A Brief Rumination on Timecop

I turned on the television today, and for whatever reason, Timecop was playing. It probably started at around four in the afternoon. Why not? There is probably a demographic for which a 4pm showing of Timecop is perfect. I decided not to watch more than a few minutes. I got some Ron Silver bon mots and a couple of forced one liners from Jean-Claude himself (it’s really stunning how frequent they shoehorned those in) and went about the rest of my evening. I wasn’t in the mood, though I do like Timecop a lot. It reminds me of that feeling I had watching action films in my teens, when I was already old enough to know better but didn’t care. It reminds me of watching action films in my twenties, when the whole point of watching the film was to joke about how ridiculous it was. Overall, I enjoy films like Timecop on a lot of different levels. In some ways, I actually consider it to be pretty good.

As Jean-Claude Van Damme films go, it’s a masterpiece. The setting really works in its favour. As I explained to my wife while we watched Ron Silver and the Muscles from Brussels match wits, Jean-Claude Van Damme with a decent haircut is happy, with a beautiful wife and a bright future. Jean-Claude with a mullet is burnt out and spends his life going day to day with nothing on his mind but justice. This is the kind of film that uses a mullet to evince characterization. Go for it, I say. It’s fun. It’s goofy. The dialogue is terrible. But it has Ron Silver. It’s a film about policemen who travel through time and a corrupt senator who is travelling through time illegally to fund his run for president. In this context, Jean-Claude seems almost reasonable. Almost.

Then, however, it dawned on me. I feel silly for not noticing this before, especially considering the fact that I saw both films shortly after release, but…

Timecop came out three years after Terminator 2.

Three years!

Now, obviously people shouldn’t just give up making action films because Terminator 2 was amazing. It puts things in context though. Timecop is an early 1990s film in that really-seems-like-the-1980s kind of way. Mullets, bad music, evil fat cats… there’s probably a Vietnam War veteran in there somewhere. I can’t remember. I’ll have to go and watch Timecop again. It’s the only way to be sure. Timecop seems like a film made a full decade earlier than Terminator 2. It’s astonishing they were made within such a short span at all.

There are clear disparities of course involved in each production. Budget, writing, giving a crap about making a decent film… To be fair though, all this does is remind us how amazing Terminator 2 really was. Go and watch Commando. I’ll wait.

Ok, it’s pretty great right? Feeding the deer at the start, just killing lots of people for no reason, his name is John Matrix. Notice how ridiculous Schwarzenegger is: he’s a cultural artifact more than anything else.

Anyway, now go and watch Terminator 2.

Holy crap, right? It’s bloody amazing. Let’s go ahead and watch it again.

Yes! What a great film. What an astonishing action film. So quotable, so intense, so wonderfully paced… Amazing.

So why on earth have I ever watched Timecop at all, let alone more than once? Well. Van Damme, clearly. This is a guy who would do the splits at some point in the film. That was his thing. It makes me wonder, do we have any figure like that now? Not really. Maybe Keanu Reeves, in a weird way. Bruce Willis has transitioned from being the action star you could take seriously to an actor who occasionally makes films that remind you he used to be an action star. Now, he’s something else entirely.

I feel like we’re in a fallow period for Timecop-like films. A big part of it is hindsight I suppose, but I do worry. I mean, the Transformers films are just garbage. I hear the Universal Soldier sequels get pretty ridiculous, but does that count, seeing as the franchise started with a Van Damme classic? I’m not sure really. Maybe my standards have improved.

Nah, it can’t be that.

The First Two Hundred Pages of Dune

I tried to read Frank Herbert’s Dune so many times. So many times. I always got about thirty or forty pages in and just kind of fell away.

I’m on page 207.

This is a fairly major victory for me. I can’t really recall why I never got this far before. I was always attracted to the fiction and I have been pointed in the direction of the novel again and again by people with similar tastes to my own. Reading through the first two hundred pages though, I think I can hazard a few guesses.

The book is slow. Very, very slow. This is by no means a bad thing, but I think it was a large part of what put me off for so long. You’re effectively thrown in to the middle of a plot with massive amounts of back story, much of which is inferred and the rest left to your imagination. This is actually pretty cool. It shows a huge amount of respect for the reader. Ultimately though, my interest has held this time because I’m completely fascinated by the feudal houses in space angle more than anything else. I am intensely curious about the various inter-galactic conspiracies and serpentine politics, but I’m holding on purely because the whole idea of space duels and poison intertwined with futuristic technology is really compelling.

I don’t like Paul Atreides. I can’t stand him. I get that he’s only a teenager, but his sudden prescience (at the point that I am at in the book) makes him even more frustrating. He’s incredibly obnoxious. I’m saddled with a protagonist I can’t stand surrounded by characters that I find absolutely riveting. Kynes in particular, and to a lesser extent the Baron Harkonnen, grip me completely on every page. Then I’m back to Paul Atreides meditating on the fact that he is the messiah.

The constant interior monologue of every single character in the book is almost comical.

“Good morning” said Paul. He thought of all the things that this morning could have brought, and looked at his mother with a sense of despair and unfiltered antipathy.

“What do you want for breakfast?” Jessica asked. She thought of all the times this question must have been asked throughout the millennia across the galaxy. But here was Paul, asking this question now! What if he was to ask for Cheerios?

“Cheerios” said Paul. His mind turned to thoughts of the future turned back on itself and the notion of the milk’s sell-by date, so inconsequential in the meaning of life.

“Okay” said Jessica. Ah! The boy’s mind is keen!

Thing is, I have grown to absolutely love this feature in the text. It’s astonishing that Herbert has thought through every facet of each of his characters. The personalities are so well thought out and so believable that the inner monologues add hugely to the story. If Herbert had in any way undercooked his characters or taken some shortcut, the book would be unreadable. However, the book is utterly fascinating. Early in the novel, the reader is flat out told the mechanics of an upcoming and extremely important plot twist, but the majority of the characters have no idea what is coming. The fact that Herbert pulls this off so well is phenomenal. Being dropped in the middle of this massive universe, at first hugely disorienting, has presented me with a driving motive to push on with this book, and no doubt fire through the sequels as fast as I can. I want to learn more about this galaxy and the imperial seat and the source of all this intrigue, and the eventual results.

I still find Paul Atreides really annoying.

Trouble at the South China Morning Post

There’s a great piece in the Guardian today from Tom Phillips on trouble brewing at the Hong Kong publication the South China Morning Post. The SCMP, one of the most respected newspapers in East Asia and certainly the most authoritative English-language broadsheet, has been slowly slipping towards viewpoints and positions more favourable to Beijing, at least according to some of The Guardian’s sources. Phillips’ (and Christy Yao’s) work uses as its hook the case of Zhao Wei, a young Chinese human rights activist seized in 2015 as part of a government crackdown and allegedly recently released, though her husband and lawyer point out they have yet to be able to make contact with her:

“I have come to realise that I have taken the wrong path,” Zhao was quoted as saying in the article. “I repent for what I did. I’m now a brand new person.”
The story did not make clear how the SCMP had managed to make contact with Zhao and activists, media experts and Zhao’s husband and lawyer suspect the interview was set up by mainland authorities and conducted against her will.

The SCMP becoming more inured to Beijing’s rather skewed view of the press’ role in a modern society is concerning in its own right of course, but the importance of the newspaper as a Hong Kong institution also marks it out as representative of broader fears that predate the handover of the former British colony back to Chinese hands in 1997. The flow of mainland Chinese, be they workers, entrepreneurs or political apparatchiks, has caused concern to simmer gently in Hong Kong for years now. Recent developments surrounding Beijing’s fundamental failure to understand democratic systems have left many in no doubt that the reshaping of Hong Kong public life to make Beijing’s leaders feel more comfortable is happening thanks to more factors than gradual, if inevitable, cultural and political shift.

So yes, it is all rather worrying for those of us who value Hong Kong’s independence (figuratively speaking, of course) and the territory’s contributions to East Asia and the world, despite lots of assurances that this is so much fussing over nothing and bad blood. The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 guarantees Hong Kong’s “current social and economic systems”, particularly “[r]ights and freedoms” such as freedom of assembly and, yes, of the press. That guarantee is given only for the first fifty years after the handover. A lot has changed in China since then, and the threat to Hong Kong’s “economic system” is nowhere near as grave as once imagined. The latter however creates ample room for concern, particularly given the persistently disappointing positions taken by Xi Jinping’s government.

Of course one could point out, as many do, that British interest in Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms became somewhat more acute once the handover became a reality. Those who make this point might also make the related point that British interest in Hong Kong democracy was non-existent. And they would be right. Still, we have the Hong Kong we have, and the territory is a wondrous thing. It would be a terrible thing to see that compromised. The SCMP is nowhere near the point of no return but hopefully enough people will take note of the gentle slips and slides towards the precipice.

Grading All Day…

Today I reap what I have sown, and in between prepping for tomorrow’s classes I have plenty of grading to do. It allows me to make a silly Chris de Burgh intentional malapropism:

Break out the diet coke and away we go…

More blog posts to come in future, I promise. For now hang out while I read fifty takes on Urban II’s speech at Clermont in 1095 and another thirty or so on the Meiji Constitution of 1889.

 

Holding Space

Patrick Wallace, Digital Projects and Archives Librarian at Middlebury

How to be (or foster) a mad archivist

I like his coat and tie

  • Why a “mad archivist”?
  • The laboratory, in theory and practice
  • Discussion!

The digital archive might have a wild unstructured idea behind it

  • He has been given a lot of latitude at Middlebury on what projects to focus on

Nice compilation of skills the digital archivists are supposed to know

  • Everything, basically

Love his slides. Great use of comic-style images

Archivist as a dreamer

  • Futurist, idealist, strategist

Libraries at LACs have people who will wear lots of hats

  • Talks about hiring people with strong personalities, clear idea of their work
    • SWEET Star Trek reference with “an ensemble crew” slide

Mad archivist as technician

  • Hacker/inventor/mnemonic geek

Kludge leads to solutions

  • Always more ideas than time
  • Few problems demand perfect solutions

Institutional authority vs. agency

  • Easier to apologize…

Mad archivist as outlier

  • Trans-everything, front facing…

Establish an identity

  • Create a mission statement for your “lab”
  • Pursue your own goals
  • Draw lines between consultation and collaboration
  • Own your own work (but license freely)
    • Makes fascinating comparison with a science lab where everyone who picks up a beaker gets official credit

Importance of making time

  • Learning is work, research is work, tweaking is work, documentation is work…

Prepare for experimentation

  • Linux + sudo privileges
  • Storage space
  • Off-network sandbox
  • Special hardware

Take notes

  • Use to observe difference between productive and wasted effort

Metrics of madness

  • For digital collections, success is measured by volume, reusability, quality, and accessibility

He pushes things out to the Internet Archive (specifically shouts out their Python library)

Share everything!!!!

  • Research, workflows, code, content
    • “be promiscuous with your archives”

Presentation template by SlidesCarnival

How (& Why) Did They Make That?

Session Map

  • Overview & Introductions
  • Archiving Campus Controversies & Student Criticism on the Web
  • Digital Humanities as Community Engagement in the Digital Watts Project
  • Voices of Industrial America: A Distance Digital Liberal Arts Seminar
  • Journal of Tolkien Research: An OA Peer-Reviewed Journal on Digital Commons
  • Facilitated Discussion
  • Open Q&A

Ten minute talks.

Archiving Campus Controversies

Historical records librarians create cannot be neutral

Time can heal, issues can be quaint

  • Not always… he shares the 1988 incident that basically led to Greek organizations being kicked off campus

They archived YikYak! He mentions “Sombrero Girl”

  • The “bathroom wall of the cellphone”, YikYak

Wallace’s discussion of how to handle the seniors’ “crush lists” and privacy

  • Who has a right to be forgotten, who decides?

Importance of being bold in the face of institutional resistance

Share it when the time is right and not be timid

  • Uses Feminist Action at Middlebury twitter account

The Digital Watts

Melanie Hubbard from Loyola Marymount University

Some interesting stuff; project helped get library started on digitizing its material

Argues project shows us how information science and humanities are good/natural together

  • I would agree

Raises the point that neither she nor the faculty member are historians… (Dermot Ryan is an Assoc. English prof)

Metadata creation process the greatest challenge faced

  • Repeats issues mentioned earlier
    • Library didn’t want it too academic, wanted to make sure the information reached the Southern Los Angeles community

Issue of terminology

  • Watts Riots/Watts Uprising/Watts Rebellion/Watts Revolt
    • In the end, source content drives label in individual cases, they went with Watts 1965 as the collection title

Fascinating. I wonder about money, frankly.

Voices of Industrial America

He shares the website with us and ALREADY it is clear to me this is something different. It looks built up from the start as an online course. It’s not the same as just replicating online courses.

They built this through COPLAC (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges)

COPLAC and Digital Liberal Arts Seminars

  • Team-taught, multi-campus, undergraduate digital liberal arts seminars
  • Funded through Teagle
  • Two sections of Century America in spring of 2014-2015
    • Second iteration created 3 courses in 2016
  • Mellon gave them 550k to teach 12 new courses in 2017-2019

Diverse group of faculty, lots of different backgrounds (started with history, grew)

Chose 1870-1914 as a time frame because they wanted to avoid WWI, WWII

Teachers in separate locations, students in multiple locations far away (from Massachusetts to Florida)

Skills

  • Archival/primary source research
  • Technical skills
  • Metadata
  • Digital curation
  • Public presentation
  • Critical thinking

They’re not really talking about how this actually works….

She is going through their workflow

  • Clearly identified deliverables, timelines

Metadata, blog posts by students reflecting on metadata

Digital Liberal Arts at a Distance

  • Project contracts to develop understanding
  • Synchronous communication
  • Historical context
  • Technology and skill building

“I think we were able to develop chemistry”

  • They had six students

 

Tolkien Journal

Brad Eden, Dean of Library Services at Valparaiso

  • He speaks today as a Full Professor
  • Has a PhD in Musicology; also holds degree in Library Services

Currently 50-75 well known Tolkien scholars worldwide, and many popular enthusiasts

  • There are “only” a few journals
  • Tolkien Studies, which is expensive
    • A problem as many scholars work outside the traditional academic landscape
  • He was approached by Catholic University Press to chair a new journal

He really likes the tools (correcting misspellings after publication, viewership stats and so on)

  • So basically…. A blog! This is very cool.

He can publish as soon as he’s done with the review process…

  • He doesn’t wait for issues
    • No six month waits… (hey, it gets worse than that!)
    • Multimedia is not a hindrance; photo and video can be included

Journal is now in its third year…

He recommends the Digital Commons system… strongly

Planning to Share: Open Educational Resources (OER) for SLACs (dlfLAC notes)

Mackenzie Brooks (Wash & Lee, Digital Humanities Librarian, Asst. Prof.) and Brandon Walsh

  • Liberal Arts context
  • Resources can be professionally legible (to academics but also to language within your organization (ie tied to your official role)
  • Plan up front for different stages in a project’s life
  • What is OER? What do these words actually mean?
  • Local context vs. wider audience
  • What are you already doing?

Use of a stipend to incentivize faculty…

Brandon is talking about his working closely with a History professor on the construction of her class

  • He did digital text analysis materials (this was going to be part of the class)
  • She did the History stuff, basically.

Developing resources can be educational opportunities

  • Historian learned Markdown, Github

UCAH (University Collections of Art and History) stuff looks great.

  • Interdisciplinary lesson plans
  • Published on WordPress, shared on Facebook
  • Grant funded by ACS to provide modest stipends to toolkit creators
  • Faculty/librarian collaboration
  • Website is http://teachingwithucah.academic.wlu.edu/

Platform selection platforms; phases are not necessarily clearly separate

  • Gitbook.com
    • Uses markdown
      • Basically if you can write, you’re golden
      • Good for teaching markdown
      • Data is ours, site framework is hard to edit
        • This is a problem because it is new and there are some problems.
  • Jekyllrb.com
    • Takes markdown
    • Prioritizes website creation
    • Requires a background in programming
    • Integrates well with GitHub Pages for hosting

Audience point: it’s key to remember that FERPA does apply when students are putting themselves out there

  • I should double-check this… I think I’m fine as long as we’re not grading things.

WordPress might be a good place to start, and take Jekyll from there with an established workflow…

  • I’m not clear on what advantages Jekyll has… I must look this up…

Adventuring in Games

I really like the stories around the Warcraft adventure game that never was, but yet is. It is fascinating, and typical Blizzard: the truth is they could probably have got this game to work, and would likely still do so now, but chose not to because it was good but not good enough. That’s their secret, I think. I assume this is why I keep playing Heroes of the Storm, and why I do not dare purchase Overwatch in case I have to give up playing other games. And reading.

Mostly I like the idea of adventure games in game universes that traffic mostly in other genres. Bob and I have been talking on the History Respawned Podcast recently about Telltale games and as our conversations have continued after the recording stops, I’ve been increasingly thinking about how recent adventure games have both revived and changed that genre. There’s a lot to be said for some good old fashioned pointing and clicking from an age before timed dialogue trees, though I must say, if I ever do go back and do a King’s Quest playthrough as I’ve been threatening for years I will shamelessly cheat. Some would say that detracts from the experience and essentially proves the point that the games themselves have problems.

I don’t mind the checking of wikis and the like though. During my summer discovery that I do, in fact, adore the Dark Souls games a lot of my enjoyment came from trawling wikis and reddit posts and other Ogham stones of the online Dark Souls community. This is how I discovered I could basically sprint through an area I would visit hours later to grab armor that made the early game a lot friendlier, and I spent quite a lot of time comparing possible upgrade paths of different weapons. In essence, I needed the online community to show me that Dark Souls is a role-playing game with extremely well-tuned action and not a janky action game designed to make me angry and upset.

So maybe I will finally deliver on my threat to go back and play King’s Quest games, or maybe I’ll boot up Kentucky Route Zero and stop being such a baby about the inevitability that I end up excited for a fifth episode that doesn’t yet exist. We’ll see.

So yeah, I like this stuff about Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans, and just how goofy it is and how much of a time capsule it presents. It’s odd to me that today’s high school students probably think Halo 2 is a weird old game. Also, it had Clancy Brown in it, and he should be in everything.

Visions of the Future

I’m building a PC.

This is very exciting for me. I’ve never built one, but I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while. The consoles are finally moving on to the next generation, and for the first time in a decade I don’t care. Neither machine really interests me and Microsoft and Sony’s interest in locking down the user experience bothers me much more than it used to. I suppose one could attribute this to the Xbox 360’s almost comical descent into interactive billboard over the last two years, or perhaps I’m becoming more libertarian as I grow older. That’s the usual political shift with age, right?

At any rate, it feels like time to move to the PC. In truth, to “future proof” against the coming console quantum leap from games that look very good to games that look a little bit better than that and the accompanying console ports that need a $799 graphics card to run at a 640×400 resolution,[1] I’d probably have to spend a lot more money than it would cost to purchase one of the new machines. In fact, to build the kind of PC that might get random people on the Internet to just SHUT UP, I’d probably spend the amount it would cost to buy both of Sony and Microsoft’s newest gifts to the Madden-playing masses.

I’m not going to do that though. Instead, I’ve bought the parts to put together a pretty decent machine that will run current games rather well. People in the know refer to such a build, rather worryingly considering the price, a “mid-range” PC. That’s fine. You see, the PC has a secret weapon that I didn’t care about an awful lot a few years ago but that now dominates my gaming experience: versatility. I want to play indie games and I want to play big budget games involving dragons. I want it all. I can get it all (or most of it) on PC. When the time comes I can go out and buy a new graphics card or a new processor or more RAM or whatever I want. I’m committing to having the same computer for the next twenty years essentially.[2]

In any case, I’ve been playing PC more than console for quite a while now anyway, hobbling on with my increasingly decrepit machine for the last year and a half. Cheaply available games online has been the key; I very rarely feel the need to buy a game when it’s new these days because I’m so busy with work that I miss all the interesting conversations anyway. There’s also the little issue of backwards compatibility, now a distant memory in console-land but a staple of PC gaming. The idea that the marketplace could become constrained in a manner even remotely similar to the consoles so energizes the PC base that much of the backlash against Windows 8 has been centered on Microsoft’s desire to close off the video game market within a Windows-controlled ecosystem. That and the start button. When did people start caring about the start button? I have a healthy library of video games in my Steam library and I can download whatever ones I wish once I’ve set up the new PC. Boom. They’ll just… work. The PC requires a bit of investment of time and money to start but once I have that boulder moving momentum should take over. That’s the plan, anyway.

On the podcast Bob asked me if I had a game I was looking forward to playing at high settings. I didn’t quite have an answer for him, though I suppose Total War 2: Shogun is as good a candidate as any. I might actually give Empire: Total War a shot, as my old PC rather confusingly proved utterly unable to get it up and running despite doing reasonably well with the newer Total War game. If you consider apparently sweating and wailing in terror doing “reasonably well.” The truth is I haven’t given it a lot of thought, because being able to run a game at 1280×720 has been such a huge success for so long. My Steam collection contains a significant backlog, including games that once displayed the awesome horsepower of my new graphics card back when it cost $349. I’ll get to play PC games at a high resolution with high graphical setting. I don’t even know what to expect. All I can ever remember about advertising for high end graphics cards is that there seems to be a lot of focus on hair. Bodies of water too, I suppose, but mostly hair.

Now that I think of it, I’ll probably put on a game with lots of snow and moving parts. So, yeah. Shogun 2 it is. I’m certainly not interested in buying a Lost Planet game. I’m not insane.

So far I’ve been thinking about the change in my video game experience purely in terms of being able to play games that have been tough to run on my current machine, but of course it’s more than that. In addition to the increased immersion and exposure to the intent of a game’s artists, the mild but still troubling stress of a drop in the frame rate and load times long enough to give me time to come and write a blog post will be gone. The time I spend playing games will become more valuable, which is nice seeing as my time has suddenly become valuable. I didn’t see that coming.


  1. One could bring up the Ship of Theseus here, but I’d rather mention Trigger’s Broom.  ↩

  2. I used to find people online complaining about shoddy console ports tiresome, but GTA IV has embittered me forever. ↩

Discovering the American Pastime

My first memory of baseball is of seeing the game on my
grandmother’s television in Cork city in 1987 or 1988. It was the New York
Mets. Don’t ask me how I remember this, as I remember nothing else about the
game. I don’t even recall what time of year this was, so I don’t know if it was
spring training, a regular season game or even the post-season. This was Cork
city, home to great teams of both hurling and gaelic football, the center of
old fashioned rugby union in the south and, as Ireland’s second biggest city,
soon to become a stronghold of Irish soccer. Baseball was not on the radar of
many people in Cork.

My grandmother had MultiChannel, a local service that
provided about sixteen channels via a small black box on top of the television.
Otherwise one could watch two channels over terrestrial television. The breadth
of selection, though a bounty to the generation before us that had been happy
with one station, was often referred to dismissively as “Bog One and Bog Two”
in schoolyards. The MultiChannel was popular because it gave affordable access
to English stations, which by the time I stood in front of my grandmother’s
television watching baseball added a whopping four stations to the original
two. Beyond that lay a number of stations with minimal effect on me, until Sky
One’s rigorous syndication of Star Trek: The Next Generation a few years later.
The French language station Canal Plus, the German station Sat 1 and the
sports channel Eurosport rounded out the coverage. This latter station hosted
the baseball, as was its wont; Eurosport presented itself as a channel
presenting a continental European slant on things but as far as I could gather
it was left with the dregs of sporting events the terrestrial channels chose
not to cover. Eurosport was the place to go for winter sports, off-season track
and field and the occasional bit of cycling. On this occasion the channel
showed baseball.

 

I have to confess that the game, or rather the few minutes
of the game I watched, had little effect on me. I had no context, for one
thing; I knew nothing about the successful 1986 Mets. I had no idea who Daryl
Strawberry was, let alone Keith Hernandez. In fact, I would become familiar
with both of these figures on television before I became aware of their
sporting legacies, Strawberry as the suck-up to Monty Burns on The Simpsons and
Hernandez as an object of Jerry Seinfeld’s smitten affections. Baseball was
supremely foreign in a way that it’s hard to fathom for me now, having lived in
the United States for almost a decade, fallen in love with an American woman
and become a soon-to-be father of an American child. He will likely see his
father as some kind of odd Irish weirdo. That’s certainly the aura I hope to
cultivate, anyway. I now spend weekends watching American football and much of
my summers watching baseball.

My conversion to baseball was by far the most recent and in
some ways more profound. I developed a taste for American football at a young
age, despite the fact that this was an extremely rare taste to develop on my
own in late 1980s/early 1990s Ireland. So isolated was I in my fandom that when
I met an Englishman in Sheffield in 2002 that also liked the sport, we bonded
immediately. He was in my wedding. There were other factors too. We both liked
metal, for instance. However, he was the first person I had met and hung out
with that was open to the idea of staying up until four am drinking beer and
watching the Dallas Cowboys. He was already doing it before I met him, in fact.

He also liked baseball. I didn’t. Baseball was too arcane
for me, and as a result I had long since dismissed it, even questioned its
viability as a sport. It was foreign in the very real sense that it appeared
quintessentially American, and although I was far more amenable to American
culture than most of my European contemporaries, sport provided a final
frontier of sorts. American football was different, or perhaps it filled my
quota of Americana weirdness to that point; basketball seemed like a waste of
time and ice hockey close enough to a European sporting ethos to seem
attractive but never quite convincing enough for me to start paying attention.
America was off on its own, a strange oasis of odd, commercialized sporting
enterprises that rejected my one true love: soccer.

It was that connection that helped draw me in, in the end. I
started working on sports history during my doctoral work and a good friend
asked a simple question: “Why do they play baseball in Taiwan?” This drove a
project that ended up, of all things, comparing baseball in Taiwan to Gaelic
Games in Ireland in terms of their political and social significance. It also
started an interesting process for me personally. In order to be able to write
about the sport effectively, I reasoned, it was no longer acceptable for me to
practice an aggressive ignorance about the sport’s culture and the culture of
those that appreciated it. I set myself a crash course on the game and began to
read: Joe Posnanski, Howard Bryant, John Thorn, David Block, Bill James, the
ubiquitous Moneyball by Michael
Lewis… There are many more that I have yet to read but surely will. I watched
Ken Burns’ nine innings (and his tenth), I actually started… watching games.

I had been to baseball games before. I always enjoyed it as
a spectacle. I was, at baseball games at least, the person I had always hated
at soccer matches, the very person that marketing departments desired to go to
the games. Somebody willing to buy a ticket and spend a little bit of money in
the stadium, and… well, I think that’s all marketing departments wanted. My
first ever Major League game was in 2000, when I attended a Giants-Dodgers game
at Pac Bell Park. I remember a Dodgers fan being escorted from the stadium
after the Giants fans surrounding him had been unpleasant, which struck me as
highly unfair; Americans didn’t seem to be very good at this rivalry thing. On the train to the stadium, we were
briefly joined by a man wearing a t-shirt bearing a motto he was only happy to
repeat at volume: “Duck the Fodgers!” I wasn’t overly impressed. 

My friends, all young Irishmen like me, wanted to depart
from the cheap standing area we had bought our way into and to take a nicer
seat in the stands. Being an abject coward, I argued against the approach until
it became clear that people were leaving with worrying regularity. I’ll always
remember the large man leaving with his daughters just after the seventh inning
stretch. He approached us purposefully and yelled “dirty hippies!” Being, as we
were, twenty year olds in unkempt jeans and cords with pretty liberal haircuts
(in a maintenance sense, not a political one) I assumed that he was focusing
his ire upon us. Then the hand came up and I performed one of the first
un-ironic high fives of my life. He took his daughters and left; we took his
seats.

Marvin Benard scored a three run homer in the bottom of the
ninth to win the game. We thought it was cool. 
In 2008 I witnessed Marlon Byrd hit a walk-off grand slam at the
Ballpark in Arlington to break a tie with the Yankees. I lost my mind. I often
try to recreate Benard’s homer in my mind and try and generate a more suitable
response, but it’s impossible of course. We thought it was cool. We went on
with the rest of our evening. I’ve often told the story since, though until
recently I claimed that it was Barry Bonds, and not Benard, that scored the
winning home run. The truth is that Bonds didn’t even play that day. Now, this
could be an example of the perfidy of memory but in truth I think it’s rather
more mundane: Bonds is a more interesting story so I choose to remember Bonds.

So what connection could there be to soccer in all of this?
As I suppose would be typical of my interests, the history of the game drew me
in. Baseball, at has existed and continues to exist in the northeast of the
United States, is a game of loyalties and latterly, of betrayal. The American
phenomenon of teams moving locations, such anathema to my European
sensibilities, has as its ultimate example the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers
for the west coast. I suppose we can talk about the Baltimore Colts stealing
away in the night, but the Dodgers is the better story, the better example of
trauma inflicted on an entire community. The Dodgers led an exodus west, to
that place where the sun always shines and excited men demand high fives of
scared Irish college kids before leaving a game with two innings to go. Boston
and New York are home to the game’s history, where urchins in flat caps broke
windows and scurried off from the wrath of their neighbors. That resonated with
me because I did the exact same thing, though with a soccer ball, and in less
oppressive settings than the poverty of urban New York at the turn of the
twentieth century. Baseball fans care about their teams as well, and this meant
something to me. Yes, fans of other sports care about their teams, but it’s
just so sanitized in the American experience. The NFL has been too successful
in monetizing itself, in recreating the sport as a television product. The NFL
champions the fan that trades in body paint and mugging for the camera. The
advertisers focus on the concept of fan loyalty to a lesser extent, but it’s all
on the surface. Basketball threw its lot in with the superstar model and that’s
been successful too. But baseball…

Baseball is nerdy. It’s weird. That arcane nature that so
turned me off as a child is a large part of its appeal for me now. Look at the
people that write about baseball, that talk about it on television. They’re
generally not the cool kids. Don’t get me wrong; cool is overrated. I identify
more closely with them. In that sense, I have come to baseball not because the
sport reminds me of soccer, or because the culture of baseball resembles the
culture of soccer (though I believe it does in some key ways) but because the
way I have come to feel about baseball mirrors the way that I feel about
soccer. In the case of both sports, I enjoy intellectual discussions based on a
rational approach and I willingly give in to the enjoyment of completely
irrational impulses. I’m not a fan of the concept of “narrative” in sports
because I feel it’s a concept utilized and followed a little too closely by
people whose job it is to write about sports. However, I will confess to
wanting a specific team to win for no real reason, for liking certain players
and disliking others, for having a completely irrational (and unfair) dislike of
an entire organization for no apparent reason. My love is baseball is exactly that, or has become that: love. It will never displace my love of soccer but it’s come closer than I ever thought possible. My enjoyment of baseball and of
soccer, and my practice as a fan of both sports, makes no sense. That’s the way
I like it.