Debating Diversity

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

I had a boss once who was an old-time basketball guy. He’d coached tons of kids, black and white, male and female. Sometimes he’d talk about how the old coaching techniques were irrelevant to the modern day — they didn’t translate to “black-style basketball.” He said this without regret or rancor. He wasn’t an opponent of black-style basketball; he just acknowledged it as different.

I thought of him when I read this “Atlantic” article. The gist is that age-old debate standards — which I think it’s fair to say are white-person-developed standards – must be cast aside in order to allow for more black participation.

Actually, it’s not just more participation by blacks that’s desired; it’s more black-style participation. Black debate teams have discovered that they can win the competitions – or at least “top speaker” hosannas — by either reframing every issue so that it’s focused on racial injustice or by transforming the debate into a rap-inflected throwdown, full of attitude, bravado, and verbal razzmatazz.

Who can argue against the reality of racial injustice, right?

On March 24, 2014 at the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Championships at Indiana University, two Towson University students, Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson, became the first African-American women to win a national college debate tournament, for which the resolution asked whether the U.S. president’s war powers should be restricted. Rather than address the resolution straight on, Ruffin and Johnson, along with other teams of African-Americans, attacked its premise. The more pressing issue, they argued, is how the U.S. government is at war with poor black communities.

And who doesn’t love some some rap-style braggadocio?

In the final round, Ruffin and Johnson squared off against Rashid Campbell and George Lee from the University of Oklahoma, two highly accomplished African-American debaters with distinctive dreadlocks and dashikis. Over four hours, the two teams engaged in a heated discussion of concepts like “nigga authenticity” and performed hip-hop and spoken-word poetry in the traditional timed format. At one point during Lee’s rebuttal, the clock ran out but he refused to yield the floor. “Fuck the time!” he yelled.

In all honesty, I’d probably have a better time watching these non-white kids do their Sista Souljah/World Star Hip Hop routines than I would sitting through some debate run by a bunch of Ivy-focused poindexters wearing sweaters.

But the whole kerfuffle does make me wonder: Wouldn’t it be better if the folks who wanted to engage in old, poindexter-style debating were allowed to do their thing, according to their rules, while the folks who wanted to creatively extemporize on racial issues and “nigga authenticity” did so in an entirely separate venue and using a different format? What is the point of mushing together the conflicting approaches and mindsets into one unwieldy whole? Aside from humiliating and enraging the tradition-minded participants — which maybe is the real point — what is to be gained from this?

Oh, that’s right — diversity is to be gained. And there’s no debating diversity. It’s inevitable, like the rising of the sun, the wilting of the flowers, the sagging of the titties.

Am I an evil person for thinking that diversity in all things and above all else makes for a pretty dopey ideology?


  • PR muses on our official state religion here, here, and here.
  • Fenster wonders if there is such a thing as too much diversity.
Posted in Personal reflections, Politics and Economics | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Art Du Jour (ANZAC Day Edition)

Eddie Pensier writes:


Garry Shead, Light Horse at Gallipoli


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Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

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Pizza, Five Ways

Eddie Pensier writes:

The best pizza in the world, as everybody knows, no longer exists. It is the pizza of your childhood*. That first magical bite sets the flavor, which you spend the rest of your life attempting to recapture.
–Ruth Reichl

Pizza, as much or more than barbecue, is the subject of passionate foodie debates. People are fiercely loyal to their favorites and will defend them against all others. Are people arguing from taste or merely, as Ruth Reichl suggests above, trying to recreate a little bit of their youth?

The biggest and most unconquerable divide may be between partisans of New York pizza and Chicago pizza. Now, this isn’t as straightforward as it may appear, because there’s different sorts of New York ‘za and different Chicago ‘za. New Yorkers love their coal-fired artisan pies with black-bubbled crusts, Italian tomato sauces, and fresh mozzarella, but they (and I) have a soft spot for corner slices, a super-thin crust topped with a modest amount of sauce and aged shredded mozzarella in even continuous layers. The outer layer of the crust should have a bread-like resistance, but still be pliable enough to fold lengthwise. One can even pile two slices atop each other and fold, in the manner of John Travolta in the opening credits of Saturday Night Fever.


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Posted in Food and health, The Good Life, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

At Action Park

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

I was tickled to see some reminiscences of Action Park show up in my Facebook feed this morning. Do any UR readers remember Action Park? You probably need to have grown up in the New York/New Jersey area during the ’80s to have a recollection of the place. Basically, it was a water park, though it had several non-aquatic components, such as an enormous bungee platform and a luge-style sled course that ran on concrete rather than ice. It was a fun place. But the fun was kind of secondary. It was the sheer outrageousness of Action Park that made it memorable. Built on some old (or still occasionally in use?) ski resort, the park was like a landscaped field of stone and concrete over which pressurized torrents of water had been spewed for the enjoyment of half-drunk parents and their unruly children. It was unpredictable, it was stress-inducing, and they sold beer out of the refreshment kiosks. To a kid of the time, Action Park meant danger.

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But there were urban legends circulating at the time that made the place sound like a cross between Pleasure Island in “Pinocchio” and a particularly nasty hazard from the movie version of Stephen King’s “The Running Man.” It was said that you could be electrocuted on virtually any of the water rides. That drownings in the way-scarier-than-it-sounds Tidal Wave Pool were a regularity. That a man had died from shock just by touching the arctic-cold water in the pool below the infamous Tarzan Swing — and that was after he’d managed to survive the swing part, which everyone knew was apt to kill you all by itself, especially if you let go too late and slammed into the stone wall on the pool’s opposite side. And then there was the dreaded Cannonball Loop, a water slide with a loop built into it that seemed designed by people who’d never heard of either physics or broken collar bones. Who knew how many adolescents had been decapitated upon working up the courage to slide down it? It stood there in silence as you entered Action Park. Ominous. Overgrown. It was always closed, presumably because someone had just died on it. Someone had always just died on it.

People called it “Traction Park.” You’d know your friends had recently enjoyed a visit to Action Park when they showed up to Little League with the skin torn off their limbs and regaled you with stories of crashing on the Alpine Slide, then continuing down the concrete track sans sled, their bodies driven forward by momentum and the force of other riders, who were always coming on close behind, cursing the bruised and bloodied guts of the crashee for daring to spoil their rides. These stories were both horrifying and fascinating, like watching a bullfrog being blown apart by a firecracker. And when you went to Action Park you couldn’t get them out of your brain. The blood and cut-short lives were right there in your consciousness as you neared the front of the queue and looked out at the dreaded jumping-off point. And woe be unto the loser who wimped out at the last second. The crowd wouldn’t hesitate to boo you – a rude, Jersey-sounding boo. Sometimes, the stoned-looking guy pretending to oversee the attraction would spray you with a hose until you either shit yourself or closed your eyes, made peace with your god, and resigned yourself to making what might well be the last decision of your short life. It took balls to succeed at Action Park.

There was a drama to the place that existed outside of its “action.” It was a psychological drama, worked up over time from tall tales, visible scars, and peer pressure. The park seemed designed to encourage it. Take the Alpine Slide: It was accessible only by chairlift, and as you rode that lift you had no choice but to look down at the Slide’s current victims – a few of which hadn’t yet crashed. The slowpokes were perhaps more daunting than the casualties. Mostly girls and fat kids, they’d gotten on their sleds, realized how scary the fucking thing was, and then proceeded to inch . . . down . . . ever . . . so . . . slowly. They were disgusting. From your lordly perch above the fray, you could throw things at these kids, jeer them, even spit on them. Faced with such ignominy, some slowpokes simply abandoned their sleds and ran back down the grassy slopes, content to go back to mom and her station wagon and the smooth ride home. But what if you were, at heart, one of them  . . .  a slowpoke? You couldn’t tell until you got up there, until you made yourself go.

The great thing about Action Park was that it let you control the experience. No planned-and-controlled, Disney-style rides at Action Park. The shit there was participatory, unpredictable. Kids on the Roaring Rapids attraction could paddle themselves into backwaters or onto the manmade riverbanks and thereby extend their rides to infinity. It was common to see groups of mangy boys leaping back and forth between rafts or intentionally capsizing those of newly made enemies, like gangs of half-naked pirates staking claim to the surf. No one in an official position at Action Park seemed to care. They were probably just as drunk as the patrons.

They closed the place down, of course. In the ’90s. How could such a place survive the ’90s, the decade of CD warning stickers, of designated driving, of bicycle helmets? I learned today that its owners just barely kept it running through the ’80s, and then only by doing things like establishing their own insurance company (based out of the Cayman Islands, natch) and buying a fleet of ambulances for the surrounding town of Vernon, so its hospital could keep up with the park’s constant stream of ER cases. Or are those urban legends too?


Posted in Humor, Personal reflections | Tagged , , | 6 Comments


Fenster writes:

A current ad for T-Mobile (music by the band Said the Whale)

The Merrymakers, Monument of Me (1995)

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“The Great Beauty”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

01_Toni_Servillo_La_grande_bellezza_foto_di_Gianni_Fiorito.JPGA fanciful jaunt through modern-day Rome seen through the eyes of a nearing-the-end-of-the-road libertine, “The Great Beauty” consciously evokes Fellini, though it’s free of Fellini’s attenuation and his lordly high-handedness. Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino has the advertising-soaked sensibility of an up-market vulgarian. Rather than fussily poke at decadence, as Fellini often did, Sorrentino revels in it; he has a love for polished surfaces and fever-dream exaggeration that rivals that of Paul Verhoeven or Brian De Palma. Sorrentino’s hero, Jep (the gallantly hangdog Toni Servillo), is a well-known writer. As a young man he wrote a novel that even he now considers pretentious. But rather than devote himself to his talent, he’s spent life in pursuit of leisure and sensual pleasure. (In his happier moments, Jep is proud to be Rome’s most beloved gadfly.) Though the movie offers scant explanation for his lavish lifestyle, he maintains his notoriety by puttering on the occasional magazine piece. This he takes only half-seriously. After interviewing a vapid performance artist — her act involves painting the Soviet flag on her pubis, then running face-first into a stone wall – he casually, bemusedly eviscerates her. Perhaps because Jep has so little time remaining (he’s just turned 65), he has little patience for moral or artistic preening.

The success of “The Great Beauty” is, I think, inseparable from its cynicism. It’s a cynicism that derives from Jep’s predisposition, his outlook. In its best moments the movie has a wry, observational quality that is reminiscent of the Italian social comedies of the ’60s, movies like “Divorce, Italian Style” and “Seduced and Abandoned.” And it’s often pleasingly, genially caustic. When Sorrentino tries to make points — about lost love, the death of high culture, the irrelevancy of the Church — he stumbles, as he does when he allows the movie to slip into the gloop of magic realism. Still, Sorrentino’s visuospatial sense is so keen, and Cristiano Travaglioli’s editing so quicksilvery, that you cruise right over the flaws. Watching it I felt as I do when a particularly mellifluous talker whisks away my better judgement in a gale of flimflammery. I hesitate to praise Sorrentino for what amounts to tricking me. But that trick is so much a part of the movie’s fabric that it hardly seems fair to complain. It’s part of Sorrentino’s (and Jep’s) Pirandellian put-on.

The Rome of “The Great Beauty” is a city shorn of its cultural heritage. Even its nobles have been reduced to sullen theme park attractions. When they’re not furtively visiting the public museums that were once their homes, they’re renting themselves out for parties thrown by the nouveau glitterati. While it’s tempting to compare the movie’s bustling, life-as-a-big-buffet vibe to the films of Robert Altman, “The Great Beauty” is perhaps too tightly wound to support the analogy. Structurally as well as metaphorically, it’s a death spiral. When we’re shown revelers engaged in a nightmare-lit conga, the face of each frozen in a rictus of semi-voluntary pleasure, it’s hard not to think of the danse macabre, or to wonder at Sorrentino’s ability to invest corrosiveness with a melancholy joie de vivre. (More than once I flashed on the work of that great contemporary nihilist, Gaspar Noé.) Sorrentino’s central conceit — that life is a phantasmagoria, a stream of highly personal sensations that abruptly ends when you die – isn’t much. But when a movie is this consistently fun to watch, I guess it’ll do.

Posted in Movies, The Good Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments