Clearly, the United States could not sit idly by when the chance at winning a considerable amount of soft power influence in the world for themselves and their ally went by the way side. Russia has long been a geopolitical rival to the United States; Qatar is using the confusing situation in the Middle East to cement their role as a regional power in a region key to the United States’ foreign policy interests and hope that hosting a major sporting event such as the World Cup can add to their influence in the region. South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula represents another voice from the global South who criticized the U.S. move by mentioning the U.S./British alliance, saying that it is “for the United States and Britain to fight their own battles: ‘We have fought colonialism and defeated it and we still fight imperialism and we will fight it whenever it manifests itself.’

With the stakes this high, the United States’ move may still pay off. Although FIFA insists that there will be no re-vote for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cups, signs are showing that nothing is certain. Human rights groups have called on Qatar to publish the death figures for workers building stadiums for the tournament and it is estimated that 1200 migrant workers have died in the construction since 2014. Long-time FIFA president Sepp Blatter—who was reelected days ago despite the scandal—resigned on June 2 from his position at the head of Soccer’s governing body. These events—along with UEFA president Michel Platini’s long standing issue with the 2022 World Cup’s potential to affect the European football season—signal to me that a re-consideration may be on the cards.

In such a globalized world—where the World Cup has become bigger than ever—it is only fitting for the world’s sole superpower, the United States, to take a leading role. And in this increasingly interconnected world it is equally fitting that geopolitics is intimately linked with cultural and sporting events.

I find it refreshing that some action has been taken against corruption in world football. But there is still more to be done—the Economist warns that the endemic corruption in sports goes beyond just Sepp Blatter because “sports corruption is a reflection of wider problems—sport merely being an organism to which criminal succubi attach themselves—it is too formidable for sporting organisations to tackle alone.” For the sake of the game we all love let’s hope the United States’ intervention keeps the game from turning into a vehicle to make the rich richer. In David Goldblatt’s words, “the entire football industry has traded on the notion that the game really is the most global cultural practice in the world, a rare form of universalism on a divided planet. That, if nothing else, is worth salvaging from the wreckage.” I can only agree.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://pulse.ng/sports/football/sepp-blatter-resignation-sepp-blatter-resignation-the-football-world-reacts-id3822195.html

Memorial Day 2015: Boom Towns, Re-Building Towns, and Ghost Towns BONUS: Austin Aztex Home Shirt 2010

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The Boom Town

Driving into Austin at 10 pm on a Monday night you see lights, lots of lights. They could almost stun you, the driver, who was all but lulled to sleep for over 150 miles on the smooth pitch-black roadway from Houston. But the speed limit was raised from 70 to 75. So that is a plus. In between the neon signs advertising Target, HEB, Super 8 Motel, and Fiesta you head down I-35 as the lights of downtown Austin almost overpower the highway, the cranes that dot the horizon distract you and take your eyes off the road for a few seconds. The small town has become a metropolis overnight, or so it seems.

Austin, Texas, America (as 98.1 KVET says) is indeed America’s fastest growing city—it experienced 12 percent growth from 2010-2013. They say 110 people are moving to Austin every day. But that migration isn’t necessarily positive, as a 2014 Austin American Stateman article explains. Many smaller homes are being demolished to make way for high-end luxury condos, the kind of gentrification—exacerbating the wage gap—that has made people around the United States and the world disgruntled. On the surface, it all makes sense:

“For the sellers, many of whom raised their families in the homes, the demand for lots in their neighborhoods offers an opportunity to cash out at a price that can exceed the value of their property. For the buyers, it’s a chance to live in a central area, near shopping, dining and entertainment, while avoiding the headaches that can come with an older home.”

But some residents quoted in the article beg to differ. Mark Rogers, who holds a PhD in art history from UT Austin and has lived in east Austin for 30 years, says that “It’s kind of like losing memory through the loss of structures…That’s what architecture does – it connects you to your memories and your experiences, and when you have so much change that a whole neighborhood and eventually a city changes, we kind of have collective Alzheimer’s.” Resident Mary Standifer adds “there is a sense that people are gutting the neighborhood, not blending with it or becoming part of it. You want people to move here because they want to join in your neighborhood, not because they want to reinvent it.” Austin developer Ed Wendel went so far as to warn “We are hollowing the middle class out of Austin.” Just like industrial football has pushed the original fans away from the game, so too has gentrification pushed the original residents out of a formerly sleepy city in central Texas that is now home to a Formula One race.

The next morning you wake up road wary and want breakfast tacos. The same 85 cent breakfast tacos you ate so often as a student in a stiflingly hot room, under the sign that read

“The heat you feel / waiting for your meal

is a small price / so maybe think twice

The cost to keep you cool / would be passed on to you

so please refrain / to complain / about no air conditioning”

You want those tacos that filled you up for three dollars and change. But the Tamale House—the one you had discovered long before it was featured in the New York Times— no longer exists. It closed after the owner’s death, may he rest in peace. The neighborhood isn’t even the same anymore. The seedy old service station down the road has become a shiny new In-N-Out Burger, advertising jobs for 10.25 an hour and attracting clientele among Austin’s newest residents from California.

But that isn’t all that’s gone from Austin. A cursory look around will tell you that. The great Omlettry building with its mural is slated for destruction. Fran’s Hamburgers, which you once tasted out of pure curiosity, is gone only to make way for that mass-produced (yet “local”) taco chain Torchy’s. Austin Eater has a long list of other Austin dining institutions that are being cleared out in order to make way for shiny new restaurants; even one former Tex-Mex place is becoming (again) luxury apartments. You can only suppose that rents are getting harder to afford…or maybe it is just greed, a desire to “cash-out” while the getting is good.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://austin.eater.com/2015/5/18/8621885/the-omelettry-s-iconic-burnet-building-will-be-demolished-next-week

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Image Courtesy Of: http://austin.eater.com/2015/1/22/7871571/check-out-the-destruction-of-old-fran-s-hamburgers

So that is the boom-town of Austin, Texas, America. You leave more than a little disappointed. You’ve spent three years of your life here but it feels as if those that moved here last week feel more at home in the city than you do. But you comfort yourself with a visit to the old House Park and the old Austin Aztex jersey you own—the one that moved to Orlando and became MLS’ Orlando City FC. Who knows how much longer House Park will house a team, given the recent flooding…then again, cities can recover from floods.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/Crysta_Lee/status/603064428251086848/photo/1

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The Re-Building Town

You walk down Tulane Avenue, the terminus (or beginning, depending on how you look at it) of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61. Looking around tells you that New Orleans is a seedy place. Young men staggering around in wife beaters on the second floor balconies of cheap motels stop to stare at you, the newcomer who is so conspicuously out of place. You look away, focusing on the cracks of the uneven sidewalks trying not to fall on your face. One intersection reminds you of an eastern European city, the lush green park in the median dominated by the statue of a hero from a bygone era—in this case it is Jefferson Davis.

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Underneath the I-10 underpass is an above ground cemetery, one that survived the horrors of Katrina when the flood waters came through. Across the street is an abandoned University of New Orleans building, graffiti covering those areas a person can reach. Soon the seediness gives way to debauchery. Blonde girls taking part in bachelorette parties sport t-shirts reading “that’s what she said” while drinking grenades, young men on the prowl wearing identical button downs are drinking Bud Lights, while older couples take in the scene while sipping cocktails. It seems as if everyone from 20 to 60 is strolling down Bourbon Street in an alcohol-fueled haze. Its on the parallel side streets of the iconic French quarter where you really get a feel for this unique American city that feels more like Europe, the French architecture and overhanging balconies provide you with endless stimulation as long as you don’t step in the puddles of vomit when distracted. Its only ten o’clock but the night is just getting started.

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It is nice to get out of the touristic quarters and spend some time in other areas of the city. You visit the Southern Art Museum and take in some “culture” all the while ignoring the two girls who stumble up the stairs with drinks in hand. Classy is all that you can think. After that you head to the Louisiana Superdome, the massive American football stadium that housed survivors during Katrina. The roads that were flooded then have since been rebuilt, leaving no traces of the destruction. Walking along the historic tram line (which also reminds you of eastern Europe) on Saint Charles Avenue you head towards Tulane University, the wide green boulevard tells you that this is a more affluent side of the city. Its seediness remains where empty Budweiser bottles lie in the gutter but its nothing you can’t get over. The kind owners of the Blind Pelican even offer you a signed shirt, there you learn that New Orleans is back among the fifty largest U.S. cities for the first time since hurricane Katrina. So it is possible for cities to come back from the worst of disasters. It doesn’t surprise you; the city has a unique charm to it despite everything.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/hurricane-katrina-superdome/

 

The Ghost Town

Just off I-40 near Hickory North Carolina exists a peculiar site on the side of a two lane back road—a small village that has become a ghost town. Henry River Mill Village was once a small textile village before the mill closed, now it is up for sale for over 1 million dollars. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, you think, and indeed everything is cyclical. The boom comes, the bust comes, and then the rebuilding comes. If Austin is at the height of its cycle and New Orleans is trying to come around, then the crumbling houses of Henry River Mill Village are at the bottom of their cycle, burst by the industrial revolution, but they might cost someone a pretty penny someday. You can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of a ghost town being resuscitated by Hollywood but then again, this is America. Everything can happen. Your mind spins as you walk along between the shattered houses, but you can’t feel the shattered dreams in this atmosphere. It is the golden hour just before sunset on a late Spring day and the chirping of birds is all you hear, dotted by the occasional sounds of a passing car. You want to lie down on the grass and take it all in. But you don’t. You need to keep moving. You head back to your car parked in front of the abandoned company store that advertises pastries from another time.

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All These Roads That Lead to Nowhere in Particular

You’ve been driving for 12 days and over 4000 miles. You only have about 500 left and you want to go for a walk. You need to stretch those legs. Ahead of you, on pavement dotted by sprouts of grass, you read “This way to Hell”. You snicker, even if you are sure that someone, somewhere, thinks Hell is in Pennsylvania. “Death Ahead. Turn Back”. “Yeah, ok,” you think, looking at a lone cross sticking in the grass as if for guidance. The birds are chirping, the sun beats down, and there is no one in sight. There are no cars to hear. On either side of you trees reach to the heavens along the highway to Hell. Besides the birds, all you can hear is your Nikes beating against the crumbling pavement. You walk the (dotted) line like Johnny Cash. Its like a death march, one and half miles in a straight line under the sun. You shouldn’t have worn a dark blue shirt. But you did. Then you see what you wanted to see. No, it is not the “Hail Satan” poking through the bushes. It is the wide black expanse cut into the mountainside, Rays Hill Tunnel, where scenes from the movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s great novel The Road was filmed.

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Some portions, like the tunnel operator’s room, feel like they are straight out of a horror film. Other portions, like the walls, are dotted with graffiti. Some are eulogies to lost love, most are so vulgur they make you almost ashamed to be reading them. But you do, as you feel the cool moist air of the tunnel fall all around you. But you can’t relax here. The feeling is too odd, too uncomfortable, too chilling. That feeling might be called reality: The reality that nothing is permanent, not nature (this was, after all, an unspoiled mountain side before the Pennsylvania turnpike) and not any man made structure (nature is slowly reclaiming what was taken from it, busting through the concrete). So while we build cities by destroying what we built as in Austin or build cities in the wake of nature’s wrath as in New Orleans it is important to recognize that none of it is permanent. We are all temporary in the histories of our cities, of our countries, and of our world.

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Before the Graffiti:

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Images Courtesy of: http://www.briantroutman.com/highways/abandonedpaturnpike/

 

So, on Memorial Day Weekend, I urge readers in the United States to celebrate the beginning of summer and remember the fallen soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the United States of America so that we may live in this country, an ever-changing country full of all kinds of cities and towns. To readers outside of the U.S., I urge you to celebrate the beginning of summer and get out and explore lesser-known parts of your countries–you never know what might be out there.

Happy Memorial Day and Have a Great Summer!

 

NOTE: All Images Property of the Author (thisisfootballislife.wordpress.com) Unless Otherwise Stated.

From Baltimore to Belgrade (and Back)

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Baltimore and Belgrade. They couldn’t be farther apart. Perhaps the only thing that brings them together is the fact that both city’s names begin with the letter “B” and end with the letter “E”. Yet despite their differences, the two have been brought together, at least for the purposes of this post, due to . . .rioting. As many may know Baltimore was affected by two days of violent rioting following the death of Freddie Gray which gave way to calm on the night of Tuesday, April 28—no doubt due in most part to the presence of 2,000 National Guard troops and 1,000 additional police officers enforcing a 10:00pm-5:00am (22:00-05:00) curfew. It may seem harsh, but the widespread riots—shown on the map below—left authorities no choice.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/28/us/baltimore-riots/

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.buzzfeed.com/lynzybilling/here-are-the-most-powerful-photos-from-the-baltimore-riots#.sjbzL58DO

Sports, like many representations of “normal” life were not unaffected. Due to the curfew baseball’s Baltimore Orioles announced via Twitter that their Tuesday, April 28 game against the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards Stadium would be postponed and that Wednesday’s game would be played behind closed doors. While football fans may be used to games being closed to the public and played without fans, U.S. baseball fans are certainly not. This kind of thing is unprecedented in U.S. sports, but will most certainly happen in Belgrade next weekend. Now, lets look at Belgrade for a moment before returning to Baltimore.

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The Baltimore Orioles’ Announcement. Image Courtesy of: https://twitter.com/orioles/status/593124360963031040

 

On Saturday April 25 the “Eternal Derby” in Serbia between Belgrade rivals Partizan Belgrade and Red Star Belgrade lived up to its billing as one of the world’s most dangerous derbys—at least 50 people were injured and there were 40 arrests in the chaos. Graphic pictures and videos of the riot show supporters launching flares and hurling seats at police while many are left bloodied and stunned in the stands. One could look for a political motive in all of this; after all, many derbies in European football are characterized by deep-seated animosities between fan bases stemming from, among other things, ethnic differences, class differences, and political differences. In this case, however, there is not much of that.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3055654/Violent-scenes-derby-Red-Star-Belgrade-Partizan-Belgrade-delays-game-leaves-35-police-officers-injured.html#ixzz3YQqGcIgA

 

Red Star Belgrade were formed by members of the Serbian United Antifascist Youth League during World War Two. Although they inherited the stadium, offices, players, and colors of a team—SK Jugoslavija (disbanded after being labelled collaborators by communist leader Josip Broz Tito for playing matches in German occupied Serbia during the war)—the continuity between clubs is disputed.

Their rivals, Partizan Belgrade (whose stadium I learned upon visiting the city is just 1 kilometer away from Red Star’s, were founded as the club of the Yugoslav army and were initially managed by officers in the Yugoslav People’s Army. Indeed, the club was named in honor of the Yugoslav Partisans who fought against the communists in World War Two. The club’s initial crest even sported a five pointed red star as a symbol of communism—not too different from Red Star Belgrade’s emblem that features…a five pointed red star with a background of red, white, and blue, the national colors of Serbia.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FK_Partizan#Crest_and_colours AND http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Star_Belgrade#Crest_and_colors Respectively

The animosity stems mainly from the fact that both teams are the most supported in Serbia and are located in close proximity to one another in the capital city. It is bragging rights that are on the line, and one is born with an identity that is characterized by the support of one of the teams. In some ways, it is a feeling of a familial bond that connects the team to its supporters. In a Wall Street Journal article one Red Star fan was quoted describing the love he has for his team: “It’s the kind of love one feels for a country or a woman or a child.” On the flip side a fan of Partizan Belgrade was also quoted, explaining that he married a Red Star fan only on condition that they raise their children Partizan fans: “It was one of the things I insisted on when we got married. I said I could cope with anything except them being Red Star fans.” This sentiment isn’t too hard to understand. I encountered it while talking with fans at derbys in Stockholm and Thessaloniki and I have heard the almost romantic love football fans sing with while supporting their teams in Turkey. My own childhood friend in Turkey—herself a Besiktas fan—had to accept her husband’s request that their child be raised a Fenerbahce fan when she married. Even one of my childhood friends in America who recently got married remembers one of the first things he asked his now wife on their first date: “You’re not a Yankees fan, are you?” As a Boston Red Sox fan he had to clear all the deal-breakers out of the way first. Sports are something that can make seemingly rational people become irrational regardless of where they live. Sure, they are more passionate in Europe and South America but even then ugly incidents are, for the most part, confined to the stadium. The threat of possible bodily harm is kind of something you accept as collateral damage when entering the gates for a football match. But it isn’t something that consumes a city.

 

Now back to Baltimore. The reason that I bring up Belgrade is that I came across an article written by Derrick Clifton about the Baltimore riots. According to his byline he is “a Staff Writer at Mic covering identity, culture and social justice […and] master’s candidate at the Medill School of Journalism.” He says, rightly, “Usually, if a riot involves black people, it’s connected to intense episodes of where systemic racism is undoubtedly at work.” But what he goes on to explain is troubling, in my mind, and loses the point of what he wants to say:

“But when a mob of mostly white people take to the streets, vandalizing cars, storefronts and street signs in the process it usually means someone either won or lost a game. As Mic’s Zak Cheney-Rice noted in January, these rioters are usually called ‘revelers,’ ‘celebrants’ and ‘fans.’ They’re not even called ‘rioters’ in many cases. They’re not derided as ‘criminals,’ ‘thugs,’ ‘pigs’ or even ‘violent.’ Those descriptors, as events in Baltimore Monday night reveals yet again, are only reserved for black people. They’re the ones who need to be quelled by militarized police forces. They’re the ones who need to be off the streets, immediately. They’re diminishing the validity of their cause. Yet somehow, reckless behavior over a sports team, not a systemic matter of life and death, is viewed as a costly nuisance.”

Unfortunately it is the issue of “race” in the United States that reduces what should be important social discussion to its lowest common denominator, with the implication that somehow someone is being wronged due to his or her skin color and that is what is to blame. The events cited by Mr. Clifton include “riots” in the aftermath of sporting events as diverse as the San Francisco Giants 2014 baseball World Series win, the Vancouver Canucks 2011 hockey Stanley Cup Finals loss, and the 2015 Ohio State Buckeye’s college football championship in 2015. I would say that the common factor in all of these instances of violence and destruction was sports and alcohol…resulting in a “costly nuisance”, if you will. None of these instances involved plans on Twitter or the targeting of police officers: The Baltimore Police Department/Criminal Intelligence Unit announced that it “received credible information that members of various gangs including the Black Guerilla Family, Bloods, and Crips [had] entered into a partnership to ‘take out’ law enforcement officers.” None of the aforementioned events involved the widespread looting of stores either. And certainly none of them involved pathetic attempts to link Israeli intelligence to a domestic disturbance in the United States of America. Therefore, to me, Mr. Clifton’s comparison between “white riots” and the events in Baltimore, in order to find a racist motive, is moot.

 

I think that if we are to find a parallel between the rioting in Baltimore and sports-induced rioting it is helpful to get beyond the issue of race and look at the systemic problems in world society. For that, we can slowly move from Baltimore to Belgrade. Another article from the American left ran the headline “Councilman schools Fox News reporter on how to cover Baltimore uprisings”. If we ignore for a moment the needlessly hyperbolic anti-Fox News language used in the headline and listen to councilman Nick Mosby’s words we may get closer to the truth:

“What it is is [the] young folks of this community showing decades old anger, frustration, for a system that’s failed them. I mean, this is bigger than Freddie Gray. This is about the socio-economics of poor, urban America. These young guys are frustrated, they’re upset and unfortunately, their [sic] displaying it in a very destructive manner. When folks are under-educated, unfortunately, they don’t have the same intellectual voice to explain it the way other people are doing it and that’s what we see through the violence today.”

It is true, the roots of the problems in Baltimore stem from poverty and a lack of opportunity for many. What is important to note, however, is that this lack of opportunity is not only confined to minorities. There are plenty of white Americans facing the same unemployment problems and the same struggles with poverty and rising costs of living. To lower everything to the simple level of racial inequality cheapens the debate and only provides excuses and an easy way out. It is similar to that old (and hugely incorrect) mantra with which the West viewed (again) Belgrade during the Bosnia crisis: “The Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims have been fighting since the beginning of time. They could never live together, so what can we do?”—“White American cops are racist so this is what happens”. When we make broad statements with little or no thought to back them up nothing is gained. The problems in Baltimore are not very different from the problems affecting many other metropolises the world over: There is a growing wage gap which is drawing more and more urban people—black, white, purple, and green—into a feeling of hopelessness that can also manifest itself in violence. That is why many have posted articles that “explain” why riots occur in order to justify the actions of some (its kind of a no-brainer, but you can make your own analyses by sifting through the leftist rhetoric). Now we come full circle to Belgrade.

 

The Wall Street Journal article cited earlier in this post was titled “Soccer Violence Escalates in Europe”. The reason, according to the article, is that fans have been “driven by Europe’s economic struggles and what’s seen as an accompanying rise in nationalism and racism”. It isn’t a shocking conclusion and the figures don’t lie, at least those cited in the article: “The U.K.-based group Kick It Out counted 71 discriminatory incidents in Britain this season compared with 43 at this point last year,” and “In Germany, officials reported 7,863 soccer-related offenses last season, up from 4,576 in 2005-06. Italy saw 1,515 last year, up from 1,161.” Meanwhile in Spain, “penalties for sports-related offenses jumped by 22% last season from the previous year”.

The article’s author Naftali Bendavid notes that in the years following the Balkan wars of the 1990s “Serbian paramilitaries recruited from fan groups for the Balkan wars, as soccer hooligans became warriors and vice versa”. Indeed, some of this may be true. An article detailing the Grobari group, Partizan Belgrade’s Ultras, explains that:

“A defiance of authority since the tormented 1990s has intoxicated political and social spheres and reared its ugly head in football too. Many ultras took part in the armed conflicts and carry their scars today, translating the tribal nature of the Yugoslav wars to their clubs and ultras groups.”

Certainly Serbia’s continued exclusion from mainstream European society (the European Union)—and ongoing economic stagnation—is sure to have an effect on its young, male, job seeking population (incidentally, the core demographic of most football supporters). It is normal. That said I am not here to make an inquest into any Ultra group or football supporters in general, since I am first and foremost a football fan. I’ll leave that to the media; it seems that they are the champions at demonizing groups. What I am here to say is that economic disparities are becoming more and more pronounced, whether in Baltimore or Belgrade or anywhere else. And to paint over those real economic problems with the label of “White vs. Black racism” and other ideological (or political) slogans really does nothing to solve human problems that are very real. People feel forgotten by the systems they live in, making less and less money, while gentrification pushes up rents in low income neighborhoods. This frustration then drives some to extremes that can become violent. That is the challenge for governments all over the world at the beginning of the 21st century: To win back the citizens they are losing every day as a result of a world society unable to produce stable and ongoing economic benefits for all citizens.