Tag Archives: Danny Postel

Five thoughts on Linsanity

Linsanity is sweeping the nation.

The story of undrafted, twice-cut and Harvard-educated Jeremy Lin setting records for points and assists in leading the previously moribund New York Knicks to an active seven-game winning streak has gripped people across the country and sparked a welcome discussion about race in America.

As with any topic of the moment these days, there is an almost endless supply of material about Lin, his Asian American background, and his long journey from receiving no college scholarship offers, being undrafted and then cut by the Houston Rockets and his hometown Golden State Warriors to out playing Kobe Bryant and hitting a game-winning three pointer in Jose Calderon’s face.

Even opposing players are getting swept along.

ESPN beat writer Dave McMenamin tweeted the following after Lin’s shot:

The Lakers’ players lounge just erupted when Lin hit that big 3. World Peace emerged and ran through the locker room yelling ‘Linsanity!!’

And the Worldwide Leader’s New York section unabashedly this week said that it’s All Lin, All The Time.

Meanwhile, dear friend and uber-connector Danny Postel sent along this piece by Alexander Chee about the impact Lin is having on Asian-Americans’ experience and perception of race in the United States, concluding at the end that Lin’s play will lead to less bullying:

And while Jeremy Lin may not single-handedly make all of the bullying go away, somewhere in America, at least one Asian American kid right now is getting invited into a pick-up game instead of cornered and beaten. That’s the game that matters, more than anything you’ll see during a Knicks game. And Lin is helping win that one, too.

And others have drawn comparisons between the play, religious faith and  rise in team’s fortunes of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and Lin.

With all this conversation swirling around, it may seem a bit presumptuous to insert oneself into the conversation.

Nevertheless, here are my takes on some lesser-discussed aspects that have contributed to, and that we can learn from, this moment:

I. Lin is embodying the hero’s journey articulated by Joseph Campbell.

Campbell wrote in a number of books, most notably, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, about the hero receiving the call, undergoing trials, slaying the dragon and returning home with the boon.

Lin has at the very least done the first two, if not all four, of these steps.  His steadfast pursuit of his dream in the face both of not having his talents recognized and enduring many racial slurs shows his character and is a large part of his appeal.

II. His height and position enhance his appeal: 

Lin is not the first Asian or Asian-American player to make an impact on the NBA.   In fact, Yao Ming’s decision to retire due to the damage his 7 foot 6 inch body sustained prompted serious discussion of whether he should be admitted to the Hall of Fame.

Yao was enormously popular in his native China-he carried the country’s Olympic torch in consecutive Olympics-and his towering size, foreign place of birth and slower acquisition of English made it harder for certain NBA fans to root for him than the shorter, quicker Lin, whose darts into the forest of big men resonate with fan is size or smaller.

In other words, there are a lot more guys 6’3″ or less who see their own fantasies embodied by the point guard Lin, than there are people who are 7’0″ or taller, like  Yao, who played center.

III. Race in America is multi-layered:

Boxer Floyd Mayweather stirred up controversy when he tweeted Monday: “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”

Mayweather’s assertion sparked a retort from director and Knicks fanatic Spike Lee, among others, who said that Lin “Can BALL PLAIN AND SIMPLE. RECOGNIZE.”

I agree with Lee on this point, and the racial current in this conversation are not one-dimensional.  Chee wrote in his piece that his initial thought upon learning that Lin graduated from Harvard was one of concern:

When I heard he was a Harvard grad, I thought: Of course, the first Asian American NBA superstar also had to go to Harvard and get better than a 3.0.

And then: Way to raise the stakes on the Asian American overachiever.

Chee’s first thought was not his conclusion, and the insight is revealing of the ambiguous and often precarious social position in which many Asian-Americans find themselves here in the United States.

At the same time, I would say that, as with Steve Nash before him, Lin does have a certain appeal among fans of the game who are not black and who enjoy seeing someone other than an African-American succeed at the game’s highest levels.

So, while Mayweather may not have been right about the source of Lin’s attention being based in his race, there are other factors in the conversation that do relate to

Speaking of Nash, …

IV. Mike D’Antoni has a fascinating role in this drama:

The recently-embattled coach has revived his own career and the team’s fortunes by handing the proverbial keys to the car to Lin, who has made the most of the opportunity.  This is remarkably similar to what he did in Phoenix with Nash, who went from a lower-level All Star to a two-time MVP by manning the helm of the Seven Seconds or Less offense that inspired a book by Jack McCallum and that Chris Connelly included in his list of Top 12 Critically Acclaimed Teams or Athletes.

In other words, for some fans, Lin’s accomplishments are accentuated because his race,a heightens his underdog status.  Although different from Nash and reigning Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, Lin’s race stands in stark contrast with that of the majority of the league’s players, who are black.

This is a topic worth a entire post and book (Jeffrey Lane explored this territory throughout his book Under the Boards, and in particular in his chapter on Larry Bird.).

V. Social media has played a substantial role in reducing the time frame for evaluating actions:

Lin has been a starter for seven games.

During that time he has ascended from unknown to budding legend with ten of thousands of Twitter followers.

That’s a function to a large degree of his play, which has set post-merger records, the Knicks’ wins and Lin’s role at critical moments in the victories.

But Linsanity has also taken hold because of the global conversations enabled in real time by Twitter and other related technologies.

As a result, a process that in the past took people an entire career of a dozen years at least has been reduced to less than 10 percent of a shortened season.

We saw the same phenomenon at work before with Tebow’s play with the Broncos this past fall.

We’ve seen it in other arenas, too.

Think of all the frontrunners there have been for the Republican presidential nomination.  Bachmann. Cain.  Perry. Gingrich twice. Santorum. Hunstmann (Just checking to see that you are paying attention.).

Each had a momentary surge that has been used to project their position atop the party’s ticket.

In fact, Yahoo News just announced yesterday that President Obama won re-election in November, despite the fact that the vote is more than eight months away.

I’m exaggerating on the last example, of course.

But not by much.

And I would argue that the point about the impact of social media on our ability to have any sort of historical perspective stands.

The upside of all this connection is an unparalleled ability to be in touch at any second.

The downside, from my perspective, is that diminution in evaluative capacity.

Linsanity has been productive and positive in many, many ways.

And, as the name suggests, it is a form of temporary craziness.

As Walt Frazier pointed out, there are flaws in Lin’s game.

Sooner of later, the Knicks’ streak will end.

Lin will make mistakes in critical moments.

Asian-American kids will continue to deal with bullying.

And the presidential election will take place in November, not February.

I applaud and admire what Lin is doing, how he is handling himself and the discussion his play has prompted.

At the same time, I would urge us to consider the importance of thoughtful reflection and being able to place things in a longer-term perspective.

The People Reloaded: Iran’s Green Revolution

The People Reloaded is a rewarding and informative anthology.

I did not make last night’s launch party, but I did finish The People Reloaded, Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi’s collection of essays about the Green Revolution in Iran.

I recommend it highly.

For those who did not follow the events follow the stolen election of June 2009, this is an indispensable primer that covers many different aspects of Iranian history, culture, politics, religion, technology and law, among many others.

Postel and Hashemi have pieces from luminaries like Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and revered Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, who died shortly after giving the uprising his religious backing, as well as from lesser known bloggers and citizens.

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Difference Maker Danny Postel on Iran’s Green Revolution.

Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi bring together many voices in The People Reloaded.

Of all of his many talents, one of Danny Postel’s most signature abilities may be his ability to convene conversations.

Danny brings together people from all different backgrounds and nationalities in person, through his relentless sharing of articles and book titles, through his writing and his editing.

It is the latter aspect of his work, along with his unswerving commitment to following his ideals where they logically lead that is most evident in The People Reloaded, a collection of essays about Iran’s Green Revolution he co-edited with Nader Hashemi.

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Upheaval in 1968, Richard Wolin on French Intellectuals and the Cultural Revolution

Richard Wolin's textured look at French intellectuals and the Cultural Revolution is worthwhile reading.

By any standard, 1968 was a tumultuous year around the globe.

Here in the United States, two of the decade’s leading lights, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, were murdered within two short months of each other.  In Czechoslovakia, the arrival of Soviet tanks marked the brutal end to that nation’s experiment with “Socialism with a human face.”   In Mexico, students challenged the government, which responded by massacring hundreds of protestors.

France also saw its share of revolutionary ferment and action, especially in May.

Many of the leading activists were students and left-wingers drawing inspiration from the recently launched Cultural Revolution in China. Enthralled by Mao Zedung, whose commitment to philosophy and poetry they admired, these intellectuals were blind to the revolution’s abuses.

Yet, far from being a one-dimensional story of privileged students and intellectuals ignoring the blemishes of an exotic other, the French tale is more complicated, according to Richard Wolin.  In his fascinating book, The Wind from the East, Wolin argues that the actions the French people took while acting in accordance with their limited understanding of the cultural revolution permanently and positively changed French society for the better.

The Wind from the East is more than a straightforward analysis of intellectuals’ enchantment with the revolution.  In this enormously rich work, Wolin evokes an age, takes the measure of towering philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault, among others, supplies a subtle and textured analysis of French, and to a lesser degree, Chinese society, and raises important questions about the legacy of social movements and appropriate criteria by which to evaluate them.

Wolin will be speaking about the work today at 2:00 p.m. at the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.

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George Scialabba event, other bloggers.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford was just one of several bloggers I met at last night's reading by George Scialabba.

I had a lot of fun last night at Powell’s Book Store, where uber-connecter Danny Postel and chronicler of the “Backlash Trilogy” Rick Perlstein introduced review extraordinaire George Scialabba.

Scialabba was soft-spoken, intensely intellectual, humble and obviously passionate about the books he reads and the ideals he holds for a better world that may yet be possible.  He opened by reading his title essay from his recently published book, What Are Intellectuals Good For?, to which he added a coda about the possibilities and realities of public discourse in the Internet era.

From there, the discussion was on. It was a wide-ranging one. Scialabba and the standing room only audience of about 35, nearly all white, mostly middle-aged and above, and seemingly all left-wingers of some stripe dug into everything from the implications of Obama’s presidency for public intellectuals to what would happen if all diseases on the planet were eradicated.

Scialabba was a combination of presenter and facilitator, asking people to elaborate, explaining where he agreed with the questioner, clarifying his positions at points and generally modeling the kind of discourse he in his book advocates.

Following the event, about a dozen of us trooped down to Maza’s for a hearty meal of Lebanese food.

Several other bloggers were in tow.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford and his lovely wife Lisa sat across from Dunreith and me.  Geoff works for Wal-mart on the third shift in the Rockford area and has blogged actively about things spiritual and religious for about three years.  I definitely recommend checking out his site.

We also gave a ride home to Michael Kramer, a humanities scholar at Northwestern who blogs about cultural criticism and the role of the scholar as a public intellectual. He’s finishing a forthcoming book from Oxford University Press about rock music and the making of sixties counterculture.  From what I could pick up from our conversation, between his dissertation and book revisions, he’s been at the project for about 10 years.  That’s longer than many hippies were hippies!

All in all, it was an evening rich in conversation, ideas and good will.  Danny is remarkable in his ability to bring together diverse yet like-minded groups of people, and I was glad to be among that number.

George Scialabba asks and answers What Intellectuals Are Good For.

George Scialabba will be speaking at Powell's Bookstore Friday night.

It can be hard to write what is in essence a review of reviews.

Fortunately, George Scialabba’s wit, erudition, political and moral sensibility and sheer depth of knowledge make the task a lot easier.

All are on abundant display in What Are Intellectuals Good For?, a collection of pieces Scialabba wrote between 1984 and 2005.

Scialabba will be talking about the work on Friday from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.at Powell’s Bookstore, 2850 N. Lincoln Ave.

Thanks again to uber-connector Danny Postel for getting me a copy of the book.

Scialabba’s passion for language and bone-deep pleasure in reading shine through each of the 250 pages of this memorable work.  He is unafraid to take on titans of the left, right and formerly left who turned right-read Isaiah Berlin, Matthew Arnold and Christopher Hitchens, respectively. 

Modest about his own considerable talents, Scialabba is clearly committed to advancing public conversation around key questions of this and other day: what, if anything, does life mean; what is justice; and how do we render truth?

He covers a wide range of disciplines on the journey to consider these questions. 

While What Are Intellectuals Good For? is firmly rooted in the humanities, within that space one learns about philosophy, the art of the essay, cultural history, and a twist of sociology and psychology.  Scialabba shows equal facility with fiction and non-fiction work alike, and is catholic-please notice the small c in this word-in his reading.

That said, I felt, and I could be reading too much into this, Scialabba’s affinity for his ancestral home of Italy.  

I learned about writers like Nicola Chiaraomonte and Leonardo Sciascia, whom I have not yet read, but whose works I emerged from Scialabba’s book eager to absorb. His essay about Pier Paolo Pasolini is similarly heartfelt.  In addition to evaluating individual authors, Scialabba also talks about movements, as he does in an engaging look at the demise of the New York intellectuals.  He brings his formidable evaluative talents to bear in each of these formats.

In some ways, the book reads like a fugue in that specific authors are introduced, their works become the subject of exposition and then kneaded into the fabric of the rest of the work.  Chiaromonte is one example of many of this tendency in the work.  Dwight Macdonald, a hero of Scialabba’s, is another.  I enjoyed this musical aspect to the book both because it helped me understand how authors’ works reverberated over time and because it gave the pieces a rhythmic sense of connection.

It bears mentioning that Scialabba has done all this work not within the context of the academy, but while working for nearly the past 30 years as a clerical worker at Harvard University, his undergraduate alma mater.  His work, then, is not only a stellar example of civic engagement by a “layman.”  Rather, Scialabba shows that, decades before journalism collapsed, he had figured out a way to do the work that he wanted on his terms and get it to a diverse set of audiences. 

I have not read all of Scialabba’s work, so cannot say whether the near dearth of writers of color or examination of authors from Latin America or Asia is a reflection of the choices for this collection or a more general absence in Scialabba’s reading.  While I did not know exactly what he would say in all instances, I did get a sense over time of standard elements in many Scialabba reviews: a clever opening; some textual exposition; some interweaving of the author’s personal life or contradictory aspects; a posing of major questions the author’s work raises; and a concluding thought.  Understanding architecture does not mean diminished pleasure in reading.  If anything, it could be taken as a compliment of the work that I read so many consecutive pieces that their structure felt familiar, and even a tad predictable.  

The massive reading list I got from this book notwithstanding, I plan to be at Friday’s event and hope a large group turns up to see and learn from this son of East Boston.  Through his work and career path, Scialabba has answered the question he posed in his book’s title.

 

Steve Early’s reflections on being embedded with organized labor.

Steve Early's reviews and reflections on organized labor make for highly informative reading.

Being an “embedded” journalist has negative connotations for many in the industry, but some may change their opinion after reading Steve Early’s book.

A long-time union organizer for the Communication Workers of America,  Early has gathered many of his reviews of labor books and ruminations about things labor in general.  Embedded with Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home is a  collection that sparkles with Early’s intelligence, many years of experience, perspective and heart.

Many thanks to dear friend and uber-connector Danny Postel for sharing this book with me.  I may add a category of books bearing his name since he has given me so many useful ones!

Early divides his work into six sections, each of which has some introductory text before moving onto the specific articles that comprise that part of the book.

Readers are treated to essays about some of the labor movement’s historic dimensions, the movement’s inconsistent and even tortured relationship with race, class and gender, voices of dissent and reforms, workers’ rights and wrongs, organizing in the global village and changing to win.

Early’s values are evident throughout the book.

His tone shifts at different points from an earnest and informed historian to a disappointed friend to a hopeful brother.  But his belief in the potential for a truly grassroots and democratic union made up of actively reading members in which race, class and gender are seen but do not disqualify people from full participation does not waver.

That Early has attempted to live out his beliefs give his words more credibility.

Embedded with Organized Labor gave me literally dozens of books from which to draw to learn more, knowledge about individuals about whom I had never heard and a clearer sense of the broad narrative arc of labor in the American story.

Such sharing of information could easily be accompanied by arrogance.  However,at no point did I that Early was performing intellectual pirouettes to show off his vast knowledge of the movement.  Rather he is continually sharing and evaluating texts, and the people who wrote them, in an effort to inform, prod and help move people to productive, collective and positively self-interested action.

Early’s got guts, too.

The section of race, class and gender squarely confronts the way in which the movement has fallen short in history and today of reaching some of its loftier ideals,for example.  The failure to deliver on promise shown during the early part of John Sweeney’s New Voice era gets similar treatment.

One of my favorite sections involved the pieces about the growth of SEIU and the anti-democratic and technocratic leadership that he says has emerged under Andy Stern.  These articles were not as book review-oriented as some of the others, but were no less informative for their different focus.

Again, Early’s unyielding commitment to the role of labor and his considerable critical faculties allow him to make these critiques in an unflinching and constructive spirit.

My only quibble is that it would have been helpful to know the where and when of the publication so that we could see his reflections and thought develop over time.

If this is a blemish, it is a small one.

Early will be speaking next Monday night at the No Exit Cafe at an event organized by Postel.  Whether you can make it or not, I urge you to consider purchasing, reading and sharing this valuable and informative book.