David Zahl is finishing up his paternity leave this week. Congratulations amigo! Love to you and yours.
1) In his “Life of Reilly” magazine series, ESPN’s Rick Reilly covered a hummer of a story about one of the most backwards high school football games in history, in which there were “rivers running uphill” and “cats petting dogs.” Taking place in Grapevine, Texas, a well-to-do suburban high school team took on a team from the juvenile justice center—the Gainesville State School Tornadoes versus the Grapevine Faith Lions. Having home field advantage in more ways than one, the Lions’ coach surrendered all—fans, cheerleaders, you name it—for the 14 boys who came with and 0-9 record and 12 uniformed officers. It’s an amazing glimpse of spontaneous grace, and certainly worth reading the whole thing here (ht JZ).
This all started when Faith’s head coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to do something kind for the Gainesville team. Faith had never played Gainesville, but he already knew the score. After all, Faith was 7-2 going into the game, Gainesville 0-8 with 2 TDs all year. Faith has 70 kids, 11 coaches, the latest equipment and involved parents. Gainesville has a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery—many of whose families had disowned them—wearing seven-year-old shoulder pads and ancient helmets.
So Hogan had this idea. What if half of our fans—for one night only—cheered for the other team? He sent out an email asking the Faithful to do just that. “Here’s the message I want you to send:” Hogan wrote. “You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth.”
Some people were naturally confused. One Faith player walked into Hogan’s office and asked, “Coach, why are we doing this?”
…Next thing you know, the Gainesville Tornadoes were turning around on their bench to see something they never had before. Hundreds of fans. And actual cheerleaders! “I thought maybe they were confused,” said Alex, a Gainesville lineman (only first names are released by the prison). “They started yelling ‘DEE-fense!’ when their team had the ball. I said, ‘What? Why they cheerin’ for us?’”
It was a strange experience for boys who most people cross the street to avoid. “We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games,” says Gerald, a lineman who will wind up doing more than three years. “You can see it in their eyes. They’re lookin’ at us like we’re criminals. But these people, they were yellin’ for us! By our names!” Maybe it figures that Gainesville played better than it had all season, scoring the game’s last two touchdowns. Of course, this might be because Hogan put his third-string nose guard at safety and his third-string cornerback at defensive end. Still.
After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and that’s when Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. “We had no idea what the kid was going to say,” remembers Coach Hogan. But Isaiah said this: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”
2) November is fast approaching, and the haranguing election pundits are turning up the volume. It is nice to know, as per our “Surviving November” series, that people are turning an ear in this time to Jonathan Haidt. The Boston Review asks, “Are Conservatives More Moral?” and, in taking a look at both Haidt’s The Righteous Mind and Richard Sennett’s Together: The Ritual, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation, George Scialabba dissects the making of a moral mind. Though he positions Haidt more conservatively than we have, he does make note of Haidt’s discomfort with fact-checking appeals to reason:
As we all know and often forget, humans are not purely rational. Or, to put it another way, there’s more to rationality than is dreamed of in our everyday philosophies. We have a long, complex evolutionary history, which has left us with a tangled, multilayered psyche and many more motives than we are usually conscious of. With the help of research by a couple of generations of psychologists, anthropologists, and behavioral economists, Haidt has excavated these psychic structures. But before entering on a detailed description, Haidt pauses to emphasize the first principle of any adequate moral psychology: “Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”
Experiments repeatedly show—to oversimplify only a little—that we all believe what we want, regardless of reasons. Changing one’s views in response to an opponent’s arguments is about as rare as an honest member of Congress. (Cases of both are known, but only a few.) Arguments are largely instrumental; they are meant for attack or defense. Most of the time, we argue like lawyers rather than philosophers.
3) Also on the lawyer-side-of-life, the Atlantic’s James Fallows continues his fascination with efficiency boss David Allen, in an interview on busyness, and the need to substantiate our boredom. Allen has some very interesting insights; he says that because we no longer live in the era of live-or-die crisis urgency, we assign that crisis urgency to the smallest, most everyday productive activities. Because we do that with one mundane task, all the other mundane tasks follow suit, and we become exponentially more anxious. Speaking of the electronic, connected age, he says:
…as soon as you’re not in a crisis, all the rest of the world floods into your psyche. Now you’re worried about taxes and tires and “I’m getting a cold” and “My printer just crapped out.” Now that flood is coming across in electronic form, and it is 24/7.
To cope, you need the executive skill and the ability to make rapid decisions about how you allocate limited resources. There’s nothing new under the sun about that. What’s new is how many more people have to be making those kinds of executive decisions now. You’ve moved the executive requirement down through all the ranks.
Similar to the misunderstanding of crisis, a very intriguing piece on the dying heart of the tragedy, over at NewStatesman, about how celebrity cellulite headlines are the new tragedy, which is not tragedy (well..), but voyeuristic Schadenfreude. Jenny Diski says this:
…In periods of difficulty and at special times of the year, the Greeks nominated a scapegoat – a cripple or beggar – who was stoned and then cast out of the community to suffer in the wilderness on its behalf. Tragic drama offered the great as symbolic sacrifices to misfortune. The Chorus is sorry about Oedipus’s troubles; it honoured him and liked him, but his banishment and blinding are required, and with relief the Old Men of Thebes express pity and return satisfied to their now less troubled life.
…We no longer believe that a sacrifice will resolve our difficulties, but we may be in danger of substituting gratification for symbolic catharsis. I don’t know whether the audiences for the ancient tragedies felt a degree of thrill in the misfortunes of distant others, but I dare say it was available. Now, we openly or covertly take heart while, like the Chorus, shaking our head in philosophical sorrow at a falling away of those who are blessed with talent or extreme good luck from their position nearest to the gods. In substituting celebrity for greatness, we have moved tragedy from the pathos of witnessing and empathising with the pains we all suffer to a bathos that can result in the sort of embarrassed hangover the nation experienced after the hysterical public emotionalism during the aftermath of Diana’s death subsided.
4) Over at Internet Monk, our very good friend Wenatchee the Hatchet here writes a guest post on gospel-shaped musicology, entitled “There Is Neither Art Nor Pop; Neither Indie or Mainstream.”
It seems that Patheos writer Alan Noble is onto something in his article “Becoming a Slave Again to Edifying Habits.” He talks about Christian phraseology like “engagement” and “participation” in regards to popular culture being the new flavor of phariseeism. The age of the separatist, ascetic no-Harry-Potter Christian has been exchanged for, it seems, Christians talking a lot about loving thy cultural neighbor, which is all well-and-good, but chock-full of new legalisms sprouting from it. Definitely worth reading.
5) And then there’s Taylor Swift. My goodness, what a piece Spin did on her new album Red, which just came out this week. It’s not just about Swift, but about the ironic identity of Nashville pop country; and it’s always good to see something so often panned and reviled, be seen as something worth paying attention to/identifying with:
Is it country? Country fans and country radio seem to think so. The question usually just reveals the ignorance of its asker. Listen to Jerrod Niemann’s “Free the Music,” Keith Urban’s “Used to the Pain,” the Band Perry’s “Miss You Being Gone,” or Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene,” then get back to me about what country music is. My answer: the most dynamically vibrant pop genre of the last decade or so. Sure, the tropes that, like the “autumn leaves” of “All Too Well,” “fall down like pieces into place” are generic enough to fit any genre. On Red, someone has “a new Maserati,” but only “dead-end streets” and “little town streets” to drive it down. Autumn’s a season of mists; summers, boys pick you up on the boardwalk, you sing along with the car radio, then they stop calling. “I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to”; “All love ever does is break and burn and end / But on a Wednesday in a café I watched it begin again.” And “the story’s got dust on every page.”
It’s just that country has been, for some time, the genre with the least need to be humorless about its own identity (Brad Paisley’s “This Is Country Music” is funny). Is “All love ever does is break and burn and end” too earnest for you, even with its tail of Donnean iambs? Country’s very hospitality to the unironic — Springsteen surges, Bon Jovi licks — is what gives it the scope of actual irony, dialectical and reflective: “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time,” as Swift puts it on “22.”
Whatever it is, this music is full of adult pleasures, even if the most explicit image Swift offers is of an ex-boyfriend sniffing her scarf because it smells like her. On Red — the color of blood and lipstick and fire and Southern dirt and hearts and conservatism and tractors and communism and sin, this last a word whose charged valence here might discomfit know-it-alls who would never use it without scare quotes — Swift’s too smart and tuneful to condescend to her contradictions. Or to yours.
6) Finally, “God Wielded the Buzzer,” an incredible review of David Foster Wallace’s biography, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, released on the London Review of Books. A great clip on the beauty of fiction (which connects well with the most recent 30 for 30 short called “Jake,” featured right now at Grantland).
Under fun’s new administration, writing fiction becomes a way to go deep inside yourself and illuminate precisely the stuff you don’t want to see or let anyone else see, and this stuff usually turns out (paradoxically) to be precisely the stuff all writers and readers everywhere share and respond to, feel. Fiction becomes a weird way to countenance yourself and to tell the truth instead of being a way to escape yourself or present yourself in a way you figure you will be maximally likeable.
P.S. If you have some high-res photos from the Charlottesville Conference, we would love a copy of them! Send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org