Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Leftover thoughts on "the race card" and the Simmons/Jackson kerfuffle

That's right, I used kerfuffle in the post title.

Commenter JimNantz (not the famous Jim Nantz, presumably) doesn't understand why a white writer using "playing the race card" bothers me. I spent most of the day at work drafting a response in my head, only to find that a quick Google search of "race card" yielded more concise, coherent responses than I would be able to put together for a blog post. First read Jon Swift's gleefully parodic thoughts on the matter, then read Tim Wise's incisive historical and cultural view.

But a basic summary of Wise: the phrase "race card" reflects both white naivete about the institutional and cultural history and presence of racism as well as the term's use as a way to trivialize real racism. That summary doesn't do his essay justice, but it hits the major points.

And I'll add this: like any other cliche, "playing the race card" is dead language that shortcuts serious thought. Because it has to do with such a crucial and difficult issue as race, that shortcutting becomes even more thoughtless and frustrating.

Do I think Bill Simmons is a racist? No. I don't know him, of course, and I suspect he's not a racist. However, his use of the phrase reflects his worst tendency as a writer (really, any writer's worst tendency): imprecision, probably born of laziness. (Notice also that he claims Scoop Jackson uses his race as a "crutch"; see how Wise deals with that metaphor in his essay.)

Do I think Scoop Jackson wrote a thoughtful column about Las Vegas and race? No way. I made clear in my other post that Jackson is a sloppy writer and thinker; Simmons certainly had plenty to criticize in Jackson's column.

And maybe the most important question, since I'm a white male born and raised in the south: do I think I'm free of any racist vestiges because I jumped on Simmons and I support affirmative action? No; unfortunately, free as I'd like to be of any racist (or race-based) impulses and instincts, I'm aware of how incredibly difficult they are to eradicate. I criticized Simmons in the first place because of how much his response reminds me of me.

Update: Oh, one more link to check out: Sports on My Mind's takedown of Simmons.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bill Simmons, stop. Stop. Please. Stop.

For the love of Jebus, Bill Simmons, don't ever again write about college basketball or race. Please. Stop. Is this the legacy you want to leave your child?

I know I've written about Simmons before and nothing's changed. He couldn't care less about what I have to say. Fine. I understand I'm not on an MTV "reality" show, I don't live in Boston, I'm simply one of those pesky New Media bloggers who don't work for a legitimate news organization, and I'll disappear from the face of the earth and no one will mind. I'm fine with that.

But I'm begging you, please, listen, just this once: don't ever, ever again write about college basketball or race. Here's why:

How Bill Simmons is wrong about college basketball:

Point #1: He is not an expert, yet he writes with exasperation that college coaches and journalists can't fathom what is obvious to him. "Watched three college hoops games since my last report on Tuesday." Wow. Three games in three days? I'm not the first to make this point, but you cannot pretend expertise on college basketball if this is your access to the state of the game. (Especially when you're watching the same teams every week.) Why doesn't Rick Barnes run every play through Kevin Durant? You can't think of one good reason? How about this: Durant is a college freshman. He's playing a season that's much more physically and emotionally demanding than high school ball, and it's late in the season, with tournaments coming up. I don't pay attention college basketball and I know this.

Point #2: Simmons freely contradicts himself with no one to call him on it. Here's Simmons on February 13:

"Speaking of [Joakim] Noah, I love how his draft stock dropped because he stuck around for an extra season and everyone started picking him apart . . . . Meanwhile, he's even better than he was last season -- if you applied my Table Test to him, he's still one of those guys who brings X amount of things to the table and takes absolutely nothing off it."

And here's Simmons on March 2

"One more Florida note: Noah is quietly playing himself out of the top 5. Nobody is wasting a top-5 pick on a more polished version of Mikki Moore. Not this year."

Just for fun, read those again. Compare "everyone started picking him apart" to "Noah is quietly playing himself out of the top 5." What changed in a month, other than you watching more college basketball?

(Oh, and by the way, about your "Table Test": you once devoted a column to explaining a cliché, then acted as if that elaboration was a wholly new set of ideas. So it's not "your" table test.)

How Bill Simmons is wrong about race:

Here's how Simmons begins his column responding to Scoop Jackson:

"I hate writing a rebuttal to another writer's column. I hate it. These days on the Internet, people spend far too much time writing about other writers instead of just writing about sports. Pretty soon, there will be Web sites devoted to writers writing about writers who write about other writers. We're not headed in the right direction.

At the same time, I couldn't let Scoop Jackson's "Vegas wasn't that bad" column just fade away without disputing two crucial pieces of his argument . . ."

Two points here:

  1. In other words, "Please don't criticize me for what I'm about to write. Please."
  2. If Scoop Jackson's column would "just fade away" (and, honestly, it would--are there people who take Scoop Jackson seriously?), then why even write about it at all? (I have a theory on this, but it's for the next time Simmons pisses me off.)

Simmons then spends an inordinate amount of time criticizing Jackson for "Scoop's assertion that "only" 403 people were arrested during NBA All-Star Weekend, a number apparently obtained from Deputy Lt. E. Sterr Bunny of the Las Vegas Police Department. I don't think it's very smart to base the premise of a column around a leap of faith that Vegas police reported every single crime, mugging, brawl, assault, theft and indiscretion from that weekend (even the ones for which the perpetrators weren't caught)." Hey, not a bad point, except for the fact that Jackson compares the number of arrests with the number of arrests for New Year's weekend. So Simmons' logic about the number of arrests reported works for what Jackson compares it to.
(NB: Simmons isn't entirely wrong about Jackson's column; in fact, Jackson is an easy target because he's a sloppy writer and thinker.)

But that's not the disturbing thing. That's just the logic issue, not the unsettling way Simmons writes about race. Ever ready to reach into the well of cliché, Simmons writes that "he played the race card." Jesus fucking Christ on a stick, "the race card." Could we please obliterate that phrase from the language? I can't figure out why people of color in this country still see racism. Could it have something to do with the shorthand that white people use? (Fyi, I'm a white male. We can talk about this another time.)

But here's the kicker, the thing that made my anger about "the race card" stay up: "Once upon a time, the late Ralph Wiley repeatedly proved an African-American sports columnist could write intelligently about racial issues without using his skin color as a crutch." In other words, "Look, I have a black friend!"

To sum up, if you're still with me:

Bill, please, please, please stop writing about college basketball and race. Come to Funkytown; I'll buy you lunch, take you to a college game, and drive you to the economically depressed, largely African-American part of town. We'll have a blast. I can't afford your plane ticket, but I can promise you good food and bad basketball.

Thoughts on the Write All Night experiment

Congrats to Jim and Mike. They didn't make it until dawn, but they were both productive, so I'm calling last night's/this morning's experiment a success. I didn't last as long as they did, but I still got some crucial work done.

Some random thoughts from my end:

  • I regularly checked my email (for comments on my posts), my statcounter, and the other participating blogs. That proved a small distraction but a useful one. When my energy dissipated, I'd find Jim's energy still going. Jealousy and fellow-feeling prodded me back to work.
  • I hadn't been writing in the couple of weeks preceding the experiment (life managed to get in the way), so I faced the double difficulty of not only writing completely counter to my preference (I work best just after waking) but also getting back on the horse. Still, I was so enthused by the prospect of the Write All Night project that I got back into writing relatively easily. Now that Write All Night is over, I feel the fire under me again to work each day. We'll see how long that lasts.
  • I usually don't caffinate after mid-afternoon, so the cups of tea made it tough to go to bed at three a.m. After lying there thinking about the novel (and realizing something about a character), I convinced myself that if I didn't fall asleep soon, I'd get back up like Hulk Hogan always managed to do after getting "beat up." (Sorry, I'm channeling Bill Simmons.) But then I felt myself snap awake after drifting off and decided, yes, thankfully, I could fall asleep.
  • Waking up this morning was tough, but I felt clearer headed this morning than usual, even if this post doesn't necessarily reflect it. That's a nice change after the last couple of weeks.
  • Head over to JPG Writes and One Toe In to see their progress. Mike, as usual, outpaced us, but Jim and I are making ourselves feel better by mercilessly mocking Mike in back-and-forth emails. (Not true; I actually doubt Jim is awake yet.)

Good night, and good luck

I'm toast. I spent the last half hour outlining; then I realized that I wasn't at all certain about what I was outlining. I'm not sure I can coherently explain. Basically, I ran out of gas. Good luck getting to dawn. I'm looking forward to seeing your progress in the morning, Jim and Mike.

Write all night update

All quiet on the western front. Distraction-wise, anyway. But I'm writing--in two hours, six-plus pages. And since I haven't written in over two weeks (long story), I'm pleased. I'm amazed I made it this long.

Side note: I got a new laptop in December, and it only came with a trial version of Microsoft Word. And the fucker ended two days ago, so I've had to switch to writing in MS Works Word Processor. It's amazing how much that little difference makes. I'd been so used to the way the screen looked that all these little differences keep catching my eye. But Monday I can buy a cheap version of Word at school and get back to normal.

Back to work. I'm not sure how realistic dawn is. I had to break out the icepack for a jolt.

So much for no interruptions

I'm getting sleepy but hanging in. I'm on my second cup of tea. But it turns out writing at night has its distractions.

  1. My next door neighbors. The husband can't smoke inside, so when he goes outside to puff away (where it's 28 effing degrees and "feels like" 17, according to Yahoo@#$% Weather), his friends go with him. Apparently they think it's difficult to be heard on the porch.
  2. My dog. She's in the other room zonked out, but occasionally she whines in her dreams. It's damn cute and also distracting.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

JPG's Up All Night!

So here I am, awake with adrenaline, tea steeping, wife heading to bed. It's time to write all night.

How I got here:

  • Napped this afternoon.
  • Felt the adrenaline already starting at dinner (rice instead of pasta, no heavy carbs to weigh me down), so I calmed myself down.
  • Watched John Sayles' Lone Star with my wife. What a great movie.
  • Showered. Brushed my teeth.
  • Jeans, no pajamas for me.

The dangers of writing at night, as I've tried to prep for them, are darkness, sleepiness, and comfort. Here's how I'm combating them:

  • Artificial light. Big medusa lamp, five bulbs, behind my head. One bulb at the other end of the couch.
  • Caffeine. Tea steeping. First cup, chai with vanilla. Two bags.
  • Leg pain. That's the real reason I slipped on the ice a couple of weekends ago, so I'd be able to stay up. It's sore, and I'll put an ice pack on it later. That'll perk me up.

I think that's all that's worthy of note for now. Let's get this party started. Where's Joe Bob Briggs?

Update: Don't forget to check out the progress of the three amigos: Chevy Chase, Martin Short, and Steve Martin.

Even funnier than yesterday's video

Try not to laugh. Watch.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Try not to laugh.

Go watch this and try not to laugh.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Blog, give me the child!

And we're back! Yep, that's right, hiatus over--Saturday night/Sunday morning is the time to write all night. I'll be occasionally posting as long as I can stay awake; JPG, our fearful leader, promises to do so as well.

And to prove it's fate, there will be a lunar eclipse on Saturday. Spooky. And that's the cause of my favorite illustration ever (for today, anyway). Read all the fine print.