You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2010.

It’s not my headline (though I wish I’d thought of it!), but the rest is:

Unruly generals are nothing new. Throughout American history, generals have pushed their own ideas, often to the chagrin of their commanders in chief. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whom President Obama last month fired, was the latest in a line of generals who found themselves in public disputes with their civilian masters.

From the Fredericksbrug Free Lance-Star

Some discussion of Banana Republican in the St. Petersburg Times.

Judging from my facebook page, the Ghana-Uruguay match aroused a lot of strong sentiment among people who had never previously been deeply invested in narratives of Uruguayan perfidy and Ghanian virtue. The match’s ending is interesting because it went down more or less like this:

For those of you who didn’t watch the match, in the 120th minute, literally the last few seconds of the 30 minutes of extra time in the match, Ghana had a series of shots on goal, three if memory serves me correctly (and it seldom does). The first two shots were parried by the Uruguayan keeper and a defender on the line, legitimately. The third, a header, was deliberately punched away — by Luis Suarez, a Uruguayan striker. In other words, one of the ten guys in blue and black who technically can not touch the ball with his hands. Unlike the 2002 Quarter Final match between the USA and Germany, the ref spotted the foul, red carded Suarez, and awarded Ghana a penalty.

It was a smart move by Suarez, in a sense. No hand foul, and Uruguay loses; foul, and Ghana gets a penalty kick that might, and did, go astray. But a lot of people seem bent out of shape about it because Suarez deliberately violated the rule for strategic advantage and that seems wrong, or unseemly, or bad in some other way.

Brockington reasons this way. Suarez did not cheat because:

He did the rational thing. It was perhaps not the sporting, moral, or ethical choice, and definitely the cynical choice, but given the nature of the match, he made the correct decision.

This is sloppy, but it gets us into an interesting (and longstanding) debate in the philosophy of sport. First the sloppiness. That the act was rational doesn’t rule out the act being an instance of cheating. James Bond might need to cheat at cards to defeat the evil villain; his cheating is rationally and morally justified while still being an act of cheating. The interesting issue is what to make of intentional rule violations.
Read the rest of this entry »

So, the U.S. is out.  Not terribly surprising.  Anyone familiar with sports is familiar with the maxim that you have to play the whole game; usually, this is a monition to a team that is winning in the waning minutes.  With us, it’s a reminder to the defense that they have to show up before minute nineteen.

In any event, forward we go in our discussion of reasons Americans don’t like soccer.

Read the rest of this entry »

The discussion about Anna Chapman, the alleged femme fatale of the Russian spy ring, shows that our spy narratives have changed very little in sixty years, especially for women.  There always has to be a dead drop, a furtive exchange of bags in a subway station, and a femme fatale, preferably with red hair and a Russian accent.  That’s how it works, even when it doesn’t.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the news media and the FBI insisted on shoving all the accused female Red spies into familiar roles from film noir, even when these roles were patently inappropriate.  In 1948, some newspapers described KGB case officer Elizabeth Bentley, for example, as a “svelte young blonde” in a “form-fitting black dress” who had enticed naïve New Dealers into revealing their secrets. If she was attractive, see, then she must be telling the truth.  To discredit her story, her critics called her a frumpy, middle-aged spinster and emphasized her preference for flowered dresses and funny hats. And, they pointed out many times, she wasn’t even a real blonde.

Judith Coplon, a Justice Department employee who passed some documents to the Russians in 1949, fit more neatly into the femme fatale role, though the papers couldn’t decide if lethal women were hot or frigid.  Coplon was described by the New York World Telegram as  “an attractive dark-haired girl with full lips and a shapely figure” encased in a “black  form-fitting sweater” who whispered her not guilty plea “though lips brilliantly marked with lipstick.” Sometimes, according to the press, Coplon’s eyes “stared hotly” and “burned,”  while at other times they spouted “cool hate” that “flowed out, like a black river jetting into the eyes of the prosecutors.” She was hysterical, just like a communist; no, she was expressionless, just like a communist.  Then there was her “bosom,” which “heaved,” “quivered,” and, best of all, was inadequately obscured by her thin blouse.

Married women received the “black widow” treatment.  The Hearst press ran an article headlined “Mrs. Rosenberg Was Like a Red Spider” which explained that Ethel, a “homely girl,” had early on “felt a need to dominate a man.” “There is a saying that in the animal kingdom, the female is the deadlier of the species,” the reporter continued.  “It could be applied to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.”  Alger Hiss’s wife, Priscilla, was similarly described as a hard-eyed femme fatale who manipulated her mousy husband into doing her ideological bidding.

These stereotypes weren’t confined to the press.  FBI documents refer to Priscilla Hiss as “the bitch in the case” and Bentley as a slut (though definitely not a lying slut).  Whenever Bentley stopped cooperating with her FBI handlers, they wrote memos about how difficult it was to deal with women in menopause.

However powerful, these narratives of man-eating temptresses and man-hating wives and spinsters often obscured the messier truth.   Bentley was neither svelte nor spinsterish; but she was one of the most important Soviet spies ever in North America, and her defection was an unmitigated catastrophe for Soviet intelligence.  The silly press coverage about her hair color made it easy to miss her significance.  Ethel Rosenberg was merely an accessory to her husband’s crimes, but it was much easier for American officials to execute her if they believed that she dominated Julius.  And that she was a menopausal, promiscuous spiderwoman with a heaving bosom.

This is officially an award-winning blog

HNN, Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."