Caveat Auditor

US protesting the murder of George Floyd

There are times — often unexpected and sometimes rare — when a situation arises that makes profoundly evident how groups represent the world to their members in a manner that supports their interests.

Such a moment made the rounds on social media this weekend, when then US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, spoke at an April 11, 2003, press conference on what was, at the time, the early stages of the long war in Iraq. Continue reading “Caveat Auditor”

Universalizing “English” Football, Part II

Making Football English” (Part I of this two-part series) addressed the ways in which Julian Fellowes’s The English Game narrativizes the origins of football (or soccer, for those of us in the U.S.) as distinctly English despite the Scottish influence on the English game. As discussed in part one:

Football historian and The English Game consultant Andy Mitchell tells The Telegraph‘s Paul Kendall, “The Scottish game was far more effective than the English game at this time. The English version … was more like rugby.” Paul Kendall continues: where the English teams “would just dribble in a pack and try and force a goal through brute strength,” the Scottish teams “developed a way of making space and passing the ball … playing the game as we understand it today.” The series concludes with this title frame:

Apart from Fellowes’s endeavor to portray football as distinctly English, I found this concluding title slide in the final episode particularly intriguing. The so-called “English game,” pioneered by Scottish professionals, is presented not only as being distinctly English, but also as the standard for modern football around the globe. Continue reading “Universalizing “English” Football, Part II”

Making Football English, Part I

Being a fan of both soccer and Downton Abbey, I decided to check out one of Julian Fellowes’s recent productions, The English Game. The Netflix miniseries, which aired in March 2020, is about the birth of football (or what we here in the US call soccer). The feel-good, wholesome show is set in 1879 and tells the story (with some embellishments, of course) of how a working-class team challenged and disrupted a gentlemen’s game. Take a look at the trailer…

The show opens with the historic 1879 Football Association (FA) Cup quarter-finals between the Old Etonians and Darwen FC. The Old Etonians are an amateur team of gentlemen, captained by Arthur Kinnaird (Edward Holcroft), the 11th Lord of Kinnaird. Darwen FC, on the other hand, are a working-class mill team in Lancashire who have just (illegally) hired Fergus Suter (Kevin Guthrie) and Jimmy Love (James Harkness), two players from Partick, a football club in Scotland. Continue reading “Making Football English, Part I”

Trinkets from the Vatican Gift Shop

Vatican gift shop

On a 2015 trip to Florence and Rome (my first visit to both cities), I had the opportunity to take in some of the more popular sites, such as the Pitti Palace and the Roman Forum, along with several museums and basilicas that are as plentiful in those parts of Italy as Walmart and waffle houses are in the U.S. Both cities were flooded with tourists, which made popular attractions like Michelangelo’s David a challenge to see without advanced booking and marked virtually every experience as one that was shared with camera-totting strangers. At some of these sites, this meant being herded through an enclosed space by stern security guards, as I encountered at the Sistine Chapel:

Silence, silencio, no photos.

The sheer abundance of it all — from people to works of art to the rich and flavorful cuisine — was overwhelming at times, offset by more tangible realities on the ground, such as Nigerian merchants of black market leather purses and the many Indian migrants who traded in sunglasses, scarfs, and colorful tennis ball sized toys that would be tossed down on a wooden plank, splatter, and re-form in a matter of seconds … pick up and repeat. In Rome, unlike in Florence, they even made a noise — “whaaah” — that could be heard at uneven intervals on popular streets throughout the city. Continue reading “Trinkets from the Vatican Gift Shop”

“It’s Just Like the Flu”

Oct 4, 1918, news story on the flu from the Dayton Daily News

Ever since the COVID-19 virus hit the news there’s been debates over what to call it. (COVID-19 just means Coronavirus Disease 2019, by the way.) We don’t have to go so far as to cite the current US administration’s habit of sometimes naming it as “the Chinese virus” (see this commentary or maybe this post on our site) but can simply focus on what’s at stake in calling it “the flu.”

For, depending on what one means by this, the designation “flu” can convey dramatically different implications — making all too apparent something investigated regularly on this blog: classification matters. Continue reading ““It’s Just Like the Flu””

Guys Like Us

Still from the opening of the TV show All in the Family

If you’re of a certain generation then you likely recall the theme song to “All in the Family,” a once-popular TV show that aired in the US for 9 seasons, all throughout the 1970s. Sung before a live audience by Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton, the stars of the show, it spoke of a nostalgia for the good old days — a past constantly in tension with the present of the series.

In early 2019 the show was recreated for a special live broadcast, this time with Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei in the lead roles of Archie and Edith — the latter the eternally optimistic and long-suffering wife of the grumpy (and yes, openly racist and sexist) former. That Archie and his now outdated views were often the butt of each episode’s joke, as they say, was what made the series so popular for many, for it was broadcast at a time when race, gender, class and even generation relationships in the US were very under the microscope. Continue reading “Guys Like Us”

Mute Books that Speak Volumes

Reproduction of French Revolution-era Books with Plain Covers

You all know that old saying, the one about not judging a book by its cover, right? Well, I happened across some online French Revolution-era reproductions of books, with plain covers, that struck me as rather interesting.

The description of this product runs as follows:

Grand Tomes (Set of 3)

During the French Revolution, reading was forbidden in order to prevent the spread of rebellious stories about the monarchy. During that time, printers produced couverture muette or “mute books” – books with blank covers – to avoid detection. Paying homage to those historic 18th-century tomes, these exquisite books are entirely crafted by hand, from the torn paper and simple cover boards to the naturally stained linen bindings and timeworn labels. The only difference? The pages within are blank.

What’s so interesting to me about these “muted books” is the strategic reversal: an historical artifact that once protected dangerous content by means of an unsignified cover now, instead, has utterly blank content and a plain cover that speaks loudly of antiquity, culture, and learning — at least to those who place them around their living rooms or dens.

But despite the curious reversal, all anyone does with these books is hope that people judge them by their covers: whether disguising once dangerous ideas or putting one over on our guests.

IT’S A CHINESE VIRUS!!!!! Or, Yes, Words Have Meaning(s)

Most by now are familiar with Donald Trump’s insistence that COVID-19 be referred to as the ‘Chinese‘ or ‘Wuhan virus.’

In one sense, pointing out gaps in Trump’s logic is, in effect, to gaslight one’s self. After all, he tweeted that COVID-19 was less harmful than the flu as late as March 9th, then swiftly moved to accept its growing impact on March 11th. By March 16th, he had switched from calling it coronavirus to the ‘Chinese virus.’ More recently, Trump declared that the economy must be back on track by Easter, despite warnings from experts that COVID-19 will likely be peaking in much of the US at that time. On March 29th, that date was pushed back from Easter until April 30th. I could go on …

If we view Trump as a strategic actor who is utterly shameless in defending his interests, then his ‘logic’ does indeed make sense. Consistency and accuracy regarding the science of COVID-19 (or any topic, for that matter) are tools to be used or discarded as it suits his advantage. Considered in this light, the term ‘Chinese virus’ can be seen as a rhetorical device that aims to divert attention from the Trump administration’s many failings throughout this affair by reducing culpability for the spread of COVID-19 to one main variable — China. Continue reading “IT’S A CHINESE VIRUS!!!!! Or, Yes, Words Have Meaning(s)”

Abortions for some, miniature Canadian flags for others!*

A man waving a gay pride flag in Canada

Last week, Canada’s two most dominant political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, released their campaign slogans for the 2019 federal election, to be held on October 21. The incumbent Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, have opted for a stay-the-course sentiment, “Choose Forward,” while the insurgent Conservatives, led by Andrew Sheer, are telling voters “It’s time for you to get ahead.”

The Conservative’s slogan is consistent with their standard platform of low taxes and small government, and plays into the party’s past attempts to brand Trudeau as a privileged pretty boy who is “not as advertised.” On-going scandals, including a conflict of interest violation, and a family vacation to a private island owned by the Aga Khan (on the taxpayers dime), are among the more common jabs trotted out to drive their slogan home. Continue reading “Abortions for some, miniature Canadian flags for others!*”