Archive for October, 2003

Saturday night at Rice Stadium

October 5, 2003

My neighborhood is heaven for walkers. One can walk west to River Oaks, northwest to Memorial Park, east down the Buffalo Bayou, and (as I did last night) south through the Montrose to Rice University.

For the Rice University walk (about three miles each way), the journey—whether down Mandell, Dunlavy, Woodhead, or Hazard—is every bit as enjoyable as the destination: The walk south runs mostly through tree-lined streets developed in the 1920s and 1930s, with bungalows gradually giving way to mansions.

At the end of the walk is Rice Stadium, one of the few beautiful modernist structures I’ve seen: clean and spare, but elegant rather than brutal. A great place to watch a football game, even when your team plays one of the worst games you’ve ever seen a college football team play.

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Land before capitalism

October 5, 2003

As late as the fourteenth or fifteenth century there was no such thing as land in the sense of freely salable, rent-producing property. There were lands, of course—estates, manors, and principalities—but these were emphatically not real estate to be bought and sold as the occasion warranted. Such lands formed the core of social life, provided the basis for prestige and status, and constituted the foundation for the military, judicial, and administrative organization of society. Although land was salable under certain conditions (with many strings attached), it was not generally for sale. A medieval nobleman in good standing would no more have thought of selling his land than the governor of Connecticut would think of selling a few counties to the governor of Rhode Island.

— Robert Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers (6th ed.), pg. 28

Today’s festivals

October 4, 2003

The 2003 Texas Renaissance Festival begins today in Plantersville.

Rather than go, I plan to spend the evening in my neighborhood at a Texas modern festival, enjoying the colorful pageantry and historical tradition of college football.

Just before “kickoff”, the visiting team (to which I am bound by ancestral loyalty) will make a ceremonial entrance into Rice Stadium, suited up in the blue and gold livery of San Jose State University, the metropolitan university of that romantic and mysterious land of adventure and wealth, Silicon Valley. The visiting team calls itself the “Spartans”, to denote their dedication and fighting spirit; while the home team calls itself the “Owls”, to denote their wisdom, majesty and power.

Presiding over the ensuing four “quarters” of formal and elaborate combat are the “referees”, in their austerely traditional black and white uniforms. In order to move the leather-skin “ball” forward on the “field”, the “coaches” of each team have a variety of “plays” that their teams of “players”—hand-picked from the most athletic students at their respective schools—have been trained to execute (spectators often enjoy predicting what the next play will be, and second-guessing the coaches’ choices). Halfway through the combat, the players rest for 20 minutes, and a jester show is provided on the field. Finally, the game will end with the ancient custom of shaking hands.

Why drive all the way to Plantersville?

(I wonder: Were there people living in the Middle Ages who staged re-creations of Roman chariot races rather than attend jousts?)

Afghanistan and the Western alliance

October 4, 2003

From an article in Foreign Affairs:

The Afghanistan crisis has dramatized and intensified antecedent changes and strains in the Western alliance. There was unanimous, if separate, condemnation […], but there were also divergent, and often acrimoniously different, assessments of the causes of aggression and the nature of the challenge. The difficulties of orchestrating a common response or of at least preventing a discordant one suggest a new balance of forces within the alliance and a set of divergent interests.

In essence, the leadership of a weakened America is being challenged by a more independent Europe, led by an ever more important Franco-German condominium. […]

The balance between unity and discord is precarious. There are not only substantive differences between the United States and its European allies; there is—at least on the nongovernmental level—a growing impatience on both sides. The roots of discord go deep; to ignore or underestimate the shifts of power and attitudes might heighten the dangers of drifting apart. In the past, an external threat has always served to unite the alliance. Now we cannot count on the automatic reappearance of solidarity. […]

 
This article, by Fritz Stern, appeared in the Spring 1980 issue of the journal.