Tag: football

Milei, Crowds, and Concrete Waves in Argentina

I am home, reading Stefan Helmreich’s new book, A Book of Waves (2023). The news on TV then catches my attention: I see images from the inauguration of Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei. The syntagmatic association is obvious: Milei is a new addition to the wave of authoritarian populist rulers now in office. I let out a long sigh, thinking about the future of my relatives and friends in Buenos Aires. Once again, I failed miserably in my ability to forecast election results. Previously, I missed the mark for the 2016 elections in the US and the 2018 elections in Brazil. For many years, my anthropological work has been with forecasts, albeit atmospheric ones (e.g., Taddei 2015, 2020). I often poke fun at my friends in meteorology, telling them that society is more complex than the atmosphere—perhaps to justify why we in the social sciences are so bad at forecasting collective human behavior. In any case, I have the feeling that, of all the uses of the wave metaphor, perhaps this one, associated with extreme rightwing nationalistic politics at the international stage, is the most elusive and misguiding. Is the waviness of the phenomenon derived from any measurable feature, like it is for natural phenomena such as physical ocean waves or El Niño? Or is the waviness just ascribed afterward simply as a familiar semantic container for a myriad of facts so that the public can hold it in their minds? In any case, physical oceanographers also read waves backward. They call it an inverse problem (Helmreich 2023, 258). (read more...)

Deflategate, or Ballghazi, and the Conundrum of Expertise (or: why anthropologists should write about football)

It is the week of Super Bowl Sunday and I live with a Patriots fan. For the last two weeks all serious conversation in our house has revolved around some aspect of the upcoming game. Unless you have been living under a rock (or inside a book), you can probably guess that most of our conversations center around why a set of footballs used by  the Patriots during the AFC Championship game were found to be under the minimum psi level specified by the NFL. Were the Patriots cheating by manually deflating footballs? Or is there a “natural” explanation for the deflation? The interesting question from an STS perspective, and the hinge which cheating allegations revolve around, is whether or not the atmospheric conditions at the AFC championship game could have caused a football to deflate what the NFL has called “a significant amount.” The question is a thorny one because it is entirely unclear who counts as an expert on football deflation, where one might turn to find an expert opinion, or even what criteria might be appropriate in determining who is, or is not, an expert on football deflation. Worse, how might one find a deflation expert who does not have a rooting interest for or against the Patriots at this late date? In short,  who may enunciate the truths of football deflation? Patriots head coach, and noted gridiron alchemist, Bill Belichick was the first to turn to science for an explanation. Like a modern day Boyle, he held a press conference in which he detailed an experiment conducted at the Patriots facility which he claimed demonstrated that natural conditions caused “significant” football deflation at the AFC Championship game. His explanation was detailed and involved a special method of preparing the football for play (that is, getting the correct feel for the quarterback) that can change the psi level without manual deflation. (read more...)