Wrestling With History

by Tracy R. Walsh

In a review of David Shoemaker’s The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling, Miles Wray evaluates the early years of the sport:

Professional wrestling is a beautifully American invention, and a reflection of a beautifully American impulse: wrestling matches at carnivals and fairs of the early 1900s were simply WWE_Legends_of_Wrestling_Andre_Giant_&_Iron_Sheik_DVD_covertoo boring for audiences to watch – they were uninterrupted hours of stalemated, ground-bound grappling. Promoters discovered that a match with a preordained result can provide the sorts of thrills, spills, and mercifully abbreviated running time that an actual competition between two wrestlers simply cannot. Add in a few scheming entrepreneurs over the decades, themselves intoxicated by the possibilities of ever-ubiquitous television, and it’s not too hard to see how wrestling evolved into the colorful, brash, heavy-metal spectacle that it is today.

Reading The Squared Circle, it’s obvious that there is at least one thing definitively superior about the early days of wrestling: the names. Up through the ’80s, wrestling was stuffed with whimsical nom de plumes that make Thomas Pynchon look like an unimaginative namer. A small but thrilling sample of superior wrestling aliases: Toots Mondt, Theobaud “Masked Wrestler” Bauer, The Mongolian Stomper, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Leaping Lanny Poffo, The Halitosis Kid, Big John Studd, Sputnik Monroe, The One Man Gang, Gorilla Monsoon, Burrhead Jones, Soul Train Jones, and Special Delivery Jones.

Update from a reader:

Back in the 1970s, I was walking through Cleveland Hopkins Airport and heard an announcement on the public address system: “Phone call for Mr. Butcher,” the voice said. “Phone call for Mr. Abdullah the Butcher…”

He had a colorful history.

We Don’t Need Your Thought Control

by Tracy R. Walsh

Cass Sunstein shares new evidence – sure to surprise very few teenagers  that high school really is a form of brainwashing. At least in China:

New research, from Davide Cantoni of the University of Munich and several co-authors, shows that recent curricular reforms in China, explicitly designed to transform students’ political views, have mostly worked. The findings offer remarkable evidence about the potential influence of the high school curriculum on what students end up thinking – and they give us some important insights into contemporary China as well.

Cantoni found that a 2001 curriculum change designed to “form in students a correct worldview, a correct view on life, and a correct value system” largely succeeded: Students who had been taught under the new curriculum were more likely to view China as a democracy and were more skeptical of free markets than those who hadn’t. (The curriculum was introduced to different provinces at different times, creating natural experimental and control groups.)

Meat And Self-Deceit

By Tracy R. Walsh

Jeffrey Kluger considers the connection:

In a series of experiments and surveys, a team led by research psychologist Steve Loughnan of the University of Melbourne confirmed that while people across a broad range of cultures agree that the more mindful an animal is, the less defensible it is to eat it, we have a convenient way of deciding which critters think and which don’t. If you like beef, you’re more inclined to believe cows can’t think; if you eat only fish, you’re likelier to see cattle as conscious, while the salmon on your plate was probably a non-conscious nincompoop.

That handy reasoning even works in an ex post facto way. Loughnan found that a subject who had just eaten beef and was then asked about cow consciousness tended to rate it low, while someone who had just eaten nuts gave cows more credit. We justify food even after we’ve already consumed it. We do something similar with any animal that either through charisma or companionability has achieved a sort of most favored fauna status. So a hamburger is fine, but a horseburger? We’re not barbarians. Ditto shark fin versus dolphin fin soup, and turkey versus, say, eagle for Thanksgiving.

Previous Dish on horse-eating here. A related thread, “Dogs vs Pigs: Why Do We Eat What We It?”, here.

Mixing Commerce With Consecration

by Tracy R. Walsh

President Obama, Officials Attend 9/11 Memorial Museum Opening Ceremony

Steve Kandell, whose sister was killed in the World Trade Center, shares his conflicted experience touring the National September 11 Memorial & Museum:

I can feel the sweat that went into making this not seem tacky, of wanting to show respect, but also wanting to show every last bit of carnage and visceral whomp to justify the $24 price of admission – vulgarity with the noblest intentions. … I think now of every war memorial I ever yawned through on a class trip, how someone else’s past horror was my vacant diversion and maybe I learned something but I didn’t feel anything. Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark. Annotated divorce papers blown up and mounted, interactive exhibits detailing how your mom’s last round of chemo didn’t take, souvenir T-shirts emblazoned with your best friend’s last words before the car crash. And you should have to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down. Or maybe worse, watch it be co-opted by people who want, for whatever reason, to feel that connection so acutely.

Rosemarie Ward, noting that many of the items on display were donated by victims’ families, is more moved:

Throughout the space are segments of twisted steel, like sculptures. A fire engine from the back looks a bit battered, but the entire front cab is a ghost of mangled steel. A set of partially damaged concrete stairs nestle between an escalator and the museum’s main staircase. The so-called “Survivors’ Staircase” was an outdoor staircase that led some survivors to safety on nearby Vesey Street. In removing this staircase from the site, architects and archeologists treated it as carefully as an ancient relic. …

The audio and video clips of those who are lost, of those who remain, of construction workers, of firefighters, of ordinary New Yorkers, are very moving. The personal accounts, such as the one from John Napolitano whose firefighting son died that day, are hard to listen to. The last phone calls of those lost are devastating. The multi-media exhibits, designed by Local Projects, are particularly moving. In some places visitors are encouraged to make videos while at the museum, which will become part of the exhibit.

The museum is extremely well done. It offers solace to those who still mourn, and an education for those who were not yet born.

(Photo: Objects recovered from the World Trade Center site are displayed during a press preview of the National September 11 Memorial Museum at ground zero May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80-foot high tridents, the so-called ‘Ground Zero Cross,’ the destroyed remains of Company 21’s New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items. The museum opens to the public on May 21. By James Keivom-Pool/Getty Images)

Take Your Daughter Near Work

by Tracy R. Walsh

Ruth Bettelheim suggests allowing kids to attend schools close to their parents’ workplaces:

According to the Census Bureau, US commute times are an average of 25 minutes one way. Over 40 percent of commutes take even longer. For some parents, this is exacerbated by the need to drop kids off at school and pick them up at the end of the day. Plus, married couples are spending 185 more hours per year at work than they did ten years ago, which puts extra stress on families and reduces parental involvement in schools.

In the long-term, companies would get a lot of benefits from funding the expansion or creation of public schools near their office sites. Bloomberg Business Week reported that 80 percent of employers said child care caused workdays to get cut short – and created more problems than any other  family-related issue in the workplace. Businesses save between $150,000 and $250,000 per year when there are on-site or nearby preschools. Economic benefits include reduced absenteeism and turnover, along with increased employee satisfaction and loyalty – all of which substantially improve productivity.

Why They Fought

by Tracy R. Walsh

In a review of Paul Jankowski’s Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War, Robert Zaretsky considers what kept soldiers from deserting the trenches:

French_87th_Regiment_Cote_34_Verdun_1916Why did they accept being fodder for cannons when they saw through the official justifications for the hecatomb, when there seemed no end in sight, when the only winner was the battle itself?  The reasons were complex. … In the end, it was neither military constraint nor fear of punishment that kept men in the trenches. Nor was it patriotism or republicanism, even though Jankowski suggests that many soldiers absorbed the dehumanizing propaganda aimed at “les boches.” Instead, what mostly kept the men going – the fuel to a Beckettian “I can’t go on, I will go on” – were the bonds to family and fellow poilus.

Perhaps the most astonishing statistic of the war, and not just Verdun, is that more than 10 billion letters were sent to and from the home front and front lines. As Paul Fussell pointed out long ago, it was a literary war, one in which the literature of letter writing reminded soldiers why they were fighting. This sense of duty was deepened by the presence of fellow soldiers to either side of them in their shared hell. It was, Jankowski concludes, a kind of duty that “sprang from within themselves, from allegiance rather than enmity and attachment rather than antipathy.”

(Photo: French soldiers of the 87th Regiment, 6th Division, at Côte 304 (Hill 304), northwest of Verdun, 1916. Via Wikimedia Commons.)

Depression And The Self

by Tracy R. Walsh

Jenny Diski considers what her dark moods taught her about identity:

We all have a more or less deep sense of ‘what we really are,’ which is buffeted and put at risk temporarily or permanently by moods, as a boat is by the turmoil of the Bay of Biscay or the dying of the winds in the doldrums. I’ve been on both of those boats and know the power the swell or stillness has over the conveyance, that sense of being a small object in the storm or the lull as it progresses. It is possible, though, that the essential self we perceive is a mirage. It might be no more fundamental, no more unitary, than the moods we want to say affect ‘us’ and change our feelings at any moment. What if our moods are our lives, if our selves are the flicker-book: that what we really are is a continuous fluxing of emotional shades created and conditioned by our biological and experiential environments – body, mind, world – and there is no more a single self, impinged on by fleeting moods, than there is that single mood my parents defined as interrupting my real self?

At Least One Industry Is Safe From Automation

by Tracy R. Walsh

Philosopher John Daneher argues that the sexbots of the future won’t put prostitutes out of work:

The resiliency hypothesis is the claim that prostitution may be one of the few areas of human labor that is resilient to technological unemployment. By resilient, I don’t mean that sex robots won’t be used; just that they won’t replace human prostitutes. An analogy with sport might be helpful. I can imagine a day when highly realistic human-like robots could battle it out in televised fighting contests (indeed, televised robot fighting contests already take place). I think people could be interested in watching those contests. But I don’t think that robotic fights will replace or overtake the interest in human fighting contests. People will still be more interested in human boxing and MMA and the like because they are more interested in the competition between human abilities. I think something similar could be true of the relationship between robot sex and human prostitution.

How Many Americans Are Shot Each Year?

by Tracy R. Walsh

It’s difficult to tell:

An initial push to create a national database of firearm injuries in the late 1980s and early 1990s was slowed by the political fight over Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding for gun research, according to a history of the project written by researchers who worked on it. To make the effort more politically viable, as well as more scientifically rigorous, researchers decided to collect data on all violent deaths, not just firearm deaths. And to cut costs, they decided to focus only on fatal injuries. Even that more limited effort has languished without full congressional funding – the database currently covers fewer than half of all states.

Most discussions of crime trends in America look back 20 years, to 1993, when violent crime of all kinds hit its peak. Compare 1993 to today, and the picture looks bright: The number of murders is down nearly 50 percent, and other kinds of violent crime have dropped even further. … But over the same time period, CDC estimates show that the number of Americans coming to hospitals with nonfatal, violent gun injuries has actually gone up: from an estimated 37,321 nonfatal gunshot injuries in 2002 to 55,544 in 2011. The contrast between the two estimates is hard to clear up, since each data source has serious limitations.

How College Divides Us

by Tracy R. Walsh

Paul Tough observes that an American student’s likelihood of graduating from college “seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor – how much money his or her parents make”:

To put it in blunt terms: Rich kids graduate; poor and working-class kids don’t. Or to put it more statistically: About a quarter of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to collect a bachelor’s degree by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree. When you read about those gaps, you might assume that they mostly have to do with ability. Rich kids do better on the SAT, so of course they do better in college. But ability turns out to be a relatively minor factor behind this divide. If you compare college students with the same standardized-test scores who come from different family backgrounds, you find that their educational outcomes reflect their parents’ income, not their test scores.

Suzanne Mettler, author of Degrees of Inequality: How Higher Education Politics Sabotaged the American Dream, argues that current higher education policy only exacerbates the problem:

[A]t the federal level, we’re spending more than ever on student aid. But we also see that a lot of our new forms of spending help families in which the kids would be going to college anyway. Take the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a part of the tax code, which is a big piece of education policy. That tax credit actually goes mostly to families who are just below the income cap of $180,000 in household income. So that’s an extra perk for those families for sure, but it’s not going to expand who goes to college.

At the same time, [higher education] costs have grown dramatically over time, and the funds and programs that still exist don’t go as far as they once did. The purchasing power of Pell grants has dropped dramatically. In the 1970s when they were created, they covered nearly 80 percent of the cost of tuition and room and board for an average public, four-year university. Today they cover just over 30 percent.

She also raises concerns about for-profit schools:

[W]e’re now spending one quarter of federal student aid dollars on for-profit colleges (though only one in 10 students attend these schools). And these schools have a very poor record in serving students. And they serve predominantly low-income students. These are exactly the people we’d like to see succeeding in getting a college degree. Yet the graduation rates are 22 percent on average in these schools. Nearly all students who attend borrow large amounts in student loans and if they start and don’t finish, which is endemic in these schools, or they get a degree that’s not respected by employers and they can’t get a job, those students actually end up worse than if they never went to college in the first place.